Wise & Young

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ballroom Interview: Legend Milan Chanel

In 1996 a young gay black male enters a world that he never knew of and attending what he thinks is a “modeling” showcase. This scene is played time and time again at nearly every ball; the only difference here is that unlike other young men this one is Milan. That night he wins face, from that point a Vogue Fem Legend was in the making, name Milan Chanel.

After attending that first ball in Chicago with Lee Milan, over the years Milan Chanel has not only earned the status of Legend, but has also thrown successful balls in years past such as the 2006 Midwest Awards ball with over 700 attendees, and help put the Chicago ballroom scene on par with cities like New York, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. But not without his share of trials and tribulations, having been in seven houses, dealing with being a minority within a minority, and how he began voguing all this happening in a short run in the long walk of Milan Chanel life.

Vogue Fem is arguably the category most closely linked with the Ballroom scene. It seems that everyone has a different story as to how they started Voguing. When posed this question to Milan, he stated that “I became interested in the art of voguing the precision, the mechanism, in Chicago voguing is the highlight [of the ball]”. But at first Milan started off dramatic but was criticized for his lack of femininity, an integral part of Voguing Fem. It was not until later did he tap into the feminine aspect of voguing. Which brought up an interesting duality, with dramatics it seems to be about the marriage of the dramatic style’s more masculine aspects of voguing with the felinity or the “cunt” per se of the art of vogue. Marrying these two opposites is a skill mastered by Milan, and one that he has taught to other Vogue Fem divas including “Kiddy, Berlin, Renaldo, Jailo, and Skittles”.

Recently, Milan went from House Mother of Manolo-Blahnik to Father of Chanel, when asked why he went from Mother to Father and how that fluidity in gender is part in parcel with the Ballroom scene. Milan stated that “When I was growing up, I thought b/c I walked to Vogue Fem, I had to be a mother, and had to tap into the more feminine [parts] and conform to that… People who walk face or vogue fem are the more feminine ones”. This may be one of the reasons why the larger African-American/Latino GLBT community stirred those in the Ballroom scene due to masculinity or machismo being held in high regard, while anything remotely close to feminine or actions thereof are rejected. In the Ballroom scene both masculinity and femininity are both celebrated and embraced. I posed the question to Milan Chanel about the reason why so many outside of the scene recoil and shy away from balls, and ballroom patrons. Expecting an answer akin to “can’t take”, “don’t understand the scene”, I was surprised to hear what came next. “With the exception of a few people, like Tony Milan, Jay Manolo-Blahnik…pretty good reasons, ballroom homosexuals usually [are] stunt queens, escorts, prostitutes, 8 out of 10, usually don’t have their head on straight.” At first this is stunning admission, but upon reflecting of who is usually involved in the ballroom scene, many have been rejected from their families and/or society and are not given the opportunities to gain the skills necessary to earn a living, educational advancements, and are often not shown a world where you can be Black, Gay, and Successful outside of the ballroom scene.

From there the conversation switches gears and I ask about Houses, and how important Houses are to ballroom scene. Houses are akin to Fraternities or Sororities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, with each House having various chapters and each chapter having a more family or more ballroom competition focus. I ask Milan how important House affiliation is to your success within the ballroom scene. Milan recounts when he first came to Atlanta, and at his first three balls he was chopped, but after changing to a more established house, “nothing changed the first 13 balls he walked he won in a row”. I ask about house hopping and how many houses Milan has been a part of, to my knowledge it was three, the first house Milan, the house of Manolo-Blahnik where he was Mother, and recently Chanel where he is currently Father. I was taken aback when Milan said seven. Below is a recount of which houses and the reason he left:

Milan: Started with Stanley something happened within the House putting Stanley out and putting Don Milan in the House, which started controversy. But when Chicago went to the Milan Ball, they wouldn’t allow us to walk the Grand March, which was the last straw.

Ovahness: Started the House at 17 yrs old, in Chicago. But when Milan went to Atlanta to attend Morehouse the house floundered and was too difficult to be mother from afar, and walking under the banner of new house Ovahness when he was the only one in the Atlanta area.

Chanel: This change came about due to Milan’s desire to be in an established house, apart from that, Milan nothing changed except that the first 13 balls he walked he won in a row as a Chanel. Coming back to Chicago, Chanel and didn’t want him want to be Mother or Father of the chapter so he left.

Ferre: Started the House of Ferre, but the members only wanted to be a Midwest house and not travel, which did not fit the ideas that Milan had for the House.

Ebony: Then came Milan’s Ebony tenure which wasn’t the best but joined because Berlin was his child, but after two years with them Milan became changing. Changing into a mentality that he did not like seeing himself evolving into, so Milan knew it was time for a change.

Manolo-Blahnik: Jay Manolo-Blahnik, talked to Milan “best decision” learned a lot, hold them in high regard. Towards the end things started to fall apart, power struggle within the house. After Pony left, it was nothing like it used to be.

Chanel: Milan then returned to Chanel, as Father, which for him has the best balance of family and ballroom scene.

Milan has accomplished so much as winning Chicago’s Finest, Vogue Fem of the Year 1998-chicago ;1999-chicago-detroit;2000-chicago-detroit;2001-chicago-detroit-atlanta
;2002 chicago;2003-chicago-atlanta, and countless grand prizes. What the future holds for Milan is unknown but if his past achievements are any indication, then we can except Milan to be inventive and help mold Vogue Fem for years to come.

As the last part of the interview I played a word association game with Milan Chanel

Word Association:
Walk for me Wednesdays Shade, all around

House of Zion Up and coming
Vogue Fem Amazing

Legend Too many none deserving
Judges Panel Set ups

Leyomi Mizrahi Amazing
Favorite Category to watch Fem Queen Performance

Status Something that should be earned not given

Nasty Battles of Milan Legendary Vogue Fem

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:11 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:13 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:09 PM  

  • You girls are stoming the midwest legend. lol! I like the article it was very informative milan has brought alot to the scene so it was great to learn his history, i wonder who will be next to get interviewed can we get an interview with Sania please I would love to know her history and how it all started.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:13 PM  

  • i dont mean to sound ignorant but can someone please explain what type of dancing they are doing in the clips? Does it hurt when they hit the floor? And what kind and where can i attend one of these events it looks very interesting to go and watch?

    By Blogger keenly, at 5:20 PM  

  • i want to know the same thing, falling on your back like that - fun when you're young, arthritis when you're old?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:42 PM  

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