If you know anything about queer nightlife, then you must know the House of Aviance. Beginning the ballroom dynasty in DC, dancer/producer Mother Juan Aviance moved his base of operations to New York several decades ago, forever changing the makeup of our city’s drag, music, and dance scenes. With talented “children” ranging from the brilliant Kevin Aviance to the gorgeous Erick Atoure, Mother has many reasons to proud of her family. And we have many reasons to give all the love to House Aviance!
Thotyssey: Hello Mother, it’s an honor and a privilege to speak to you today!
Mother Juan Aviance: Hi Jim Thanks for reaching out, I am honored to speak with you.
New York Pride Week is upon us… what is significant about this year’s Pride celebrations for you?
Hmmmmm…. what is significant about this year’s Pride? The fact that despite all that is going on in the world, we as a community are still able and willing to fight for our rights against all odds. That’s pretty awesome.
I was wondering what your take is on the recent Pride flag controversy, with the surprisingly polarizing views on adding brown and black stripes to support Black Lives Matter. Do you have any strong opinions about the new design, or peoples’ responses to it?
Wow, you are really going there… LOL! I am actually on the edge about this issue. On one hand, much needs to be addressed; and on the other hand, I do not believe that changing flag colors makes change. Yes, it may open a dialogue about many issues in our community… but I do not see it is a positive dialogue right now! Mostly because when people are upset/angry, they very rarely listen to one another and nothing gets accomplished.
The House of Aviance has been a major force in nightlife and entertainment since you created it in DC back in 1989. Your own background/schooling in business and dance were driving factors in the House’s success… but did you suspect from the beginning that Aviance would turn out so many talented and vital people?
To be honest, I didn’t! I started the House because of my love for the arts; and I have always been a leader–even as a kid, in dance troupes, singing groups, etc. Starting a House was just an extension of what I have always done since childhood.
Are you the only House Mother you know of who isn’t a drag queen or a trans woman?
No, I believe there are a few others.
The Ballroom scene of the early 90′s really shaped a great deal of queer culture–and all pop culture, really. Besides Aviance, there were the Houses of Xtravaganza, Ninja, LaBeija and many more. I always wondered about the dynamics between these houses. Did everybody have love and respect for each other, or did fierce competition at the balls and in the careers of the house members create too much hostility?
Well, it’s competition… and competition breeds all kinds of emotions. So depending who you are and how you deal with certain aspects of the Ballroom, it can go either way. There is love, there are rivals, and let’s just say that sometimes the competition can get really intense!
People are much more sensitive to “cultural appropriation” these days. When Madonna released “Vogue,” which obviously heavily borrowed choreography and aesthetic from the ball scene in its iconic video, did you feel she was stealing from the culture, or celebrating/elevating it?
I believe any artist that borrows from any culture can be easily labeled as stealing or “cultural appropriation” in one way or another. For me, the fact that Madonna looked for those within the Vogue/Ballroom community is an act of celebrating/elevating the culture, and not just flat-out stealing. Others will think and say differently, but that’s my opinion on all that.
The Ball scene never went away, but has maybe received less attention in recent years. Yet now, LaBeija House is going to celebrate its 50th anniversary in the fall, while certain Drag Racers and the Strike a Pose doc have created renewed interest in Paris is Burning and the whole House scene in general. Will the Ballroom make a comeback?
You are correct in saying that the Ballroom scene never went away, but as far as it receiving less attention that is not true at all! Although my House is not active in the Ballroom and hasn’t been for years, I can tell you Balls take place all over the U.S. Russia, Japan, Paris, etc.
There were so many forces ravaging the queer scene in the 80′s and 90′s NYC: AIDS, crime, drugs… how did you survive it all?
Like anything else, it is all about balance and for me the old saying, “Too much of anything is not good for you” That is what I kept in mind then and now.
RuPaul, Lady Bunny and Amanda Lepore have become living legends, while Michael Alig is back but has shown hints at a return to his darker days. Meanwhile, so many other luminaries from the scene have gone into obscurity or retired. Have you been surprised at who has stuck around and who has disappeared over the years?
I can’t say I’m surprised or not. We all have a path we live or lived, and some last and some do not. I have had my difficulties, but Thank God for good friends that supported and helped me when I was in need.
Do you have a favorite memory as a dancer in nightlife?
Yes, I certainly do! The years when I was learning to vogue in DC, and coming back and forth from DC to the Original Sound Factory (27th Street NYC). That is where it all begin, and my most favorite memories! However, trust me–it has not stopped. I still have a great time vogueing with the youngsters and my peers. I may be 53, but I can still hold my own and strike a pose or two!
I watched a video of your 50th birthday; it looked like quite the kiki!
Oh yes, MY LEGENDARY 50th. That was a very special moment for me, for so many reasons. The best part was that everybody who came–old friends, new friends, and spectators alike–enjoyed the celebration as much as I did. It was simply amazing, to say the least!
