Founded on the trailblazing legacy of New York’s legendary ballroom scene, Haus of Us is a radical new vogueing house for the city’s youth. Named after the iconic House of LaBeija – immortalised in the seminal queer film Paris is Burning – Haus of Us is as much about community as it is about competition, with an emphasis on the new generation, not yet old enough for 21+ events. Co-founder Darius ‘Zenith LaBeija’ Case feels particularly strongly about this point. “There’s a younger community being overlooked,” he says. “I want to create a platform where people of all ages can attend mini-balls, major major balls and parties.”
Here, members of the radical new family discuss why unity is the foundation of a succesful house and why “You never walk alone at a ball”.
DARIUS ‘ZENITH LABEIJA’ CASE
“The story of ballroom is one of my biggest inspirations to carry on the legacy,” reveals Darius ‘Zenith LaBeija’ Case, 20-year-old co-founder of the Haus of Us. Case learned the history of the scene – which sees performers ‘walk’ under the banner of competing houses – from the trailblazing House of LaBeija, featured in cult 1990 doc Paris Is Burning. Formed in response to racial bias on the New York ball scene in 1977, LaBeija’s inclusive spirit fires the Haus of Us, a vital new platform for the young and diverse to battle it out.
Case has won many voguing battles, but is frustrated by the lack of inclusion in the ballroom community. “Unfortunately I’m underage and a lot of the events in the ballroom scene cater to age-21+ audiences – there’s a younger community being overlooked,” he says. “I want to create a platform where people of all ages can attend mini-balls, major balls and parties.” Haus of Us officially began when Case partnered with 8-Ball Community, a non-profit organisation and DIY publisher, on The Gamification Series, a fiercely competitive dance-off that set Instagram alight this summer. “LaBeija has taught me that family is important to creating a competitive house, as unity is formed with bonding – and that’s what is directly reflected at our events.”
WAYNE ‘THUNDAAA LABEIJA’ RANDALL
Last October, Wayne ‘Thundaaa LaBeija’ Randall, Darius ‘Zenith LaBeija’ Case and a few others were hanging out when the idea of starting their own house first got floated. “We named it Haus of Us because it was something we could call ours,” Randall recalls. This summer, Haus of Us officially began as an all-ages event experience house for a new generation of ball kids.
“I am the chief of commentation,” Randall says of his duties hosting and providing salty repartee at events. It’s a job that comes naturally to the Harlem native, whose verbal dexterity is matched by his fluid style of dance. Pairing baggy-fit clothes with Nike kicks when he performs, Randall adds “hair-ography” for an extra touch of glamour. “(It makes me) feel most like myself, and it makes me stand out,” says the man who won ‘Prettyboy Realness’ in May at The Big, the Bold and the Beautiful Ball, a semi-regular night that Haus of Us competed in. “This house is all about (elevating) each other. Haus of Us allows for the glow-up to be fab!”
ANTHONY ‘ANTAEUZ’ RODRÍGUEZ
Anthony ‘Antaeuz’ Rodríguez has an illustrious history in dance. The first male recipient of the coveted Tito Puente dance scholarship in 1990, the Bronx native is a jazz contemporary dancer, who has performed for the likes of Prince and the woman who originally switched him on to the movement – Madonna. “I was introduced to the ball community when the song ‘Vogue’ came out,” says Rodríguez, who co-runs the Haus. “I would go to Sound Factory where Junior Vasquez used to play and it changed my life.”
Rodríguez met Case at The Door, a community outreach centre in Manhattan where he works as performing arts coordinator. He is currently planning events including a Haus of Us ball in Atlanta as the platform’s programme director. “I’m honoured to be a part of this project with Zenith,” he says. “The fact that (ballroom) still exists and is celebrated all over the world is an inspiration.” As for his own dance battle advice: “Create your own (style) and tell your story with truth... Now go get your tens!”
