HBO Max’s ‘Legendary’ Takes The Ballroom Scene to the Big Screen
With $100,000 at stake, this realty-competition show puts the world of voguing at the forefront of mainstream media.
Pop culture is acquainted with ballroom through the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning and FX’s fictional drama series Pose; however, the scene is still widely unknown to the masses. Born out of a Black and Latinx queer counterculture in New York City, ballroom initially existed as a safehaven for the LGBTQ+ community, fostering relationships mimicking those of a close-knit family and birthing a distinct set of liberating dance styles, most notably the art of vogue. Now a highly acclaimed celebration of fashion, dance, individuality, and camaraderie, the ball’s stage is landing at the focal point of mainstream media, specifically on HBO Max’s new reality-competition show, Legendary.
Hosted by Dashaun Wesley and featuring the judging panel of Leiomy Maldonado, Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and Jameela Jamil, Legendary welcomes 8 houses, or teams of ballroom performers, to flaunt their mastery of voguing and styling to win the $100,000 grand prize and official “legendary” status.
As a seasoned and respected member of the ballroom scene, Wesley stands as an embodiment of what it means to be an icon in the ball, proudly welcoming the scene to the masses. For him, balls not only opened his eyes to the idea of unapologetic self-expression, but also to a path of self-discovery. “Balls, to me, represent authenticity,” he tells V. “You have to go out there and if you don’t understand who you are as a person, you can get really lost in the sauce. You have to really understand who you are as an individual to compete against everyone.”
“There’s nothing like ballroom,” he continues. “There’s nothing like this culture. And if you can’t really step up to be who you are and exist, you can just get swallowed right on up.”
Leading the judges panel, Maldonado, ballroom legend and mother of the House of Amazon, cites not only the importance of exquisite voguing and unified fashion, but also the empowering support system and exceptional talent present within the community. “The ball represents passion,” she tells V. “As far as my experience within the ballroom scene, I’ve been inspired by so many people based on their passion. The ballroom scene allows people to grow into whoever they want to be. They get to explore whoever they want to be, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Now sitting at the helm of Legendary’s panel, Maldonado stresses the importance of showcasing that powerful, internal bond while performing. “For me, what makes a house superior is not only having that strong family bond, but being able to come together and create a show-stopping group,” she says.
Actress Jameela Jamil and rapper Megan Thee Stallion are newcomers to the scene, but their presence is just as vital. As they encapsulate themselves in the world of ballroom and gain insight from resident icons Wesley and Maldonado, HBO Max’s fresh-eyed audience is able to learn and understand the ball community along with them.
Upon initially learning of the show, Thee Stallion had very little knowledge of ballroom. However, after further research of the impassioned, underground community, the hip-hop starlet did not hesitate to confirm her involvement. As a judge, Thee Stallion gauges success on the performers’ enthusiasm and the audience’s captivation, setting out her personal guidelines before the competition commences: “I’m looking for the turn up. I’m looking for the fun. Are you engaging me? Are you engaging the audience? Are we all having a good ass time?”
Jamil’s first discovered ballroom through watching videos of various houses perform online and actually grew an admiration for Maldonado before ever meeting her. “I’ve loved ballroom for a really long time,” she tells V. “I first discovered it on YouTube, specifically watching Leiomy. Leiomy was the first person from the ballroom community that I ever became obsessed with. And then anytime I’d go to New York, I would always try and schedule my trips so that I could make it to a ball. I’ve loved the community from the outside, not just because of the dance and the fashion and everything, but also because of what it represents emotionally.”
A long-time supporter of the community, Jamil reflects on the emotional importance of ballroom to both its members and its onlookers. “I’m someone who has taken the time in life to find my people,” she continues. “I’m someone who wasn’t necessarily super close with my own family, and I really believe in chosen family. I think that the embodiment of that is ballroom. [In ballroom,] you are able to find people who support you, who don’t need to be blood related to you to be your ride or die.”
Celebrated stylist Law Roach has long been a fan of the ballroom scene, having had the opportunity to witness Maldonado and Wesley flourish from their beginnings as performers, but his expertise ultimately lies in his evaluation of each house’s look. “You know I’m here to see the fashion, baby,” he admits of his judging criteria. Making history as a Black creative himself, Roach reinforces the importance of ballroom in Black American history and celebrates the confident sense of self-expression present in each performance.
With a pleasantly diverse set of eyes judging each week’s performances, HBO Max’s Legendary sheds a vital light on the ball scene, one that’s enjoyable for both the well-versed fans and the intrigued newcomers. Taking the ball to the main stage, the show proclaims the underground community’s existence as one that deserves widespread recognition, and as the competition heats up and each house shares their personal experiences in the scene, it becomes increasingly difficult to take your eyes off of the show.
Watch the first episode on HBO Max’s YouTube channel, below, and make sure to keep up with the action on their streaming platform weekly.