Queens of the Crews

By William McGuinness

Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2009 11:00 PM ET

Before a Friday morning rehearsal of Randy Jackson's show America's Best Dance Crew, dancer Jorel Rios pulled on a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sweat pants and tied his gold Nike Air Force 1's while fellow Vogue Evolution member Leiomy Maldonado dragged a sponge of cover-up across her forehead.

The group of five New Yorkers had been working on their routine throughout the week, struggling through practices and stressing about their timing. Though they had to perform in a style unlike that of their underground ball scene, they still thought they had an advantage over the other groups. It was Beyoncé week, and gays like them had been emulating her for years.

America's Best Dance Crew brings groups from across the country to Warner Bros. studios, where they perform and get eliminated one at a time in dance-show style. Hosted by Mario López and judged by industry people or former celebrities trying hard to appeal to an urban market, the show weaves an underdog subplot into the competition to such an extent that viewers may consider texting a vote for all of the groups.

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How could one choose between the guy born with a club foot, a judge who had scoliosis, a guy who misses his mom after she got evicted, a group consisting entirely of slightly to rather overweight women, and a group of Asian people who don't want to be thought of simply as Asian people? One of them didn't get into college, considered the show her last hope, and was voted off in the first episode. Her life may be in shambles now, one week later.

Despite the competing sentiments, Vogue Evolution may face the most daunting odds. The five are the only openly gay people on the show and act like it -- even the judges repeatedly refer to them as "ladies." Maldonado, the group's only actual female presence, was born male. On the Sunday night broadcast, Lil Mama, a judge, addressed them as "lovely ladies" and remarked that Vogue Evolution seemed to embody a dare.

"Everything is a dare," she said. "It's 'I dare you to win' because no one expects you to be America's best dance crew."

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Crew chief Devon Webster agreed that Vogue Evolution's sexuality will likely affect how long the group remains on the show. Judges weigh in, but viewers largely determine who's popular, who isn't, and who should go home. Webster, however, said it could go either way. He added that while haters have surfaced on YouTube, "an equally vocal group is typing away in support." Loud and proud, the members of Vogue Evolution like to think their dancing will do some talking too. Each member has a significant underground fan base, has performed in dance battles, and is accomplished as an individual.

Though they were performing to Beyoncé's "Déjà Vu," the spectacle was unlike anything the audience had seen before. Judge and former 'N Syncer J.C. Chasez said those ladies woke him from a funk that lasted most of the show; Mario López stood in a dimpled stupor; and Lil Mama remarked that it took a transgender woman to bring out the femininity of Sasha Fierce.

Perhaps the surprise is unwarranted. Seconds before, Maldonado flipped -- in stilettos -- over Dashaun Williams, landed solidly, sat on his back, and crossed her legs. She was a queen among queens, and she looked comfortable on her throne.