“The ballroom culture is very raw!” exclaims 24-year-old artist Daniella Agosto, who first met Case at The Door five years ago. She remembers that he was like “an annoying little brother at first”, but their bond soon began to grow and the pair quickly became inseparable, sharing a love for pure creativity. “What inspired me to get into the ballroom scene was the family aspect and history behind it all,” says Agosto. “We are one big dysfunctional family and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The Bronx native, who dances for Puerto Rico-born pop singer Juani and recently worked with choreographer and Spike Lee collaborator Julian Wicks, describes her style as wildly free-flowing. “It’s just like how I live my life – I don’t ever limit myself to any styles or make decisions based upon opinions when it comes to my capabilities,” Agosto explains. “Dance came from our ancestors. It’s not something that is taught. It’s a feeling that allows your body to move, be free, and heal.”
RONALD ‘IRONIC’ EDWARDS
On the first day of high school, Ronald ‘Ironic’ Edwards met Darius Case – and the two have been inseparable ever since. “The (Haus) crew is a mixture of close friends we know from school in Hell’s Kitchen and (people that we’ve) met somewhere along the way,” says the 19-year-old aspiring stylist. “Even though we all have huge personalities, for some reason it works.”
Edwards is a keen advocate for the age-inclusive cause, stressing the importance of young people being given the “chance to figure themselves out and be around people like them before that confusion (that) so many suffer turns into hate. Haus of Us would have definitely helped me sort a lot of stuff out if I’d had it growing up.” Although Edwards has not yet walked a ball, he is galvanised by being in the mix. “We have to use our collective voice and create an environment so that all those who come after us have the opportunity to succeed in whatever their heart desires, perfect their craft, and not only survive but thrive. Period.”
Described as “one of ballroom’s newest and hottest vogue femmes”, Honey LaBeija’s introduction to the ballroom scene came, as with many of their peers, via The Door. “There were free classes in ballet, hip hop (and) jazz, so I took advantage. Little did I know there were vogue classes taught by the legendary monsters LaBeija every Friday. After my first class I was hungry for more. Learning the style got me to love the community. The ballroom scene is full of life, colour and beauty – all things that capture my eye.”
“I wanted to be part of a company that wasn’t only for the adults in (the) ballroom community,” continues the 18-year-old, who was instrumental in creating the first Haus of Us ball. “The children of ballroom feel left out because so many venues limit us from participating. The youth (should) have a voice and an equal opportunity.” When it comes to his own style, the Brooklyn native says their USP is “universal but authentic. When I dance I try to give off my own energy to make the crowd feel what I feel.”
MALACHI ‘DRIPPY 007’ BROWN
“Ballroom wasn’t my forte,” admits Malachi ‘Drippy 007’ Brown, a 17-year-old Bronx native who overcame his anxieties around voguing by dedicating himself to the artform. “I wanted to move my body like a snake, open my paths of creativity, and just feel like a bad bitch duckwalking through the streets of New York.”
Clearly, the effort has begun to pay off: Brown, who cites Kurt Cobain, Travis Scott, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar as inspirations for his “grungey rockstar” sartorial style, can give a good Harlem shake and a Bronx whine. He met Case through social media and hit it off with the Haus co-founder right away, down to be a part of the group from the jump. “(Since) I joined Haus of Us, the charisma and confidence that everybody has inspired in me (has helped me) to let go of (my fears) and be free,” says Brown. “I’m going to live in my truth and live my best life with the Haus, because we are family. That’s what families do – stick together. I love them.”
VEYONCÉ ‘VENUS JUICY COUTURE’ DELEON
Veyoncé ‘Venus Juicy Couture’ DeLeon describes her style as “cunty-matics”, which combines the sexiness of heels with hand gestures that rage with excitement when she does a dramatic dip. “I love how much I’ve come into my vogue, because women aren’t usually dramatic. I love wearing chunky platform boots and bellbottoms with mesh tops; it makes me feel like a Bratz doll.” With Haus of Us, DeLeon edits videos from the ball, a practice that allows her to explore her latest passion. Things are smooth now, but when DeLeon first met Case at The Door, things got off to an awkward start, the pair avoiding each other despite sharing mutual friends. But now their bond is unbreakable. “I never thought I’d be entering the ballroom scene because I felt intimidated as a cis woman,” the 18-year-old Bronx native reveals. “One day Zenith and Thundaaa took me to their kiki house practice where I decided to show off my vogue – the house members lived for me and I ended up being a part of the House of Juicy Couture.
