Dashaun Wesley is Legendary
Dashaun Wesley Wants To Shift The Narrative
By Isoul Harris
Dashaun Wesley is the host of the HBO Max original series Legendary, a competition reality show centered around the "houses" of the underground ballroom culture created initially by Crystal LaBeija, a Black transgender woman, in late 1970s New York. Recently renewed for a third season, the show blends vogue performances, high fashion, and a fly-on-the-wall view inside each of the "Houses" vying weekly to win the overall prize of $100,000. Wesley has toured with Rihanna, starred in films such as Magic Mike XXL, and starred in the acclaimed FX series Pose—a period drama from Ryan Murphy and Janet Mock that tells the story of New York house ballroom scene from 1987 to 1994. With all his success, he fully understands—and appreciates— how far he has come from his beginnings in the infamous Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. But Dashaun Wesley is just getting started.
Isoul Hussein Harris, the Managing Editor of WarnerMedia's The WM Inclusive, caught up with Dashaun recently, and he talked excitedly about entering the gay ballroom culture in New York at 14, what it takes to make a show like Legendary, why he decided to start his own house, and more!
WarnerMedia You are a part of two of the biggest and most historical shows on television based in a queer space, Pose and Legendary. I know people ask you this all the time, but I'm just curious: It must be overwhelming sometimes to think,' I'm on both of these shows, and on one show, I'm the star.'"
Dashaun Wesley Yes, and the other show, I am just voguing down! Voguing down. It's a monumental moment. I guess the most to me is the fact that it's still a teachable moment. I speak to so many people who are like, "Oh my God, I'm watching both of the shows." It's not overwhelming, but it catches you by surprise. You then remember: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah, I'm on both." But it's fun. For me, this is not work. It's something I do every day now, so it's never work.
That's a blessing when your work is your passion.
Yes! I work with the same people that I have competed against, that I emceed for, that I was in the same house with, or shared a friendship. It's just so interesting to put it in that sort of place and perspective.
How do you explain house ballroom culture to those who may be unfamiliar?
The first thing they see are the houses. It's competition-based at the balls. But, houses come together so people can create their own family, their chosen family. We come together and go out there to compete for grand prizes, cash prizes, trophies, and more. You join a family that you feel works for you. Again, it's your chosen family. Now, if you let them choose you, that's up to you! I don't know about that one, but again, it's just about us showing love. And again, we don't care about what color you are, how tall you are, short you are, how big, how light, how gay, or how straight. What cares about what you do when it comes to that performance floor.
You must leave it all on the floor.
All on the floor!
What was your journey like growing up in New York's ballroom scene as a dancer?
I can honestly say I found about this community when I was 14 years old. I'm 36 now. Once I saw it, I never turned away. I was a hip-hop dancer, but once I found voguing, it was a wrap. I always say that I surrounded myself with people who looked, acted, and moved like me because I didn't have that back at home in Brooklyn.
How has the house ballroom culture changed your life?
No matter if you're a virgin or if you're an Icon Hall of Famer, you must have a genuine love for it. I found a love for it and a passion for a community, for a style, and it was a life shift for me. Voguing and the ballroom scene have been great for my life and career. The competition, the work I put into it, the outcome, all of it is positive. I've been on tours with artists. I've been in music videos. I've shot TV shows; now, these things are happening within the culture.
I started going to balls when I was in college. So, I know many of the people we are now working on these shows, whether they are talent, producers, consultants, or writers. I'm happy to see those who have been instrumental in sustaining and evolving this culture can now make careers out of what was fun for us back in the day.
It's still unique. It's weird now to see how years ago, this culture could be shunned, hidden, underground, and so in the cut. And now, people are so interested to learn about this. It's odd because something that I've been in 20 plus years is new for someone who's even been on this earth longer than myself. That's a significant shift in culture and understanding. Years ago, we were underground. Now we're mainstream. Now, we are the people in the forefront, the heavy hitters, and the talent. We now have the opportunity to showcase all of this to the world.
What have you learned from hosting two seasons of Legendary?
Not to take anything personally, darling! No shade. You can't take anything personally. I emceed and hosted in the ballroom culture for years. So, now that I'm hosting a TV show, I had to learn teleprompters! I was not good in the beginning, but now I am acing it! I am getting through it without a problem. But again, you must learn it. I learned.
"Learn it. And learn it well!" to quote from my favorite documentary of all time, Paris Is Burning. How do you stay true to yourself working in an industry that by nature demands compromise?
I'm in a completely different place where I can now carry my community publicly while still being authentic and still being genuine and still being myself. I'm glad that HBO Max and Scout Productions are open to when something doesn't feel right. They ask questions, and I say, "Yep, nope. Okay. I won't do this. I will do this." Sometimes we feel like, under certain things, we can't. I'm glad that we're in a place where we can speak about it when something feels wrong.
That's great. Because sometimes, when you're coming from a place where you're working so hard for an opportunity and when you finally get a "yes," you think you must say "yes" to things you may be uncomfortable with.
We can be easily appropriated rather than easily celebrated. Therefore, we must be as honest and as authentic as possible. So, when something doesn't feel right, I'm saying "no.". But I'm not going to say "no" without a solution. I'm a solution-based person.
What's excellent about Legendary is the atmosphere, the performances, and the cutthroat competition; it nearly feels like a real ball. How do you personally contribute to that?
Well, one thing I try to do is allow my reactions and my nuances to be as authentic as possible. So, if anything needs to be changed, fixed or talked about, adjusted, or mentioned, I try to let those moments guide that. Because a lot of people are like, "Well, how do you prepare to get ready for this?" I don't prepare, because it's naturally there. Like for the vogue Redemption Battles on the show, I'm not practicing my chants at home. I want to go naturally with what feels right at that moment.
You have been a part of the House of Lanvin—formerly The House of Evisu and Latex— since the beginning of your ballroom career. So, now you are starting your own house. Why now?
I've been thinking about this for so long, and I never did because of the timing. Now is a perfect time because I now have the space to do it. Everything I know about leading a house, I have learned from the house I was a part of for so many years. That's the thing about starting houses. You're supposed to shift the narrative from what's happening right now. So, my goal is to change the narrative. There's also a connection to the entertainment industry. You have celebrities who still walk balls sometimes. You have celebrities who still participate. So, I'm not saying that I'm having a Hollywood house, but you never know.
What does Pride mean to you?
I'm about pride with love. If I don't love myself, how can I have pride in anything else? It's not about vanity. If I don't show pride in what I've done, who I am, and who I'm being, then I'm not living. Pride for me is all about love, and love starts with me first.