These days, with Aviance family members tearing it up all over the globe… how hands-on are you with everybody’s career trajectories? Do family members still have to keep certain channels open with you and the House in order to retain the name “Aviance” in their own ventures?
Good question, and often-asked. For the most part, everybody does his or her own thing–especially the older generations of Aviance. I would prefer if we all worked together, but with all the different egos and different work ethics, those who get along best and those who have similar ideas usually work together both inside and outside the House.
I do keep tabs on who’s doing what and where, but for the most part those members who prefer to work with me on different ventures and/or ask for my expertise and guidance have my full attention and are my first priority!
How do you recruit for the House, and what traits make a worthy Aviance?
Ahhhhh, that is the question of the day! First, let me start by saying that “Aviance” is not about what talent you have or what you bring to the House, because everybody has a talent. And that is not a good way to start any friendship–because of what you have to offer. Aviance is about getting to know one another on a personal level–“just you and me, one on one”–like a friendship, marriage or partnership… and time tells the rest.
My ability to get along with all walks of life with no judgments has allowed me to accept an individual for who they are and where they have been. And if they are honest, transparent and have true intentions, then eventually they will either feel the AVIANCE CONNECTION or not!
How do you enjoy Ladyfag’s scene, and how does it compare to the nightlife events you’ve hosted in the past?
I LOVE BATTLE HYMN, and it is in a league of its own in NYC nightlife. Each week it delivers carefully selected DJ’s, draws a diverse and fun crowd, and it’s simply an all-around good time! I can’t compare Battle Hymn to other parties because each party in NYC brings something special; it’s just a matter of what the patrons like, whether it’s a good party or not!
Kevin Aviance is probably the House’s best known performer and recording artist. He just channels so much high fashion coolness and musical intelligence. Have you enjoyed watching him evolve as an artist over the years?
Yes, it has been a pleasure watching Kevin do his thing. He’s had a long run, and I’m sure there’s more to come.
ME: I LOVE IT, I am so happy, and excited that this track is part of the Aviance Records catalog… it’s a dream come true! “Ovah” by Erickatoure Aviance (co-written by Adam Joseph, Remix by David Ohana Aviance) comes out worldwide on June 23rd, followed by a debut video release on Jonny McGovern’s “Hey Qween” YouTube show June 26th.
Have you ever recorded any music of your own?
No I have not, but I will… MAMA DOES GOT SOMETHING TO OFFER, and it’s just a matter of time.
NYC has lost so many large dance spaces due to the Giuliani policies, the extreme cost of commercial space and liquor licenses in this city, and general shifts in nightlife trends. Do you think the large dance space has a future, or a potentiality for a comeback, here?
If the right people in the community come together and put their money where their mouths are, SURE we can have a large dance space. But it will take a very carefully planned and dedicated team to pull off such a feat!
We’re about to lose another such venue, as Space Ibiza closes this summer. But Pride Saturday is going to be a huge closing night for Space, featuring the colossal megaparty DNA, which is actually several huge parties and themes combined. What is your involvement with this night, and how do you think it’s gonna go down?
I am one of many hosts for the DNA Pride Event. This party should go down as one of the most Legendary Pride parties in New York Nightlife history! It is the first time ever that different promoters, hosts, DJ’s and certain iconic parties of yesteryear have come together for such an event, and it is very exciting for us all! We have Head Promoter Louis Loca to thank for what is about to go down this Pride Weekend at Club Space.
What else is coming up for you and the House of Aviance?
Glad you asked! DJ/Producer of Aviance Records David Ohana Aviance and DJ/Producer Mike Cruz did a track called “Max Vogue Mambo” for the short film Habana 3am by Antonio’s Closet Productions.That debuts at the La Jolla Fashion Film Festival July 22nd, followed by a Dance Mix release around the same time. And in August, Jade Elektra has a track coming out on Aviance Records titled “Basic Bitch” (produced by Vjuan Allure, remix by David Ohana Aviance).
Are you excited to see long time NYC club queen Peppermint on Drag Race, if you’ve watched any of it this season?
Darling, darling, darling! I am so happy for Peppermint! I have watched her grow right before my very eyes, from the days working together at the Tunnel. She deserves all the glory coming her way! TEAM PEPPERMINT ALL THE WAY!
Finally: What needs to happen for Pride 2017 to make you happy?
Well, if you post this interview before Pride weekend that would make me happy! But most of all, if everybody can put all BS aside and celebrate PRIDE WITH LOVE IN THEIR HEARTS, that would make me very, very happy!
Thank you, Mother!
Mother Juan Aviance and the House of Aviance are constantly putting out art, media, and events for the masses. Catch Mother hosting “DNA” on Pride Saturday at Space Ibiza, and follow him on Facebook and YouTube, as well as the Aviance Records website.