The promotional poster for Legendary Season 3 featuring members of House of Ada. Top row, left to right: Vanity Ada, Papi Ada, Virgo Ada; Bottom row, left to right: Sophora Ada, Babi Ada HBO, courtesy of House of ada
Portland is about to shine in the national eye once again. That light sparkles in the city’s very own House of Ada, which (like many ballroom houses) is a family – a family that pushes the boundaries of fashion, style and dance as a nuclear entity.
One is further sympathized by the attempts of local designers Project Catwalk or delved deeper into the city’s food scene while hosting top chefyou can now dive into the third season of HBO’s ball culture competition Legendary and see the heroes of hometown House of Ada compete for $100,000 and the show’s title of “legendary.”
Ball culture has been pretty well explained to the mainstream at this point – certain touchstones would be the controversial but groundbreaking 1990 documentary Paris is burning and the award-winning FX drama pose— but suffice it to say that ballroom culture is where Madonna stole Vogue from, and there’s a whole lexicon of other styles and dances that got their start there too.
House of Ada housefather Daniel Girón, nicknamed Papi Ada, couldn’t give many details about where his house ultimately ended up in the show’s rankings, but he says he and the children of his house took the Pacific Northwest spot of the ballroom map.
“We’re the first house on the show not to confirm gender,” Girón said mercury. “To make it on the show and to be represented in that way is tremendous. We are representative of queer immigrants in the ballroom.”
Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Girón moved to Portland in 2012 to study dance. He credits his roommate Kumari Suraj, who goes by the name of Vanity Ada, with introducing and mentoring him to the city’s ballroom culture scene.
“[Vanity] was the one who made the big strides,” Girón said. “You were the person who brought true ballroom legends to Portland to teach workshops and host events. I was the one taking steps to train myself and train the community — build the community,” Giron said.
Related reading: Portland is burning
Unfortunately, Girón couldn’t bring his whole house to himself Legendary, and had to choose between his children. You can expect to see some top notch moves from Sophora Ada and Babi Ada, two of Girion’s most promising students. And be sure to keep an eye out for Virgo Ada, who is actually Girón’s former rival. Before Virgo moved to Portland to join the House of Ada, the two often faced each other in competitions, pitted tactically against each other due to complementary traits and styles.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you put us against each other, but you definitely know you’re going to get a show,” Girón said of the show’s performances. “It will be hyped. The room will explode.”
He described the house’s competitive aesthetic as a modern ballroom update of Disney’s 1940’s elves fantasy– which makes sense since House of Ada takes its name from the Spanish word “hada”, meaning “fairy”.
“It can be as simple as solid earth tones – which we bring into our looks – or the way we apply our makeup, a little bit of glitter as a representation of being this shiny little magical creature,” Girón said .
Despite their natural glow, the members of the house auditioned for four months before securing their spot in the season’s competition. Due to the pandemic, the process involved daily testing and adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.
“A reality TV show is a completely different kind of work environment,” Girón said. “There’s a difference between working full-time and working full-time: get up, have a schedule, you do a photo shoot, you do an interview, you rehearse, you eat, then you have to go back to the wardrobe team. Not only do you create choreographies, you also create music from scratch, concepts. It’s just non-stop work, work, work. But it’s also what we’re already doing – just super boosted times ten.”
“I trust that our work will speak very highly of us,” Girón said. “We really had a chance to represent the Pacific Northwest strongly and tell our story in the best way possible, so I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Although House of Ada has no public Watch Party appearances planned for the Legendary At the Season 3 premiere, Girón said the house will be judging its upcoming Birthday Ball: It’s Raining 10s, where Girón hopes to better unite houses on the west coast of Seattle and Tacoma.
“When people talk about ballrooms, the extensions of it, there’s New York, LA, Chicago and a few other places that are known to be established,” Girón said. “You’re really starting to see the Paris ballroom and the talent there. But I’m hoping before they skip all the way to another continent, they bring it back to the US because the Pacific Northwest kiki scene has been doing it for eight years and we’re ready to make some noise.”
The first three episodes of HBO Max’s Legendary are available to stream on Thu, May 19th. house of Ada Hosting It’s Raining 10s at the Vitalidad Movement Art Center in Portland, Friday, June 17, 9 p.m., $20 Tickets here.