By Karl Taps X.
“XTRAVA…GANZA!!!” is a chant instantly recognized by any NYC nightlife veteran. Since 1982 the House of Xtravaganza has built its reputation based on diverse talent, impeccable style, the ability to defy social boundaries and a fierce family loyalty. In the course of 30 years, “the Xtravas” have become an intrinsic part of the cultural life of New York, impacting fashion, art, music, dance and nightlife, and are one of the most acclaimed houses defining the ballroom scene.
It all started in the summer of 1982 when a small group of gay men and transgender women, formed of friendships made hanging out on dance floors and the Christopher Street pier, made the bold decision to open a downtown ballroom house in response to the Harlem uptown ballroom scene. One of the first to join this new venture was a young transgender teen of Puerto Rican descent who came to be known as Angie Xtravaganza and would assume the role of “house mother.” Under Mother Angie’s uncompromising but loving hand, the House of Xtravaganza would continue to recruit talented young members and build their recognition as a force to be reckoned with in the ballroom community.
By 1988 the ballroom scene was frequently being cited in the popular press for its cultural significance, and the House of Xtravaganza emerged as the most recognized of the ballroom houses. That year house members found their way to the pages of Details, Vogue, Time and numerous other publications as public interest in voguing and the ballroom scene grew. That same year David Ian Xtravaganza, along with DJs and house members Johnny Dynell and David DePino, recorded the seminal voguing single “Elements of Vogue.” Its nimble rhyming lyrics recorded over a dance track sampled from popular voguing beats provided a step-by-step introduction to the art and attitude of voguing.
1990 was the year that the ballroom scene and voguing went mainstream, and the House of Xtravaganza was once again at the forefront. The award-wining documentary “Paris Is Burning” chronicled the underground scene and made celebrities of some of the long-time stars of the ballroom scene. House of Xtravaganza members were the most frequently credited in the film. Among those featured were Mother Angie Xtravaganza, who was extensively interviewed, and a very young Jose Xtravaganza voguing in competition, foreshadowing his transition to professional dancer the same year. Madonna’s 1990 hit single “Vogue,” based on the ballroom signature dance form, took voguing worldwide. For the video and subsequent Blonde Ambition world tour, Madonna recruited two amazing Xtravaganza voguers, Jose Gutierez and Luis Camacho. “Vogue” would go to #1 in 30 countries and was the best-selling single of 1990. The accompanying video featured choreography by Jose and Luis, for which they were nominated for an MTV Award. They also appeared with her in the behind-the-scenes tour documentary “Truth or Dare,” and Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza would later appear in Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video. In 1993, under the name “Jose & Luis,” they would record “Queen’s English” with Junior Vasquez – now considered a cult classic. (The track featured background vocals by Madonna, the only record on which she is credited as a background vocalist.) That same year Danni Xtravaganza would record “Love the Life You Live” with Freddy Bastone for the NuGroove label.
The House of Xtravaganza has continued to runway walk, dance and perform their way into the cultural life of New York and around the world, but through all these years they have never lost sight of their origin as a ballroom house. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, former Madonna voguer and now house father Jose Xtravaganza and all of his “children” will host the Xtravaganza “Wrath of the Gods & Goddesses” ball on Sunday, July 22. No need to worry about having to trek up to Harlem or get your passport out to venture to an outerborough (where most balls take place these days): In true Xtravaganza style, their 30th anniversary ball will be held at XL, in the heart of Manhattan.
People often ask, “How does one become an Xtravaganza?” My advice: Come to the ball, have a ball and see if you have just the right mix of talent, attitude and artistry to walk the runway and snatch a trophy.