What does it mean to be legendary? Just ask Leiomy Maldonado and Dashaun Wesley. Known respectively as the Queen and King of Vogue, the stylized dance popularized by the ballroom scene, the two are revered trailblazers in the ballroom community and LGBTQ+ community. Among many other accomplishments, Maldonado has starred in a Nike ad and walked in New York Fashion Week, and both she and Wesley have appeared in Pose.
Now, they are starring in HBO Max's aptly title series Legendary—Wesley hosts and Maldonado is one of the judges, along with stylist Law Roach, rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and actress Jameela Jamil. The reality competition, which premiered on May 27, features real-life voguing houses facing off over the course of nine balls for a grand prize of $100,000.
On Thursday, Maldonado and Wesley sat down (virtually) with Tommy J. Atkins, one of the founders and co-chairs of Hearst Black Culture, to discuss their journeys to stardom and self-acceptance. They also noted how in this moment, as transgender people are still brutalized and often sidelined in the fight against injustice, support and allyship for trans people and trans Black lives is more important than ever.
"If you can live for the culture and you can live for the sassiness or everything that it is of being colored, then you should be able to be out there fighting and letting people know that we deserve respect, we deserve to be loved, we deserve rights," Maldonado says. "Honestly, allies to me, unless you're really out there showing action, it's just a word."
Atkins agrees. "I think true allyship is speaking out when it's uncomfortable."
Keep scrolling for more moments from Maldonado and Wesley's Q&A, and watch the full conversation above.
On falling in love with the ball scene …
Maldonado was going to a Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx when she first learned about voguing and the ball scene. One day she found the chef, who would later become "my first trans mentor," she recalls, in the kitchen dancing. Noticing her interest, the chef gave young Maldonado a tape of trans women battling via vogue. "I went home, I put the VHS tape in the VCR, and I literally was just sucked in. I was immediately intrigued into the voguing world," Maldonado recalls.
"For me, voguing was a stress reliever," she later adds. "Being young, not knowing how to identify with my trans-ness, not being able to live my life and my truth, I used voguing to basically express myself. Like, my anger, my confusion. Everything that I felt, I used it through dancing."
As for Wesley, the journey in ballroom began when he was a "teenage, young, openly Black gay man" in Brooklyn, trying to find a place where he belonged. "I wasn't experiencing the things I wanted to at home," he says. So he looked elsewhere, sharing that he began to feel at home in the West Village of New York City, among "people who act like me and look like me and did the things I do."
Wesley's first encounter with ballroom happened in that very neighborhood when he joined a crowd of people following a DJ with a boom box heading to a pier on the Hudson River. "As soon as they got to the pier, they formed this huge circle and they started battling and voguing," he recalls. "I was one of those people [at] 14, 15, like, 'Oh, my gosh, what's happening?!'" From that point on, Wesley would go back to the Village every day. "I would always go back out there just to be around that environment, that atmosphere."
On flats and sneakers …
In a rapid-fire game called Chopped or Tens, nodding to ballroom jargon, Atkins quizzes the Legendary stars for their takes on fashion trends. First up: flats. Heel-loving Maldonado gave the chop, but Wesley gave tens across the board. They both agreed, however, that "a kitten heel is worse than a flat." Chunky sneakers, on the other hand, received tens from both panelists. "When worn correctly," Wesley notes. Preach.
Legendary is streaming now on HBO Max.
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