From underground ballrooms to Beyonce’s big-screen blockbuster, vogue's journey brings LGBTQ community together
The dance scene has been seen as a safe space for artists.
At the age of 22, dancer Honey Balenciaga has had a career that many can only dream of.
The Brooklyn native started dancing at a young age, learned to vogue as a teenager, and started competing in ballrooms across the city.
Balenciaga was scouted and hired by Beyoncé's team for a job as a backup dancer on the singer's "Renaissance" world tour. Balenciaga was also featured in the recently released concert movie of the tour "Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé."
"I've always tell myself, 'I'm going to be a celebrity.' So if I don't think that, then I'm not going to become that," she told "Nightline." "This is a big moment for me."
Balenciaga and many in her community of artists have helped bring voguing and ballroom to a whole new audience.
The movement began to take shape in the 70s and 80s when primarily Black and Latino LGBTQ dancers, particularly transgender women, yearned for a safe space to express themselves.
With few places to turn especially after many had been disowned by their birth families, many in the community formed their own houses and in turn, created a chosen family.
Junior LaBeija, who was one of the key figures of Harlem's vogue scene in the 80s, told "Nightline" that the ballroom scene was like a "gay pageant."
On the dance floor everyone could be in the identities they wanted to be and put aside the woes that affected the community, he said.
"The AIDS diaspora, crack, dope, coke is eating us up alive, but you couldn't see it," LaBeija said. "I would say, 'Well, darling, let's be like Scarlett O'Hara. If I have to lie, cheat, [and] kill, I'll never be hungry again. I'll cry tomorrow.'"
Some LGTBQ dancers said they too feel a sense of welcome from the vogue ballroom scene.
Balenciaga said she was bullied and struggled to fit in school because of her sexuality. She was always interested in dance since she was a young child and through an after-school program, she discovered voguing.
"Ballroom definitely gave me the strength to find the person I want to become. And be comfortable in my gender and body identity," Balenciaga said.
Even though voguing has been thrust into the center mainstream, with the help of Beyonce’s album and "Renaissance" tour, many in the LGTBQ community are still living in fear of harassment and violence through their expression.
There has been a 32% jump in hate crimes based on gender identity, in addition to a 13% rise in those based on sexual orientation this year, according to federal crime statistics.
One fatal crime this summer rocked the LGTBQ and dance communities.
In July, O'Shae Sibley, who danced with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation's Extension program, was coming home to Brooklyn after a trip to the beach.
He and his friends stopped at a gas station in Midwood Brooklyn to put gas in their rental car.
Otis Pena, a close friend of O'Shae Sibley's, told "Nightline" that he and O'Shae were joking around and voguing while waiting for the car to fill up when they were approached by a group of men.
The group allegedly began shouting homophobic slurs at the pair, Pena said.
"So we walk up to them and we're talking with them. We're like, Hey, we have every right to be here," he told "Nightline."
One person in the group, who police say was a 17-year-old, then allegedly stabbed Sibley several times before fleeting. Sibley died at the hospital.
The suspect later turned himself in, following a two-week manhunt, was charged with second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty.
"I strongly suspect that we will be going self-defense and that he had a reasonable ground, to reasonably believe that he had to defend himself in this situation," Mark Pollard, the suspect's attorney, said in August.
Word of Sibley's death sparked an outcry from people around the world including Beyoncé who posted a tribute on her social media.
Balenciaga attended a memorial for Sibley with hundreds who mourned the young dancer's life outside the gas station where he died.
"I walk out feeling so bold and feminine and me and my girlfriends would walk the streets and vogue. So to think that that is something that will get you killed is very scary," she said.
Balenciaga, despite her meteoric rise, which includse performing alongside Beyonce, still continues to perform in the city's ballroom scene. She does not doubt that her community will continue to thrive and express themselves despite the threats they may face.
"There’s a renaissance happening, it's always going to happen and we're always going to make a statement and we're always going to let people know that we're here and it's not changing," she said."You can do whatever you think is going to damage this community, but we're always going to come back stronger."
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