Having a Ball with the House of Avant Garde

Ballroom culture, popularized both by the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning and the 2018 drama series POSE, is closely associated with New York City. However, Chicago is home to its own rich ballroom history and is often credited as the “birthplace of the ball.” The House of Avant Garde is a cornerstone of this history and the genesis site of a number of prominent figures in Chicago’s ballroom scene, such as Mauren Avant Garde, Tommy Avant Garde, Tracy Avant Garde, Cordell Avant Garde, and Will Omni.


A flyer for one of Avant-Garde’s balls, named “As the Ball Turns.” Photo courtesy of Stephanie Coleman.


The House of Avant Garde, established in the 1980s by Aaron Pierre Brown and Wardell Ford, was the first Chicago ballroom house. Members learned to vogue and compete against one another since its inception. However, the House of Avant Garde did not officially hold a ball of its own until 1991In the late 80s and early 90s, a time when the AIDS epidemic was reaching its peak and members of the LGBTQ+ community were often not accepted in their homes or among their peers (an issue not isolated to this period), the House of Avant Garde became a family and safe haven for many, predominantly Black LGBTQ+ youth. The House provided them not only with a system of mentorship but with a vibrant community in which they were safe to fully express themselves.

Thanks to Stephanie Coleman, videographer and the previous co-owner of Holsum Roc Art Gallery and Cafe (also spelled Wholesome Roc), Media Burn has digitized and made available not only video footage of balls hosted by the House of Avant Garde in its early years but interviews with members of the House themselves. One of these videos is the thirty-minute documentary Having a Ball! With the House of Avant-Garde, which contains footage of the House of Avant-Garde’s Unity Ball (1991) and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Ball (1992). An excerpt from the documentary can be found below.



The full video can be found here.

Also, click here to view raw footage of the House of Avant Garde’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Ball.



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