Meet the kings and queens of the Pride in the Park drag shows
Eight performers will be taking the stage during Saturday's Pride in the Park festivities
Mountain Pride’s day-long Pride in the Park event at Nottingham Lake is going to be full of rainbows, dog costumes, dance parties, and more, and will feature live shows from eight drag performers at the 2 p.m. Drag Show Teas-Her and the 4 p.m. Out & Proud Drag Show.
Drag is an art form in which performers dress up in lavish outfits and makeup, often to present themselves in an exaggerated feminine or masculine way, and take on unique identities as entertainers that are usually distinct from who they are off stage.
With popular music, intricate dress and deftly choreographed routines, drag shows are a surefire way to get everyone in the audience singing and dancing, but the drag experience is about more than pure fun. It is a celebration of the performer’s true and joyful expression of their identity, and it’s an encouragement to everyone watching to embrace and celebrate themselves as well.
In many ways, drag shows are the epitome of the Pride message, and Mountain Pride’s executive director, Madison Partridge, said that featuring drag performances is a powerful way to teach about individuality, empathy and acceptance.
“Visibility can be life-changing and life-saving,” Partridge said. “It holds space for anyone who feels different because of their identity or interests, or who may not otherwise see themselves reflected in the broader community. Visibility teaches that there are many ways to express ourselves, and all should be celebrated and affirmed.”
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Meet the performers
Camila Spanic is a drag queen based out of Denver who has been performing for the last three years. She said that she was drawn to drag performances throughout her life, but coming from a conservative family in Mexico, she felt like she could not express herself in that way. It wasn’t until she was 21 and working in Denver that she first had the opportunity to experience drag.
“I looked at myself in the mirror, and it was a completely different person that I have never met looking back at me,” Spanic said. “I still was sort of, not in denial, but hesitant about it, because I was like, ‘You’re a guy, you shouldn’t be doing this. Why are you doing this? What would your mom think about it?’ But then I got to the stage and I was performing, and I swear — I felt alive for the very first time in my life.”
Spanic said that her drag name was inspired by a film character played by Lady Gaga called “La Chameleon,” and her last name is that of a prominent Latin drag family in Denver. Many of the performers belong to drag families, which once served as safe havens for queer-identifying people who were kicked out of their homes and communities with nowhere else to turn, but now primarily serve as networks of support and mentorship. These “chosen families” are powerful bonds that help performers establish themselves in the community and the industry.
“Honestly, I have never had people who will support you unconditionally in things,” Spanic said. “This is the best feeling. Ever since I joined the family, my drag experience has been better, and been easier too. I no longer feel like I have to prove myself. I still try to be better every single time, but it’s easier now.”
Spanic also uses her drag identity and performances to celebrate her Mexican heritage.
“Growing up, I was made to feel that it was not okay for me to be Hispanic, to speak Spanish or to be proud of my heritage, that it was something that I should be ashamed of,” Spanic said. “And so right now, I just want to let everybody know that that’s not something to be ashamed of. That’s something to be proud of. There’s so much culture, there are so many things in the Hispanic community and in the Latin community that should be celebrated.”
In addition to her performances, Spanic is a Grand Duchess of the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire, the oldest LGBTQ nonprofit organization in the state of Colorado. She also teaches sex education to high school students while in drag, and seeks opportunities to engage with people who do not typically have the opportunity to engage with drag performers, such as her recent reading at The Bookworm of Edwards.
“Especially younger people, when they see somebody that is living their best life, somebody who is being unapologetically themselves, it really sparks something in them,” Spanic said. “As somebody who never got the chance to see anything like me when I was younger, I can see that that would be something very life-changing. Right now, I want to be the person that I needed when I was younger.”
Xavi Van Dyke
Xavi Van Dyke is a drag king from Delta, CO, where he started his drag career 22 years ago. He is a leading presence in the rural Colorado drag scene, and is the founder of the Van Dyke drag family, which now includes performers of all genders and ages from across the Western Slope.
Like Spanic, Van Dyke uses his drag persona to reclaim pride and power from insults that he has experienced throughout his life. His original drag name was “Spic van Dyke,” a play on the famous American actor that incorporates two common slanders for Hispanics and lesbians.
“I took the two names I was called negatively and empowered myself,” Van Dyke said.
His show includes a wide range of music, from rap and hip hop to Mexican and country music, with even some Christian music mixed in. The diversity of the performance reflects the many elements of Van Dyke’s identity, and he said that he is excited to be able to perform for the community during Pride Month.
“To me, this is about so much,” Van Dyke said. “I have given so much of my life to serve the community in the best way I can. I love inspiring the youth and giving hope that it’s going to be OK.”
Stella Rae Van Dyke
Xavi Van Dyke will be accompanied by another member of the Van Dyke family, a drag queen from Grand Junction named Stella Rae Van Dyke. Stella Rae has been performing in drag for a decade, and said that she knew she wanted to be a drag queen from a young age. Through watching Xavi’s shows and joining the Van Dyke family, she was able to make that dream a reality.
“I feel that everyone plays different roles that are projected onto them, and Stella was the first person that I got to create for myself,” Van Dyke said. “It is who I truly am.”
She is a regular performer at Charlie Dwellington’s pub in Grand Junction, which hosts a monthly drag show called 2nd Saturday. She said that she likes to incorporate comedy into her shows, and that her goal is always to create a safe space for audience members to enjoy and connect.
“The idea behind my shows is community and unity, which is to say that the people around us are our community and that we are stronger when we stand and work together,” Van Dyke said. “It’s so hard to know what other people take from your art, but I always strive to inspire those who watch me perform. I think there have been times when I have touched someone in the audience, whether through comedy, depth, or provocation, and I am proud of those moments.”
Stella Rae said that performing on Pride has special significance to her, as it welcomes everyone to join the celebration.
“I love performing during Pride Month because I feel that it means that there is a safe space for the community to celebrate and take part in queer heritage,” Van Dyke said. “The history of drag queens and Pride is deep and intertwined, and I would like to think that I get to be a part of that.”
Lexi Sexton is a drag queen from Denver. Her first name is derived from a close childhood friend, and her last she took on recently after adopting Manny Sexton as her drag dad and joining his family in Denver.
Similar to Spanic, Sexton had been drawn to drag throughout her life but was denied the ability as a youth.
“I’ve always wanted to do drag as a kid and never was allowed due to growing up religious,” Sexton said. “But when I moved up to Denver, they gave me my first opportunity and put me in drag and gave me a stage and I forever fell in love.”
Her performances focus on channeling emotions, and oscillate between ballads and pump-up jams.
“I always love doing an emotional song, reminding someone out there that may need to hear something more vulnerable, as well as doing something upbeat to get the crowd going,” Sexton said. “I am no flip and splits kind of queen, but I can still spice it up.”
During COVID-19, Sexton said that she learned to sew in order to modify and embellish her own outfits for shows, and has used the time to continue honing her routines and appearance. Having lived many years without being able to fully be herself, she is excited to use her talents to celebrate Pride with the Eagle County community.
“I love the freedom we have today, and I love just spreading love and kindness and making someone smile,” Sexton said.
The weekend will include additional performances by Andres Jones, Byby Jones, Manlio Jhovvani and Diamond Starr.