Last Sunday night, America was introduced to the amazing dancing of Vogue Evolution, the first all gay dance crew to appear on the hit MTV dance competition show America’s Best Dance Crew. In their first performance for a national audience, the five member group dazzled both the judges and the audience, easily avoiding elimination the first week.
Consisting of four gay men and one transgendered woman – Pony (aka Devon), Leyomi, Jorel, Dashaun, and Malechi – who perform in the style of ‘vogue ballroom’, the New York City dance crew has already made their mark in the world of underground ballroom competitions, gay activism and HIV/AIDS work and prevention.
Not only is the group made up of dancers who are gay, but this crew is out and proud, putting their gayness front and center in a way you won’t ever see on most reality shows, much less on fellow dance competition programs Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance? Check out their official dance banner to see just how upfront these dancers are about their sexuality.
Make no mistake – Vogue Evolution intend to win the $100,000 prize, but the bigger prize they are seeking is to educate America not just about their style of dance, but about what it means to be a young queer person of color.
And they are plan on being fabulous while doing it.
AfterElton.com had the chance to be the first press to interview the crew and sat down with them in a befittingly urban part of Los Angeles for their first day on the set as they shot promotional pics and prepared for their first rehearsal. And this reporter can honestly say it was the best time he has ever had doing an interview.
AfterElton.com: How did the crew come together?
Pony: I’m a dancer and choreographer, and I wanted to create the first voguing team. I got the idea and came to Dashaun who worked with me at an agency called POCC, People of Color in Crisis, and then we just hand-selected people from our Ballroom community. We got together and formed Vogue Evolution.
AE: Was this in LA or New York?
Malechi: We’re all New York based, all different parts of New York City, whether it be Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, whatever. We’re all from New York.
AE: So the idea was to form a gay dance crew.
Pony: No, the idea wasn’t to form a gay dance crew, it was to form the first voguing team ever, the first company. It just so happens that everyone is gay. You don’t have to be gay to be in Vogue Evolution.
AE: Was the idea to get on Dance Crew, or was that just something that came later?
Pony: It came later. The idea was to create the company. It started off with us wanting to teach vogue classes, and we realized in order to have a vogue class, you needed to have some princes, some principle dancers. So we said, why don’t the princes be called Vogue Evolution? Then it just moved from there, and it just so happened that the America’s Best Dance Crew audition was coming up.
Jorel, Pony, Malechi
AE: So who heard about the audition and who suggested you guys go for it?
Leyomi: Basically, Pony was the one who told us about the audition, and we all got together and decided on auditioning.
AE: What’s been the most surprising thing about the experience so far?
Malechi: Just meeting new people and everyone being so supportive. It’s not surprising that they’re so supportive, but just that we all come from different walks of life, and everyone just embraces each other. We all have the common talent of dance, so it’s been surprising, the really warm welcome.
AE: Have you had a chance to interact with the other dance crews much at this point?
Leyomi: Yes. It’s actually been warming. Everyone is comfortable, open, and just gets along.
AE: Was there any apprehension about what kind of reception you guys were going to get coming out here?
Jorel: I don’t think we really cared how other people would react, because we were coming here for us, and other people who are the same as us. We’re actually enjoying ourselves. Everybody is cool. It’s going to be fun. All the other dance crews are getting to know each other, and it’s going to be a good experience.
AE: How are you different from the other crews?
Pony: The difference between us and all the other crews is that you
can tell a crew by their team, not the individual. The left girl looks
like the right girl. You don’t know the difference. Cindy looks just
like Cassie. With us and our community, we’re all leaders. It’s like an All-Star cast, a league of extraordinary gentlemen, as we like to say.
My clips have a hundred thousand views, Leyomi’s clips have a hundred
thousand views, our MySpace is packed. We’re already legends in our
community. That’s why this is big for us. Our community is like, "Wow.
The big ones are getting bigger." It’s not like, "Oh, we’re survivors."
The problem with voguing is that it’s always been portrayed as coming
from a sad place, and that’s not really what it is. We’re here to show
the beauty of the scene, and the art, and the happiness and the joy.
We’re the good news. It’s not like Paris is Burning where at the end of it you go, "Aww…that’s sad." This is like, "Work! It’s over!" That’s where we’re at with it.