DEMARGO ‘JUICY COUTURE LABEIJA’ COX
“You never walk alone at a ball,” Demargo ‘Juicy Couture LaBeija’ Cox says. “Even before you hit the floor, you feel the support: the claps from people, the chants and the screams from your friends telling you to destroy everything in your path. You are in the fight, with the strength of dozens of people behind you.” Cox vogues with a style that is soft and undulating: “I’m more geared towards ‘soft and cunt’, which can be defined as a more feminine, sexual flow to voguing, focusing on body movements and sexual intimacy.”
Cox was drawn to voguing by legendary queen Tamiyah ‘Louboutin’ Miyake-Mugler, who performed for judges Anna Wintour and Broadway producer Jordan Roth at the Met’s voguing battle in June. But it was Case and the crew that really brought him into the scene. “Watching it from YouTube is one thing, but being there to see it live is another,” he says. “When you are in a space where everyone is clapping and cheering for you, and everyone wants the best for you... It’s a different type of life.”
XAVIER ‘XTACY’ SURGENER
“I was down with Haus of Us from day one,” says Xavier ‘Xtacy’ Surgener. “Once Zenith has his mind set on something he will get it done, and this is only the beginning.” Surgener, who met Case and Edwards during his first year of high school, knows this better than most – his older sister, Chasidy ‘Thiccidy’ Surgener, is also a member.
Like most of his peers, Surgener got his first taste of the scene at The Door, doing a summer intensive with Justin ‘Monster’ LaBeija. “I had never vogued before so it was new to me, but it was something that felt good. The energy you feel when you go to a ball is something that will forever be unmatched,” the Harlem-based barista says. “Zenith is one of my inspirations when it comes to ballroom. I watched him grow into the voguer he is today – he is in such a good mood when he hears a beat. All of his worries go away and he lives in the moment. That is what inspires me to get over my anxiety and say, ‘just do it’.”
CHASIDY ‘THICCIDY’ SURGENER
“You get such a rush of excitement being at the ball,” says Harlem-based Chasidy ‘Thiccidy’ Surgener. “I feel free, like a different side of me comes out. I feel more confident in my own skin being part of Haus of Us.” The 21-year-old medical assistant met Case in 2013 through her brother, Xavier, and was a natural addition to the Haus. “I saw (Case’s) vision and how he wanted everyone to feel like they belong... Getting into voguing with my brother was a fun experience. We go to balls together and the energy is just amazing.”
As a fan, Surgener’s favourite performers are the more masculine ‘twisters’, who catwalk and duckwalk in tandem with their allies, the vogue femmes. “(I love watching them) go at it, especially when it’s a tag-team category, because it’s amazing watching how everyone moves!” she says. As for her favourite moment on the runway yet? “I was doing an amateur walk with the icons all cheering me on. It was my first time walking, and it gave me the confidence boost that I needed.”
QUANTEL ‘CHILI/CHESTNUT’ MCKENNA
When asked what it was that attracted him to the ballroom scene, Quantel ‘Chili/Chestnut’ McKenna exclaims, “Complete boredom!” The 24-year-old Queens resident joined a friend for vogue practice, not having any idea what that entailed. “I went and never looked back. The atmosphere and the energy consumed me.”
McKenna’s dance style is sexier than most. “My performance is a mood – once I start, it’s hard to take your eyes off of me,” he says. The performer met Case through the kiki community, a ballroom subculture helping young people develop their talents in order to move on to the mainstream ball scene. (Kiki grew out of an HIV awareness scheme founded by House of Latex mother Aisha Diori in 2002.) “I’ll always be for the movement, motivation and growth of the youth. I believe that voguing is an outlet to keep the gay and trans youth off the street. The world is a dangerous place for the LGBTQ+ community and I believe that the Haus of Us gives (young people) something to look forward to.”
Hair Shingo Shibata at The Wall Group, make-up Grace Ahn at Julian Watson Agency using M.A.C, set design Grace Hartnett at D +V, photographic assistants Jared Christiansen, Olivier Simille, Alex Morgan, styling assistants Stella Evans, Hsiang Lu, Jeremy Cox, hair assistants Risako Itamochi, Mai Kimura, set design assistants Joel Copjec, Nathaniel Alexander, Elysia Belilove, on-set production Isabella Farrell