September 30, 2016

Student, professional performers share meaning behind art at annual Drag Ball

Drag may just look like playing dress up, but drag performers put so much more than a look into their performance, Regan Gillam said.

“It’s not just people throwing on some lipstick and trying to look like someone else; it’s art. It’s total transformation and during the performance they have so much in their head and in their heart,” Gillam said. “It shows that you don’t have to fit into any box — just do you and be happy doing it.”

Both student and professional performers went on stage for Webster University’s 18th annual Drag Ball, which took place Saturday, March 22 in Grant Gymnasium.

PHOTOS BY MACKENZIE WILDER/The Journal

Gillam has performed at Drag Ball two years in a row and has loved drag ever since her first experience with it. Gillam said that for the students who perform, Drag Ball is an opportunity to comfortably explore gender expression.

“You watch a drag performance, and you lose sight,” Gillam said. “You actually think you’re watching a female or a male perform. As soon as I saw it, I thought it was amazing, and I wanted to do it.”

Her love didn’t just come from the illusion; she understood the meaning behind it. Gillam said the transformation is beautiful, and it’s something a lot of people do not appreciate.

Gillam said part of the reason people are hesitant about drag is because they don’t understand it. She said she believes people don’t understand the meaning and passion in each performance.

This year, Gillam performed with Cydney Lucio. Lucio, whose first time performing in drag was at this year’s Drag Ball, didn’t realize her love for drag until she saw it live. As a first timer, she looked forward to giving the audience a show. She said she was not nervous to perform.

“It’s a whole other level of someone being comfortable enough with who they are to be something other than what society tells them to be,” Lucio said. “I feel like at our age we don’t really have the outlets to express ourselves like that, and Drag Ball gives us the starting point.”

Lucio said that many professional drag artists in St. Louis get started at Webster’s Drag Ball for similar reasons.
Rydyr and Siren, the hosts of Drag Ball, consider drag both a job and a passion. Rydyr and Siren will respectively celebrate their 9th and 12th “dragaversary” this year in St. Louis’ drag circuit. As a drag king, Rydyr’s interest in drag started as a hobby. But her drag quickly became more than that.

“I like to do a bit of gender bending in my everyday life,” Rydyr said. “So it turned from a hobby into a second job. I had a stage and a platform to express myself.”

For Cross’s drag persona, Siren is one of his favorite things. A self-described introvert, Cross said he is able to do things as Siren that Tyler would never get away with. Siren, he said, is just one way to express his love for drag.

“I’m sort of a drag nerd,” Cross said. “I love everything about drag. I love doing drag, I love watching drag, I love talking about drag.”

His drag has gone through many phases. Cross has spent his 12 years as Siren exploring all corners of drag and trying new styles constantly. Cross said events like Drag Ball take drag out of the bar and allow people to expose themselves to something they otherwise wouldn’t.

The professionals at Drag Ball said drag is expanding, and that more and more drag performers are popping up than ever before. In addition to the drag shows at nightlife hotspots, drag in St. Louis has been brought into the doors of venues such as the Kranzberg Arts Center and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts within the past few months.

For St. Louis’ kings and queens, they hope to see this expansion bring out the best in their artwork. Underneath the clothes and makeup are real people, Rydyr said, and like everyone else who needs an outlet, this is their way of expressing themselves.

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