AE: What do you most want viewers to take away from watching you?
Pony: Be true to yourself, be comfortable in your own skin, and stay authentic. Dance is just the form that we’re grabbing everybody’s attention with, voguing, but it’s really the story that we have to tell.
AE: What’s your strategy for the competition? Do you have certain routines worked out that you’ll try to adapt, or will you just be really flexible and roll with whatever comes your way?
Malechi: We’re more than ready for any challenges that come our way, but we definitely want to stick to what we’re known for and what we came here to do, which is teach everyone about voguing, where it came from, and where we’re going to take it. We’re definitely embracing all challenges.
AE: What would you do with the hundred thousand dollars?
Leyomi: Personally, I’m ready to go to Colorado and become the new woman that I want to be. That’s where the doctor is for my sex change. That’s me.
Pony: Build up Vogue Evolution, invest in the product that created the money, and then just do some personal things with family, friends, home … things like that.
Jorel: Open a bank account, maybe take some classes, help children — give four or five thousand to charity.
Malechi: I would definitely help out my mom in any way she needed, move out of New York, but always visit, but just make a better life for me and my mom.
AE: What would the ultimate goal be for Vogue Evolution after this? Do you have individual dance aspirations?
Pony: For Vogue Evolution, my dream is to put it on Broadway, and just be what Grease is, and The Lion King, and show the world about Ballroom and our culture, and have it be accepted and welcomed by everybody.
Dashaun: I think as a whole, we just want our style to be respected as well as others. After this, or even while it’s still happening, that people can be comfortable in their own self to do as they please.
Malechi: What I would love to see after this competition is awareness and acceptance, to want to learn, not just because it’s the thing to do, but to learn a new style of dance, make it something more than a fad. I want it to be something people want to get into, just as big as ballet or modern jazz, make it a form of dance that people want to learn.
Pony: Also, to get rid of ignorance, and like Malechi said, raise awareness, help our community, and just be leaders to the world. Be leaders for those who are HIV positive and those that aren’t, our different agencies, being peer educators as well as a dance company.
Malechi: That’s what we did before we got here. We were peer educators in our own way, with People of Color in Crisis and other agencies, teaching voguing lessons and stuff like that, and AIDS awareness and safer sex practices. Hopefully, we can bring that all together somehow, some way with voguing.
AE: Now as both dancers and also as young gay, queer, or transgender people, who are your role models? Who inspired you? Who do you look up to?
Pony: In my community, I would have to say Willi Ninja, Jose Xtravaganza, and Madonna.
Dashaun: Mine would be the same.
Jorel: Same here. Professionally wise, like in ballet and stuff, vogue is underground and we’re trying to bring it out. Rasta Thomas is a ballet dancer and he’s just exquisite.
Willi Ninja, Madonna
AE: If you don’t mind, because I know our readers would be interested, briefly sharing your age, where you’re from, your coming out stories, any personal details, that would be great.
Pony: I came out in the 7th grade, and my sexual preference has never been an issue with anybody. I’m realizing now it’s really not about homophobia, it’s more about sexism. People don’t care if we’re liking boys or not. It’s how flamboyant we are that they have a problem with. I was never really highly flamboyant like that, so people didn’t have a big problem with me being gay.
Now, this is going to be a huge coming out, because I don’t wear gayness on my sleeve. I don’t shut it away, but we’re representing something right now, so we’re extra gay on purpose. We’re showing everybody it does not matter how you act or what you do, it’s who you are. This is a big breakthrough for me. I’m 26, and I do have a boyfriend.
Dashaun: I’m 24, and I’m a personal kind of guy, so I don’t really feel comfortable speaking about it.
Leyomi: I’m 22. I began my transition around the age of 15. It hasn’t been that bad, especially with my family. They’ve been open to it. I’m my father’s only daughter, so that’s a good thing for him. [laughs]
Jorel: I’m 23, and I came out … I don’t remember. I was always feminine. I told my mother when I was 12, but I knew since I was young, since elementary, that I was attracted to boys. I’m single.
AE: Are you just another dance crew that made the show, or is the show honoring the achievement of what you’re doing?
