In Our House: A Look at L.A.’s Underground Ballroom Scene

As Madonna herself once put it, beauty is where you find it—and right now, you can find it on this page

I’m really drawn to characters,” says photographer Jason Williams. “That’s what really interests me visually—characters.”

Luckily for him, there’s no shortage of those in L.A., particularly when it comes to the city’s underground ballroom scene, where scores of larger-than-life personalities slip into outrageous couture-style costumes and over-the-top makeup to strut and fret their hour upon the stage—usually a fashion show-style runway, with house music blaring—as hordes of onlookers cheer them on. While better known as a New York phenomenon from the ’80s and ’90s—it’s where Madonna got her whole voguing shtick—the scene has flourished lately on the West Coast, thanks in part to TV shows like Pose and Legendary.

“There’s an amazing amount of design and individual expression at each of these things,” says Williams. “The creativity is through the roof.”

Williams, 53, who usually shoots theatrical events at venues like the Wallis in Beverly Hills and the Music Center downtown, began wading into ballroom culture six months ago, after a friend dragged him to his first show. He’s been spending late nights at various L.A. clubs ever since, in Chinatown and West and North Hollywood, climbing up rafters and crouching under catwalks to snap the sort of vivid, you-are-there portraits we’ve collected for this portfolio.

As Madonna herself once put it, beauty is where you find it—and right now, you can find it below.

BRINGING DOWN THE HAUS Haus of Basquiat offers a monthly miniball at Heart WeHo, hosted by Dashaun Wesley, an American dancer, actor, choreographer, ballroom performer, emcee, and commentator. Wesley, sometimes called the King of Vogue, has hosted the TV series Legendary and appeared on America’s Best Dance Crew and Pose.
Yaaas, Queen! Beyoncé tribute artist Michell’e and members of the Haus of Basquiat perform at Heart WeHo.
COME ON, VOGUE This first-ever five-category exhibition vogue ball from the House of AWT saw more than 30 artists compete in front of a panel of judges. The event was part of Hauser & Wirth’s Performance Project at its Arts District gallery.
DROP IT LIKE IT’S HAUTE A voguer displays a “death drop” at Los Angeles Is Burning, a vogue and ballroom event in North Hollywood. It’s hosted by iconic L.A. commentator Enyce Gorgeous Gucci.
MOTHER KNOWS BEST Ebony Lane, an elder on the L.A. ballroom scene, makes a plea for the community to be responsible for one another as a family, as some of the “kids” have been “thrown away” by their birth families.

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