by Catherine Zhang
Lingerie-inspired dresses over hairy legs, winged eyeliner paired with full beards, and wigs. So. Many. Wigs.
These are the outfits that many donned both onstage and in the audience Saturday at Rainbow Alliance’s 14th annual Drag Show, which helps break gender stereotypes on Northwestern’s campus.
Drag Show, one of Rainbow’s biggest events of the year, incorporated acts from a pair of hilarious emcees, two professional performers, a handful of amateur drag stars and multiple student groups.
The event’s three judges, Dante Inferno, Samantha de la Piscine and Mary Katherine O’Hoolihan, decided from among 10 different performers.
The event opened with emcees Ryder Knightley and Luke NoFurther, who poked fun at “white boy dancing” by doing the same dance routine to different songs like “Uptown Funk” and “Ignition (Remix).”
Shea Couleé, a professional drag queen who works at Scarlet Bar Chicago, got everyone a little hot and bothered in their seats, Maya Swift brought people onstage to dance to T-Swift’s “22,” and Northwestern’s Ballroom, Latin & Swing Team partner-danced to “All About That Bass” with an all-female group.
“We ask that student groups who perform incorporate drag and gender fluidity into their acts as much as they can,” said outgoing Rainbow Alliance President Michelle Margulis, who helped produce Drag Show 2015. “For some groups, that means different things.”
Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Northwestern: Ritmo de Mis Ancestros, a Mexican dance student group, wowed the crowd in colorful, flowing skirts. Halfway through the performances, three females shed their skirts to reveal shorts and donned hats to denote a gender switch.
Chicago-based professional drag queen Kim Chi danced to traditional Asian folk music and shimmied mockingly to Alison Gold’s “Chinese Food,” commonly criticized for being “casually racist.”
Margulis praised every act, stating that amateur drag star Ace Bondage’s performance, which won second place, featured “interesting gender-bending.” Ace Bondage danced to a mashup of fast-paced songs by Beyoncé, Robin Thicke, Kanye West and more.
She explained that most performers use drag names to take on new identities for the night and also to remain anonymous to protect against documentation of their involvement in drag for professional reasons.
The crowd’s favorite was evidently the ReFresHMEN of ReFresH Dance Crew, who broke gender stereotypes with their short shorts, headbands, and conventionally feminine dance moves.
Sylvia Regan, the incoming publicity chair of Rainbow Alliance, said that she also especially enjoyed ReFresH’s performance.
“It was great to see them dancing without worrying about being masculine,” she said.
Regan also said she does not think drag has to be weird.
“I think people will realize that there’s not boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes,” she said. “It’s all about expressing some side of yourself.”
Troy Thisler, a member of the Rainbow Alliance’s junior executive board, was most excited for the professionals’ performances. When asked what sort of message he thought Drag Show would send to Northwestern, he replied with a rhetorical question: “What is gender?”
He emphasized that Drag Show would help individuals grow accustomed to the idea of gender fluidity.
Audience member Helena Scholz-Carlson said she enjoyed the performance by Heidi Knives & Lotti Rae Zor, which won first place, because of their music choice from Chicago. As a bisexual, she spoke highly of the importance of a welcoming community.
“It’s really important to represent different sexual orientations and gender identities widely,” she said. “It makes me feel much more secure in my identity.”
Rainbow President Michelle Margulis, who placed the event’s budget at nearly $2,000, said that Drag Show is often Rainbow Alliance’s most popular event of the year.
“Our audience is a little bit more mainstream than [that of] some of our other events,” she said. “I know straight allies that have been coming to Drag Show for years.”
Rainbow encouraged students to dress up with the performers by offering discounted tickets to those who came dressed in drag clothing, and hosted a clothing drive for trans and gender non-conforming youth to be donated to the Center on Halted, one of the largest LGBT organizations in Chicago.
Margulis, who co-produced Drag Show 2015 with Kira Cozzolino, said the show helped send a message to the Northwestern community about gender.
“Drag really calls attention to the fact that gender is really just a series of performances,” she said. “What we think of as being very naturalized is actually just behaviors that we’ve kind of adopted socially. I think drag really shows that gender is just putting on behaviors, putting on clothing.