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#TogetherInPride: Ballroom Culture Now In The Spotlight After Starting Out Underground In New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- More and more people are now learning about ballroom culture thanks to recent television shows like "Pose" and "Legendary," but it's been around for decades, serving as a place of acceptance for those who felt excluded in the world.

What started underground is now fully in the spotlight.

"Balls are a gathering of people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else," explains a character on "Pose."

Though there were masquerade or drag balls in the late 1800s, ball and house culture as it came to be, according to community members, originated in New York City sometime around 1970 with African-American and Latin-American LGBTQ+ members in Harlem competing at balls for prizes and trophies.

There are numerous categories, often with elaborate costumes and makeup, where participants dance, walk, pose and vogue.

Yes, voguing originated at the balls.

Sydney Baloue, co-executive producer of "Legendary," made history two years ago at the Latex Ball in New York City.

"The first trans guy to win," Baloue told CBS2's Alice Gainer.

The Latex Ball was created by Gay Men's Health Crisis 30 years ago in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"We had to learn how to survive and support each other because nobody was helping us," said Luna Luis Ortiz, GMHC program coordinator for Project Vogue.

With thousands in attendance, they offer information and testing.

"It's a ball but it's also a health fair," Ortiz said.

He went to his first ball in the late '80s. He says competing in the beauty category and winning really meant something.

"I was doing a stamp, like HIV-positive people are beautiful, too," Ortiz said.

Many participants belong to "houses," groups of chosen families. For some, their biological families didn't accept them and kicked them out. For others, it's a place to find guidance others can't offer.

"To be around trans folks of color who understand you," Baloue said. "Wow, we're at this incredible moment where there's so many Black and brown LGBTQ people who are on stage and really having their moment to celebrate this incredible culture that we have."

A celebration of talent, beauty and inclusion that's long overdue.

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