WCSU

'Pose' Choreographer Creates A Safe Space — On The Runway

Jul 11, 2019
Originally published on July 11, 2019 7:52 pm

The FX show Pose is back for a second season. It's about ball culture in New York City in the 1980s and early 90s — balls are spaces where trans women and gay men walk the runway, dance, and yes, pose, competing for trophies and bragging rights.

The show feels authentic because the creator Ryan Murphy filled his cast and crew with people who grew up in this world. One of those people is Twiggy Pucci Garçon, who grew up in Virginia and competed at her first ball in the early 2000s. She started as the show's ball consultant and is now the runway choreographer.

Garçon says ball culture began in Harlem in the 1920s. "Black and brown, queer and trans people found themselves in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, and in resistance to homophobia and transphobia from the black church, needed to create safe space for themselves, right? Space where they could be, exist, celebrate themselves, feel affirmed. And so what that looked like was groups of folks coming together to form their own houses. And balls are the competitions that houses compete in. So they're events where the events where the houses come together in a space and compete in various categories," like executive realness or linen versus silk.

"When you find yourselves in the margins, and under oppression, and always having to face struggle," Garçon says, "you learn how to make a way out of no way, and you get real creative."


Interview Highlights

On giving the ball scene national attention without turning it into a tourist attraction

I think the richness of the character development and the richness of the storyline speaks for itself. I think the fact that most folks, when you watch any one episode of Pose, you're probably going to cry, because of the richness of how emotional it is, and how real it gets, and how true to these folks' actual experiences it is. And so I think we don't lose that authenticity because the writers' room is full of folks that live this life — folks that are brown and black, folks that are queer, folks that are trans, that are writing the story.

On whether any story elements were taken from her own life

... most folks, when you watch any one episode of Pose, you're probably going to cry, because of the richness of how emotional it is, and how real it gets. - Twiggy Pucci Garçon

Not intentionally. But there's a few pieces of folks' experiences that come to mind. In the show, it's depicted as a house mother, but in the ballroom scene, you can have gay parents, quote-unquote, that don't necessarily have to be in the same house. And so the ways in which Blanca pushes her children is exactly how my first gay father pushed me — you know, he's the person who pushed me to go to school in New York, and, you know, it's bits and pieces of a lot of stories.

On what it's like to come into a ballroom scene with all the apparatus of a TV show around her

It's surreal. I grew up being told by the larger queer community, broader than just the ballroom scene — actually, there was a lot of shade thrown to the ballroom scene when I was coming up. Folks looked down on black and brown people, number one, because racism is real in America. And folks that looked down on folks that are lower income and struggling — this is the country we live in, this is the state of the world we live in. And it was always, ballroom are those girls. Ballroom are the folks that don't have education. Just all these stereotypes that weren't actually accurate in the first place. And I remember this one, I was always told constantly, you can't put ballroom on your resume. That's the thing people used to say. Well! Lookie lookie.

On what the late legends of the ballroom scene would say if they saw Pose

About damn time.

Mallory Yu and Emily Kopp produced this story for radio, and Petra Mayer adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The TV show "Pose" on FX is back for its second season. It's about ball culture in New York City in the 1980s and early '90s. Balls are spaces where trans women and gay men walk the runway, dance and, yes, pose - competing for trophies and bragging rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

BILLY PORTER: (As Pray Tell) Grand prize goes to the most luminous girl in the room, Miss Angel Evangelista.

SHAPIRO: If the show feels authentic, that's because the creator, Ryan Murphy, filled his cast and crew with people who grew up in this world. One of those people is Twiggy Pucci Garcon. She grew up in Virginia and competed at her first ball in the early 2000s. She started as the show's ball consultant and is now the runway choreographer. When I asked Twiggy Pucci Garcon to describe a ball, she began with a history lesson.

TWIGGY PUCCI GARCON: In the 1920s and '30s, black and brown queer and trans people found themselves in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. And in resistance to homophobia and transphobia from the black church, needed to create safe spaces for themselves - right? - space where they could celebrate themselves, feel affirmed. And so what that looked like was groups of folks coming together to form their own houses.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

MJ RODRIGUEZ: (As Blanca Rodriguez) A house is a family you get to choose. I'm a house mother - I provide a support system for my children and housing, if you need it. Together we compete in the balls uptown.

GARCON: Balls are the competitions that houses compete in. And so they're events where the houses come together in a space and compete in various categories.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

PORTER: (As Pray Tell) The category is legendary runway.

Executive realness.

Bring it like a weather girl.

The category is linen versus silk.

It's showgirl realness (ph).

High-fashion eveningwear.

SHAPIRO: One of the things that seems so appealing about both the ball scene and the TV show "Pose," which depicts the ball scene, is this hybrid of people who are on the fringes of society, disenfranchised, struggling to meet basic needs and, at the same time, presenting the most high-fashion, high-glamor, 1% slice of life in this beautiful, glittering small space.

GARCON: Mmm hmm. Yeah, so when you find yourselves in the margins and on oppression and always having to face struggle, you learn how to make your way out of no way, and you get real creative, right?

