The untold story of how Voguing was introduced to the world long before Madonna


‘Come on, vogue; Let your body move to the music hey, hey, hey.’

Long before Madonna sang those words or brought Voguing into mainstream culture, Willi Ninja, Paris Dupree and other young dancers were striking a pose at  underground Balls in Harlem. 

On Thursday, May 5th, Film Director, Myra Lewis, premiered her documentary, Love is in The Legend, the true story of the artistry that introduced Voguing and Harlem Ball culture to the world, told by living legends.

Before Madonna, young dancers were Voguing in Harlem

Long before Madonna’s “Vogue,” Willi Ninja, Paris Dupree and other young dancers were striking a pose underground at the Harlem Ball scene

Myra Lewis premiered her new documentary - Love is in The Legend - the true story of the artistry that introduced Voguing and Harlem Ball culture to the world, at the Harlem Film Festival

Myra Lewis premiered her new documentary – Love is in The Legend – the true story of the artistry that introduced Voguing and Harlem Ball culture to the world, at the Harlem Film Festival 

Underground LGBTQ ballroom competitions started in the 1970s as a safe haven for black and brown, trans, and queer young people. 

‘I walked Balls and won in the Red Era of ballroom in Harlem, which is pre-1990,’ Myra told DailyMail.com.

‘I was a multi-grand prize winner for face and body back then; they embraced me and welcomed me, so then over time I got their blessing and brought the ball scene downtown and introduced it to the fashion world.’

At the time, Myra was working for legendary stylist Patricia Field at her clothing store on Eighth Street in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan.

‘Pat gave us freedom,’ revealed Myra. ‘I started working for her in the mid ’80s, I met her at the Paradise Garage.’

Pat and her entourage were regulars at the Garage. It was the convergence place for the youth to dance the night (and morning!) away.

‘I told Pat that I was smart and hard working and that I wanted to work for her and she said come tomorrow morning at 10am and that is how it started.

‘We then created the House of Field together.’

'I walked Balls and won in the Red Era of ballroom in Harlem, which is pre-1990'

‘I walked Balls and won in the Red Era of ballroom in Harlem, which is pre-1990’

The House of Field Ball in 1988 is known as "the Ball that changed it all"

The House of Field Ball in 1988 is known as “the Ball that changed it all”

'It was an attitude and a fashion competition, explained Myra who narrates the film

‘It was an attitude and a fashion competition, explained Myra who narrates the film

Pat (pictured left) had invited her celebrity friends including the likes of Andre Leon Talley, Debbie Harry, Steven Meisel, Betsey Johnson, Dianne Brill, Malcolm McLaren, Mary McFadden to be the distinguished panel of judges

Pat (pictured left) had invited her celebrity friends including the likes of Andre Leon Talley, Debbie Harry, Steven Meisel, Betsey Johnson, Dianne Brill, Malcolm McLaren, Mary McFadden to be the distinguished panel of judges

Founded in 1982, the House of Xtravaganza is one of the most publicly recognized “houses” to emerge from the New York City underground ballroom scene, but the House of Field Ball in 1988 is known as “the Ball that changed it all.” 

Pat had invited her celebrity friends including the likes of Andre Leon Talley, Debbie Harry, Steven Meisel, Betsey Johnson, Dianne Brill, Malcolm McLaren, Mary McFadden to be the distinguished panel of judges. 

‘It was the first time the fashion world had ever seen this before,’ revealed Myra. 

In the film, Patricia reveals that her high profile friends didn’t even know what they were judging but that they all were so happy to be there. 

‘It was an attitude and a fashion competition, explained Myra who narrates the film.

‘It wasn’t about labels, it wasn’t about a multi-thousand dollar prize, it was about showing off your best attitude and personal creations.’ 

Marc Jacobs (featured in the film), said walking the Ball scene was one of the most freeing times in his life.

After the House of Field Ball, Voguing (a dance inspired by model poses inside the pages of Vogue magazine) made headlines. 

‘It was the first time Voguing and ballroom was Page Six News… ever,’ said Myra. ‘And it made Vogue magazine for the very first time in December 1998.’ 

After the House of Field Ball, voguing (a dance inspired by model poses inside the pages of Vogue magazine) made headlines. Pictured: Connie Fleming

After the House of Field Ball, voguing (a dance inspired by model poses inside the pages of Vogue magazine) made headlines. Pictured: Connie Fleming

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In the film, Patricia reveals that her high profile friends , like Debbie Harry (pictured with Willi Ninja) , didn’t even know what they were judging but that they all were so happy to be there

'Over time I got their blessing and brought the ball scene downtown and introduced it to the fashion world,' said Myra (left)

‘Over time I got their blessing and brought the ball scene downtown and introduced it to the fashion world,’ said Myra (left)

Artist Richard Alvarez said: ‘It was the merging of uptown and downtown, where the hip-hop kids started hanging out with the gay kids, with the white kids, with the ball kids. ‘

Adding: ‘It was a renaissance of New York across the cultural landscape.’

After the archival footage of the ’80s Ball days was unearthed, Myra thought the story of how all of our communities came together needed to be told.

‘It’s not just a Ball, its not just about Voguing, it’s not just about carrying on,’ said the Love Is In The Legend‘s  film director.

‘What I discovered is that is was a story of outsiders finding belonging through fashion, dance and music in the true freedom of 1980s New York.’ 

All the original downtown NYC kids attended the premiere held at New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem

 All the original downtown NYC kids attended the premiere held at New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem

'This film is a love letter from my heart to the community,' said Myra. For more information on the award-winning documentary, go to myrocproductions.com

‘This film is a love letter from my heart to the community,’ said Myra. For more information on the award-winning documentary, go to myrocproductions.com 

Yanni Feder, Director & Co-Founder of One Route Media with his partner Menna Olvera, said, ‘The film talks about an underground element of New York that’s very real and a lot of people don’t know about it, and I think it also speaks truths that people in all communities can use to feel inspired and be happier people.’

Yanni had the arduous task of sharpening the vintage camcorder footage. From  color correction to sound quality, he told DailyMail.com that the job was ‘borderline digital forensics.’ 

Through intimate interviews and electrifying recordings of ball icons like Jose Xtravaganza and Cesar Valentino, the film has won a number of awards, including Best First Time Filmmaker from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards and an Award of Merit from the IndieFEST Film Awards. 

All the original downtown NYC kids attended the premiere held at New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

‘This film is a love letter from my heart to the community,’ said Myra.

For more information on the award-winning documentary, go to myrocproductions.com.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk