BROOKLYN — His graceful moves earned him trophies and his generosity earned him respect. He was a beloved orphan who formed a tight-knit family through dance.
Members of New York City's "Vogue" scene reacted with sadness and fond recollection as news spread that Terrell Anderson, a beloved pioneer of the alternative dance community, was found stabbed to death in his Crown Heights apartment Thursday afternoon.
It is unclear exactly when Anderson, aka Terrell Ebony, was murdered, police said, much less why. Detectives told his uncle, Darin Anderson, 51, that it could have happened anytime between Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, he said. No one has been arrested.
Born in Brooklyn in the summer of 1978, Anderson learned to take care of himself from an early age. His father wasn't around and his mother died of a drug overdose when her only son was 9 years old, Anderson's uncle said.
Music was one of the few bright spots in Anderson's childhood, and he had performed since he was a kid.
"He was a dancing dude," recalled his uncle. "I remember when he was he was about seven, when 'Beat It' came out. That was his jam. He’d do Michael Jackson better than Michael Jackson."
Anderson became involved with New York's Vogue scene when he was about 13. Through it, he formed his own family of dancers.
"I don't think he knew his father," said longtime friend and fellow performer Ramon "Ray Ray" Croft. "The relationships that he acquired along the way is what helped him fill the void."
Anderson made a name for himself in the early days of Vogue. Associated with the dance group the House of Ebony, he was among the innovators of femme voguing — a form of Vogue dance that is more athletic and aerobatic than the original style. He traveled the country, attending competitions called balls in front of hundreds of spectators.
By his 30s he had become a legend, winning more competitions than he lost and even being recognized on television.
"I remember two years ago, we were watching something on VH1 and they were having one of those balls," said his uncle. "They were interviewing him. He was like, 'Everybody know you, you're a legend around here.'"
Anderson's passionate dancing style — friends described it as "poetry in motion" — is what people first noticed about him. He'd get so heated during competitions that sometimes they'd end with Croft pulling him away from a fight.
But when the music stopped, so did the attitude. Off the dance floor, Anderson wasn't a confrontational guy. He was the life of the party, smart, witty, and always making people laugh, Croft said.
It took a while for Anderson to trust new people — a defense mechanism from his childhood, according to his uncle. But once he opened up to you, he was incredibly generous.
“Whenever I needed advice he was always there for me,” said his friend Keyana Reines. “He was like my brother and he was like my sister. In the gay community, this is our family. We didn’t have any other family. We are very close.”
Jack Mizrahi, one of the men who introduced Anderson to Voguing, had been spreading news of Anderson's passing since his body was found Thursday.
"The community is shocked. There will never be another Terrell," he said. “I am so numb because it was so unexpected. I saw people go during the AIDS epidemic — we were sort of prepared for that. But I wasn’t prepared for this.”
The family is hoping to hold funeral services next week. With so little known about who killed Anderson or why, they are left yearning for answers.
"I think it was personal," his uncle said. "I know it had to be somebody that he trusted enough to be in his house."