Pride

'Pose' Choreographer Twiggy Pucci Garçon Talks the Show's Impact on Modern Ballroom Culture

POSE
Michael Parmelee/FX

Indya Moore and Twiggy Pucci Garcon in the "Butterfly/Cocoon" episode of Pose.

Every ballroom scene on FX’s Pose is dazzling. And behind the irreverent strutting, vogueing and steely catwalk attitude is the show’s runway choreographer, Twiggy Pucci Garçon

Nominated for six Emmy Awards, Pose has become a cultural phenomenon for its depiction of the 1980s and early '90s ballroom and house scene, where black and brown queer and trans folk found solace, pleasure, and triumph. While the documentary, Paris Is Burning, introduced and immortalized the scene, Pose celebrates its stories with authentic narrators. The creator of the show, Ryan Murphy filled the cast, crew, and writers’ room with people who lived these moments. 

One of those storytellers is Twiggy, who competed in her first ball during high school. “That was 15 years ago now, although I'll never say my actual age,” she tells Billboard over the phone. Beginning as the ballroom scene consultant in season one, in season two she is now the runway choreographer. And if you’ve been lucky enough to see her work for yourself you’d know exactly why. Twiggy is both an effervescent performer and a student of the culture’s history. 

Twiggy chatted with Billboard Pride about her beginnings, her work with LGBTQ youth homelessness program True Colors, and her hopes for the future of ballroom. 

When did you first become involved in ballroom?

Running parallel to the ballroom scene on the campus of black colleges and universities in the DMV area was a model troupe scene. Those competitions were on the same tip but disconnected from ballroom, and I competed in those since I was very young. I also used to dance at Gail Hart Dance Studios back in Portsmouth, Virginia and a friend of mine there would vogue in between other techniques.

I didn't know what vogueing was at the time. I wanted to learn more about vogueing and more about ballroom and [my friend] wanted me to walk. A few weeks after we met he took me to my first ballroom and I got chopped. Then two months later, I walked again and won and joined my first house, the House of Chanel. 

You started as the show’s ball scene consultant and you’re now the runway choreographer. How have things changed?

Last season, I was able to be in the writer's room. I showed up on set during ball production days and gave notes, suggestions on casting, judges, and production staff from the ballroom community. This season I'm choreographing the runway categories and more production-focused categories.

When I first started speaking with [Ryan] Murphy in 2017, I was excited to hear that he was working with Steven Canals, who's Afro-Latinx and from New York. It started out with a call and then I had a face-to-face meeting with him. That meeting was really about seeing that he wanted to "get it right". He wanted to hear what I thought "getting it right" looked like... and I think we got it right.

Are there any moments working on Pose that you hold close to your heart?

There are so many folks who are part of the production that come from ballroom, [everyone from] the judges to the people you see walking the categories. Jack [Mizrahi], who plays himself and helps write lines for Billy [Porter], is my aunt, and Dominique [Jackson], a.k.a miss Elektra herself, is my gay mother. So to share this experience with my family has been the most meaningful part of this. 

Do you worry that the success of Pose will create a spectacle of something that is meant to be a safe space?

That's a real concern. There are folks who have always wanted this moment and there are others who think this will have negative repercussions. With visibility comes the chance for exploitation and the chance for colonization. There’s a core group of us sticking to our whims, so when folks we don’t know or don't mean well for the community try and come in with different opportunities, no matter what it's for or how much -- we say no. It’s equally important that there are still balls where we don't have to worry about any media, documentary people or any outsiders.

How do you feel about having cameras in what is ostensibly a safe space?

In New York it's not unusual, versus somewhere in the Midwest where it would be a bit off-putting. But that also depends on the makeup of that camera crew. A black and brown camera crew would be less off-putting, if I'm being completely honest, than a completely white camera crew coming into the space.

What do you say to people who want to get involved in the ballroom scene?

It's one thing to be really excited about the beauty, art, aesthetics, performance, and all of those things, which are wonderful. But all of that comes out of a really rich history of struggle and resilience. Your interest should be rooted in why it's there and what it's there for. 

Teaching seems to be an important part of your work. How do you do this at True Colors? 

My work outside of the creative space has always been rooted in social justice, advocacy and public health. I've been here for the past five years as one of three program managers who do advocacy, public policy training, and youth collaboration. We work directly with young people who’ve experienced homelessness and train them on public speaking, advocacy, and lawmaking. This means they're the ones in the room advocating for themselves, rather than folks who just have degrees but don't have lived experiences. 

Currently, we're working towards the True Colors National Impact Summit which will be held on September 4-5 in Washington DC. All topics will be on LGBTQ youth homelessness and we plan to bring together people from all walks of life, figure out what they want to learn, and see how they can be involved.