Leyomi: They’re pushing the fact that we’re open. They like the fact that we’re openly gay. Other people like [Perez] and LOGO, they’re throwing it out there. There are a lot of gay people in this world, period. Even in this competition, there have been gay members of other crews, but it’s not like totally open. It’s not like they’re like, "Yes, I’m gay," [snaps] with wrists broken. They don’t want to answer, but we’re out all the way. And they actually acknowledge the fact that we’re open.
Pony: MTV’s been loving. They’ve been open. They’ve been supportive. We really feel comfortable, and like Leyomi said, the difference for us is it’s gays on the forefront because it has a purpose. We don’t shun it away. With a lot of people it’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, you know the whole military thing, but we’re like Superman with a big G on our chests.
Malechi: MTV has been very, very supportive and honored everything that we’ve done, but just to put it out there, it wasn’t just for TV, it wasn’t just for to shock the world. It really was just more for our subculture and the whole gay community, something that we wanted to do because it hasn’t been done, and we want it to be more of. We want everyone to be comfortable whether you’re gay or straight. For us, it’s more about gay awareness and being brave, taking a stand and not wondering about what other people think or how other people feel.
Pony: We’re not your average cheerleader from Kansas. We have a whole community on our shoulders, and it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a thin line between what’s been done and what can be proven.
Malechi: We also know that the gay thing isn’t going to take us all the way. We also want America to know that we’re talented. We’re all good dancers and performers. When all is said and done, after the first episode, second episode, however long we stay where — all the way — it’s going to be talent that determines how far we take this. Although this is what we stand for, and this is who we are, we’re also very talented individuals outside of that. We’re bringing it to television.
AE: How do you come up with the choreography? Is someone in charge of that for the group?
Pony: I’m the creative director of the group. I lay out the blueprint, but I allow everybody to have room to add their own input so we can create a performance that’s creatively different. If I keep doing this, we’re going to look like Pony. We all vogue differently, have our own styles. I know the blueprint of what it takes, but Leyomi puts the Leyomi in there, and Malechi adds his Malechi flair, and so it gives us a different kind of flavor.
AE: For our readers not familiar with vogueing, how would you describe the style of dancing.
Pony: Voguing came from poses in Vogue Magazine, that turned into movement that then became self-expression. Voguing is like flamboyant movement with abstract art with self-expression. There are some elements to keep you in the box. There’s hands, which is moving your hands. There’s catwalk, which is a stance with your knees, then there’s duckwalk, so there’s a skeleton, but it’s really self-expression.
AE: What’s the history of voguing?
Pony: In our community, the ballroom scene has been around for nearly a hundred years now, and there have been legends in our community. Unfortunately, there’s just not been many that took it outside our community. Within that, there are tons of people that we look up or vogue after, that we watch on DVD and old ball tapes, that are really our heroes. There haven’t been many who took it outside our community.
There’s Willi Ninja who has been doing videos for years. He took me and Dashaun and put us in a Coca Cola commercial. That was our big break with voguing. And there’s Jose Xtravaganza who helped Madonna make the world aware that this style exists. It didn’t come from there, but it helped the world become aware that there was a style of dance that hadn’t been recognized yet.
AE: What about Paris is Burning?
Pony: Paris is Burning is definitely, not just for voguing, but for our community and what we stand for. Where were at now compared to when Paris is Burning was taped is such an extraordinary difference that even the people who, God rest the dead, like Octavia, would be so proud to see where we’re at. We just did a Broadway performance last month at the Nokia Theater, voguing, from the Coca Cola commercial to the Latex Ball. Balls used to only have sixty people in them, now the Latex Ball has nearly 4000 people in it. Janet Jackson was just there last year.
Voguing is all in music videos today, where before, it was like we were the ghostwriters. They kept us behind the camera but showed our art through other people, and maybe in the video we’re a shadow. Now it’s like, hey, I’m in the video. I’m gay. This is voguing. From Beyonce to Janet Jackson, everyone is so welcoming of our culture. From Paris is Burning to where we’re at now, I’m very, very happy.
For more information on Vogue Evolution check out the daily "ABDC Insider" reports on the MTV Remote Control blog.
America’s Best Dance Crew airs Sunday nights at 9 PM on MTV.