Founded in 1982, and featured in both the TV show “Pose” and the documentary “Paris Is Burning,” the House of Xtravaganza is considered one of the most legendary houses in the New York City underground ballroom scene.
For this premiere episode of In The Know: Uncommon Ground, we visited the iconic House of Xtravaganza to meet with the members of the “family” who are keeping the magic alive 30 years later.
Ball culture started in Harlem in the 1920s, and eventually evolved into drag competitions that had people competing for spots in “houses” and then performing against other houses — with each house having a “specialty.” House of Xtravaganza was one of three houses that dominated the scene.
“A ball usually starts typically around 10:30 [p.m]. at night — usually everybody gets there by 12:30, 1 [a.m.]” House member G Xtravaganza said. “And then LSS starts — LSS is ‘legends, stars and statements.’ Basically it’s a time to start getting people hyped up.”
The house structure refers to both how different “teams” of dancers, and also as a way for members to genuinely feel like they are part of a family.
Members take the house name as their last name, and there is a House “mother” and/or “father” who oversee the group. Gisele Alicea Xtravaganza who was house mother from 2003 to 2005, and then returned to the role in 2015.
“I moved to New York City in 2005,” G Xtravaganza said. “I met Princess Magnifique and she said, ‘I’m having like a little mini ball — oh, you should come and check it out.’ There was a long runway and it was all spotlit down the center, and she calls out the Mother of the House of Xtravaganza — Gisele — and Gisele came out like Gisele would… And when I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what that’s all about, but I want some of that.'”
“I felt like a goddess,” Gisele said. “I felt the beauty coming out of these people that were not supposed to be beautiful. I was in love with it.”
The attraction for many members stemmed not only from the glamor of House of Xtravaganza, but the community.
“They were very supportive of each other,” Jose Disla Xtravaganza, a longtime member, said. “You’re protected there. It was very important to a lot of us to be able to be who you are, and artistically express yourself.”
What makes House of Xtravaganza special is how nothing has changed within those walls over the past several decades. It’s still attracting new youth from around New York City to join, as well as inspiring them.
“When people watch me walk a ball, I want to inspire them to really step out of their element and to really challenge themselves to do whatever it is that no one has ever attempted to do, and try to find a way to execute and do it,” G Xtravaganza said.
“I have learned so much from the ballroom scene,” Gisele said. “It has given me power, it has given me strength, and it is who I am.”
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