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Decorah welcomes drag ensemble to Elks Lodge Friday, April 4, as part of ‘Women’s Weekend Out’
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 8:52 AM
If any of the organizers of Decorah’s Women’s Weekend Out-sponsored event, “Extravaganza Eleganza” – a musical and theatrical production featuring some of the top drag queens in Iowa – had concerns about getting people to check out a show the likes of which has not been seen before in Decorah, they need not have worried. had The extravaganza, set for Friday, April 4, from 9 p.m.-midnight at the Elks Lodge, is already sold out.
Interview with the artist: Gina Belle combines glamour, elegance with humor
ED. NOTE: Generally, drag queens are males who dress and act in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics (such as make-up and eyelashes) for comic, dramatic or satirical effect.
The term drag queen usually refers to people who dress in drag for the purpose of performing, whether singing or lip-synching, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques.
When addressing a performer in drag, it’s customary to refer to the performer in terms of her stage persona, and address her as “she.”
Decorah Newspapers recently had the opportunity to talk with Gina Belle, the lead performer in the “Extravaganza Eleganza” Friday night, April 4.
The event is sold out; but several of the performers will be visiting Fancy Pants in Decorah Saturday morning, at 10 a.m., out of drag, for a meet-and-greet.
Decorah Newspapers: How did you get your start in the drag world?
Gina Belle: I owe my start in the drag world to Sasha Belle, my drag mother and mentor. Being in a drag family is sort of like being in a really fabulous and sassy sorority … It’s technically a show business, so having someone to show you the ropes is imperative. I was a regular at Studio 13*, where Sasha is a show director.
After watching shows for a few years, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something I might be good at. I set up a date for an open stage to perform at and Sasha did my makeup for the first time. I looked pretty good … I was also like 30 pounds lighter.
Decorah Newspapers: What does it mean to you, to be a drag artist?
Gina Belle: Drag to me (at the risk of sounding cliché) is a way to express myself. Life throws a bunch of things at you, and everyone has their own ways of dealing.
I’ve always been an entertainer and outspoken and over-the-top. This is a medium that allows me to convey my inner emotions and connect with multiple people at once. I choose the songs I perform based on how I am feeling at the moment, so happy moments in my life are shared through upbeat songs and laughter.
As someone who has always had an artistic flair, finding something like drag has been revolutionary. It combines my love of music, makeup, movement and networking all into one glamorous bundle of wigs and sequins.
Plus I’ve always said I have too much fashion sense for one gender.
Decorah Newspapers: How did you come up with your drag persona?
Gina Belle: I love glamour and elegance and poise, much like a ballet dancer, but I also enjoy comedic relief and humor. I’m a combination of the two -- I can walk out in a breathtaking gown (mostly only breathtaking because my corset literally squeezes my lungs together) and still make you laugh.
Decorah Newspapers: Does the group performing in the show at the Elks Lodge perform together on a regular basis?
Gina Belle: I’ve helped select a diverse group of performers for the show. I’ve worked with all of these girls on different occasions, but it’s not necessarily a set group that travels the suburbs looking for trouble and dollar bills. The community is small and we all tend to know each other.
Decorah Newspapers: What gives you the most satisfaction about working as a drag artist?
Gina Belle: I don’t perform for the money. While I’m working to make it my full-time career, right now it’s just still an enjoyable outlet for my creativity. I get satisfaction out of enriching the lives of my audience and brightening their weekend.
Life is a journey; through song and dance, I’m able to connect with people. I get to share in their special moments and become a part of their life in a way that most people will never be able to.
Decorah Newspapers: What role do you see drag artists playing within the larger spectrum of the LGBT community?
Gina Belle: Drag queens are almost like the celebrities of the gay world (or so I’d like to think). As public figures it’s part of our responsibility to give back to the community and use our “fame” toward a greater good. I enjoy taking part in benefit shows.
I strive for unity and I want to do my part to make our community a united front against discrimination, as well as be a bridge between the gay and straight communities.
* Located in a historical building in downtown Iowa City, Studio 13 has become the center of the Iowa City gay community as well as one of the most popular nightclubs in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, winning the Trendiest Nightclub award in 2013.
Gina Belle – a lead performer in the show – sees the upcoming performance as a great opportunity on several levels.
“I’m going to assume that most of our attendees haven’t seen a [drag] show before, and this will be the best way to educate, dazzle and entertain our audience,” she said. “Like any art form, there are a million different takes … The show will be the best way to see all the different styles of our art form in Iowa.”
Sharon Huber and Debbie Paulson, co-owners of Fancy Pants in Decorah, are organizers of the event.
The show is about “celebrating diversity,” Huber said. “This is a pretty inclusive community … I think people will be blown away by the talent and the beauty and the amount of courage and time they put into this.”
Nine of the 10 drag artists performing Friday night will be at Fancy Pants the next morning, at 10 a.m. – out of drag – for a meet-and-greet with the public.
“They’re really excited to come here,” Huber said.
While new to Decorah, drag shows and drag art, in general – which essentially involves a person of one gender dressing in a costume of the opposite gender as a means of entertainment -- have developed a rich tradition in Iowa.
Wartburg College’s annual cabaret/drag show, for example -- which began in 2005 -- has become a phenomenon in its own right.
Currently the largest indoor drag show in the state, it brings in professional drag artists from around Iowa and also features students, faculty and staff performers.
“The show has grown tremendously over the past nine years,” said Cassandra Hales, residence hall director at Wartburg College and advisor for Wartburg Alliance, the student organization that sponsors the event each year.
“We are getting more involvement in the show, more attendance, and raising more money for (Wartburg Alliance),” she said.
The purpose of Wartburg Alliance, according to its website, is “to provide a supportive and accepting environment for students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to educate and provide resources to the Wartburg community to encourage open discussion about diverse issues pertaining to sexuality.”
To that end, Hales said, a significant component of the annual drag show involves raising awareness. A section of the Alliance’s website illustrates such an effort.
“The Wartburg cabaret/drag show honors how the gay rights movement in the United States first began,” the site notes. “During the last weekend of June of 1969, police raided and harassed clientele at a local gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, located in the Village of New York City, just as they had done for years before that.
“Instead of taking this abuse this time, a local drag queen entertainer was said to have stood up and confronted the officers. This action encouraged others to lead a rebellion that created the ‘Stonewall Riots.’ This event is considered to be the catalyst that began the gay rights movement in America” (wartburg.edu/alliance/dragshow.aspx).
Chris Knudson, director of creative strategy in the marketing and communication office at Wartburg and former advisor to Wartburg Alliance, was involved in the first drag show held at the college in 2005.
He said there was some backlash, early on, from the larger community.
“I think the hesitation is always the fear of the unknown,” he said. “The first few years of the drag show we did get some negative reactions from a very small number of people in the area, but those voices have disappeared over time. Most people who have problems with the drag show never take the time to educate themselves about what the show is really about.”
As a decades-long part of the LGBTQ community, drag art has been used as a form of entertainment to help raise money for individuals andcharities within the community, Knudson said.
“Examples include supporting those suffering from HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and ‘90s and even today, helping to provide funds for those cut off from their families, and raising funds to educate the community about issues they need to know about.
“Years ago when there was not much support for LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning) individuals, the community had to find ways to support each other both financially and emotionally. There was no agenda. It was for survival. Drag was a critical part of that effort,” he said.