SHAPIRO: Your title for Season 1 was ball consultant.

GARCON: True.

SHAPIRO: Your title for Season 2 is runway choreographer. So tell me about how you choreograph these ball routines that, in some cases, look very improvised and sort of, like, just of the moment.

GARCON: I get the sides for the scripts before - most of the time beforehand. I get to work with the costume designers using the vision that they come up with. What are the movements that accentuate all of what they come up with that also match with what the category is? What I must add that makes it so beautiful is that the actors are really, really talented. And so it's such a...

SHAPIRO: And they all come from the ball scene, so they've done this.

GARCON: Most of them, yeah. And so some things have to be step by step choreographed, and then many things are, like, movement coaching with improvisation.

SHAPIRO: You posted on social media an image of you working backstage with one of the actresses on one of the routines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARCON: So from there - five, six, seven. And one, two, three, four, five, six - prep and hair whip (ph).

SHAPIRO: Tell us what we're hearing here.

GARCON: Oh, yes. So in this scene, Hailie Sahar, who plays Lulu, who is from the ballroom scene, we were able to - Hailie and I were able to work together to co-choreograph.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARCON: Wait a minute, judges. I got something. I got something. I got something. And we're turning around. And here's the uh-uh-uh-uh (ph) - and then her reveal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

PORTER: (As Pray Tell) Oh, oh, oh, yes, mama, yes.

GARCON: There is a moment where Hector Xtravaganza - rest in power.

SHAPIRO: Passed just last year.

GARCON: Who just passed last year. An icon, pioneer, hall of famer in the house and ballroom scene and was a consultant in Season 1 - he walked a category that - he literally had on a tuxedo gown and walked, walked, came back and opened it, and it stood up, and he kept walking, right?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GARCON: So it's literally a remake of the exact same moment that he created back then.

SHAPIRO: There's a scene partway through the season where the character Pray Tell, played by Billy Porter, who's kind of a father figure, gives a warning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

PORTER: (As Pray Tell) We've got to be careful, protected. Remember who this is for - us, our community. We are not a tourist attraction.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) No, we're not.

PORTER: (As Pray Tell) Our greatest asset is our authenticity.

SHAPIRO: So coming from the ball scene...

GARCON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...And working on this TV show that is reaching a massive audience that's never heard of the ball scene, how do you balance that tension between giving this culture the attention it has not had in decades without turning it into a tourist attraction?

GARCON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You know?

GARCON: I mean, I think the richness of the character development and the richness of the storyline speaks for itself. I think the fact that most folks, when you watch any one episode of "Pose," you're probably going to cry.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCON: Because of the richness of how emotional it gets and how real it is and how true to these folks' actual experiences it is. And so I think we don't lose that rich - that authenticity because the writer's room is full of folks that live this life, right? Folks that are brown and black, folks that are queer, folks that are trans, that are writing the story.

SHAPIRO: Is there anything in the show that was specifically drawn from your actual experience?

GARCON: Not intentionally. But, like, there's a few sort of pieces of folks' experiences that come to mind. In the show, it's depicted as a house mother, but in the ballroom scene, like, you you can have "gay parents," quote-unquote. They don't necessarily have to be in the same house, right? And so the ways in which Blanca pushes her children is exactly how my first gay father pushed me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POSE")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Blanca Rodriguez) All of my children are required to pursue an education. My house has rules, and I expect you both to follow them.

GARCON: You know, he's the person who pushed me to go to school in New York, and - you know? So it's bits and pieces of a lot of different...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

GARCON: ...Stories. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: For you, having come up in this scene where ballroom was a place you could go to when others weren't accepting you, what's it like to now walk into a, quote-unquote, "ballroom scene" with cameras and lights and makeup artists and directors and sound designers (laughter) and, like, this weird apparatus all around it?

GARCON: It's surreal. I grew up being told by larger queer community - actually, you know, there was a lot of shade thrown to the ballroom scene when I was coming up. And...

SHAPIRO: Why?

GARCON: Folks looked down on black and brown people, No. 1, because racism is real in America. Folks that looked down on folks that are lower-income and struggling. And it was always, ballroom are those girls. Ballroom are the folks that, like, don't have education or - you know, just all these stereotypes that weren't actually accurate. And I remember this one - I was always told constantly, like, you never - you can't put ballroom on a resume, and that's the thing that people used to say. Well...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) It's there at the top of your resume now.

GARCON: Well, looky, looky (ph).

SHAPIRO: So many of the legends of the ballroom scene died at a young age, whether because of AIDS or other reasons. If they were alive to see this moment, what do you think they would say?

GARCON: About damn time.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GARCON: About damn time.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPHANIE MILLS' "NEVER KNEW LOVE LIKE THIS BEFORE")

SHAPIRO: Twiggy Pucci Garcon, ball consultant for Season 1 and now choreographer for Season 2 of "Pose," which is now on FX. Thank you so much.

GARCON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER KNEW LOVE LIKE THIS BEFORE")

STEPHANIE MILLS: (Singing) I never knew love like this before. Now I'm lonely nevermore since you came into my life. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.