Many know of the ballroom culture via Paris Is Burning or Pose, but it still isn’t mainstream. HBO Max’s Legendary continues to help bring ballroom to the forefront and show that it’s just not about dipping, duck-walking, voguing and having a party. It is a culture that has influenced the mainstream and one that builds community. Legendary host Dashaun Wesley and judges Leiomy Maldonado, Law Roach, Megan Thee Stallion and Jameela Jamil spoke about the new reality competition in a pre-recorded panel at ATX Television Festival.
In Legendary, HBO Max brings the underground ballroom community to the mainstream by showcasing “houses” as they compete in balls to show off their skills in the five elements of voguing and fashion to win a $100,000 grand prize, but more importantly “legendary” status and bragging rights.
At the top of the panel, Maldonado, who is a ballroom icon and mother of the House of Amazon, stressed that ballroom may be about voguing, but it is also a culture rooted in family. “A lot of people, when they find out about ballroom, they look at it more as a party — a celebration,” she said. “They forget about the culture…they forget why it was created.”
“The most important thing that I implement with my kids is having that unity, having that bond as a family,” she continued. “Sometimes these kids don’t have anywhere they can call home. The don’t have a family and I try to be there in their personal life is fine…and if they need support I am there for them. Ballroom is such a beautiful thing because we get to choose our family.”
Rapper Megan Thee Stallion and actress Jamila Jamil serve as a surrogate for those entering the ballroom space with fresh eyes. As they learn from icons like Maldonado and Wesley, who are veterans of the scene, the audience gets to learn with them.
“I didn’t know what it meant — I didnt know what it was,” Megan said in regards to her knowledge of the ballroom scene. She has friends in the scene that would walk a ball, but wasn’t really familiar. “When I did my homework and research, I was like, ‘Hell yeah I want to be a part of this!'”, she adds. “When I saw the passion behind and saw what everyone stands for, I saw myself in that.”
Jamil’s entrance into the ballroom culture was through videos of Maldonado which led her to the music and eventually attending balls in New York. “When the show was brought to me I jumped at the opportunity just because there isn’t enough representation of this culture.” She points out that most of the art, music, fashion and language in mainstream has been siphoned from ballroom and the world needs to know where it came from.
She points out, “I came on board as a supportive outsider who is the window to learn.”
Roach, who has been a spectator of the ballroom scene is more than familiar with the culture. He’s had the opportunity to see Maldonado, Welsey and other legends of ballroom at the beginning stages of their career. He said he’s not an expert on ballroom but he has just as much passion for it.
“What I have done in my career is become a storyteller for Black history and fashion,” said Roach. “What people don’t realize is that the ballroom scene is part of Black and brown history…and I have just been blessed to see some of those moments in real life.”
The balance of ballroom rookies and veterans gives a good mix of perspective and the newbies learn as they go along. Roach points out that Maldonado is the most qualified judge on the panel, but that also means that she has been gracious to invite the other judges — and audiences — into her world and learn.
Wesley, who hosts the show, talked about how authentic of a ballroom experience the audience Legendary will serve. “When we get the opportunity to showcase our talent, sometimes we are limited to what we can do,” he said. “What this show is doing is giving information about the culture itself and give an eye in.”
He also said that it gives the opportunity to give people to relate to a house or a member of a house as they tell what they have been through to get on the stage. “We want you to feel like you are in the audience watching us and feeling our energy,” he said. “We are giving our authentic selves.”
Maldonado said that she hopes that the world can learn to respect the ballroom community. “A lot of times I feel people are quick to disrespect our community,” she said. “They are not quick to celebrate our community and this show will help with that…and this show will inspire in ways that other shows do not.”
Jamil said, “When we see stories about young Black people, queer people, trans people or Latinx people, we see these devastating versions of their stories. What I hope we achieve with Legendary is that there is so much triumph and love [in the community].” She adds that she hopes that the show a “dignified” and full story of the ballroom community that we don’t hear about.
With the show, Megan want people to gain an understanding of the community and learn lessons alongside her. Roach simply said she wants people to “feel the love…it’s so strong.” He adds, “Right now in the world we are living in, we all need love — sounds corny, but it’s true.”
Wesley said that Legendary gives them the chance to celebrate the ballroom culture and allows them to do something they don’t get to do every day. He hopes it inspires people to do what they want and be authentic to themselves. He states, “We want to make sure we are real to what we do — and when you are real to what you do, you can share that with everyone else.”