Legendary: Isla Ebony Talks Ballroom Levels, Representation & More

Bleeding Cool is back with HBO Max's Legendary house mother and prominent figure in the West Coast ballroom community, Isla Ebony for the second part of our three-part interview series with her. In case you missed the first part in the series, where we covered her personal history with balls and talked about what current ballroom culture looks like now that it's had to go virtual in our current pandemic world, you can check it out here.

legendary
House of Ebony – Legendary (Image: HBO Max)

Q: Now, "real legendary status": a certain number of years in the game or number of balls walked?

A: "So there's different levels to achieve in ballroom: in the beginning, you're a star. When you start getting attention, you're starting to get some wins and make a name, you're considered a star. When you have fully established your ballroom name and have a lot of trophies, traveling, getting trophies, you're a statement. And when you've been doing that for a long time, typically 10 years, that's when you get made legendary. People are getting made legendary faster these days…just because the nature of the internet and how big ballroom has gotten, how many more balls, you can achieve a lot more in a shorter amount of time. Tends to be around 7 to 10 years in ballroom; and also what you do to contribute to the community will affect legendary status. That's what's so cool about ballroom is that they really value community contribution."

Q: There's a lot of giving back and supporting of the LBGTQ community, like the Latex Ball that raises awareness for AIDS prevention and research. With current events especially, how is House of Ebony involved as a historically black house?

A: "House of Ebony was really inspired by the Black Panther Party when it formed in the 70s, but I would say with Ebony and ballroom in general, there's a conversation happening about all black lives mattering – specifically black transwomen. They often get left out of the conversation and that's the backbone of ballroom. As far as activism, it's primarily focusing right now on that. Every day you're hearing about some black transwoman being murdered and the protests including them and their names. There's a lot of activism happening nationally. Also, there's been a lot of conversations now that ballroom's international – educating the international community on what Black Lives Matter is really about – what the real history in America is, what privilege is. When you get all these international white women and they come because they feel sexy and they love voguing but they don't have a connection to the historical context. So there has also been a move to really educate the international communities about 'you need to fight for us too. You need to speak out,' because you're essentially using our culture."

It's a fine line between appropriation and celebrating culture and wanting to do justice by the community, and there are numerous organizations dedicated to helping black trans people. Make sure to check out the third and final part of my interview with Ebony, posting Tuesday.


This post is part of a multi-part series: LEGENDARY Interview: Isla Ebony.

About Eden Arnold

With over a decade of writing experience and by-lines in print, books, and online in addition to a lifetime of television watching experience, Eden is passionate about combining the two. Obsessed with all things TV, she is thrilled to bring all of her many television opinions to the masses.

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