The cast of TV drama Pose: ‘Without us Madonna would be nothing’

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Ryan Murphy’s hit show brings New York’s ballroom culture to the BBC. Its stars talk about taking the subculture to the masses

Ballroom culture has been merging into the mainstream for a while, but last year it was inescapable. There was voguing in Yorgos Lanthimos’s award-winning The Favourite and the video for Calvin Harris and Sam Smith’s Promises; it even crops up in a recent Boots advert. These glimpses of a displaced New York subculture are cute but Ryan Murphy’s new show on BBC Two, Pose, takes you back to the source.

Contrary to popular belief, Madonna did not invent voguing. Her 1990 hit Vogue was a euphoric celebration/appropriation of a dance form that emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene in the 80s. “Balls are part of a broader history of black queer performance and spectacle that stretches back at least to the early days of the 20th century,” says Madison Moore, assistant professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I’m thinking of the Hamilton Lodge Ball, the so-called Faggots Ball of the early 1900s where up to 1,500 spectators came to see the best black queer performers, drag queens, female and male impersonators. Poet and playwright Langston Hughes described these balls in his 1940 autobiography The Big Sea as, ‘spectacles in colour’.”

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