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Dragstravaganza strikes a pose on campus

Two-time+%22RuPaul%27s+Drag+Race%22+contestant+Shangela+co-hosted+the+Dragstravaganza+Aztec+Night+in+Montezuma+Hall.
Two-time

Two-time "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Shangela co-hosted the Dragstravaganza Aztec Night in Montezuma Hall.

Sydney Sweeny

Sydney Sweeny

Two-time "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Shangela co-hosted the Dragstravaganza Aztec Night in Montezuma Hall.

by Sydney Sweeney, Senior Staff Writer

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The San Diego State Pride Center building pulsated with techno music as a student dressed in active wear and five-inch high heels practiced their dance. This rehearsal was an enticing preview of a special show that was in its final hours of planning: Dragstravaganza Saturday, an Aztec Nights event organized by the Pride Center and held this past Saturday in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

Although the title Dragstravaganza Saturday might not ring familiar in the ears of many students, drag shows are nothing new to SDSU’s campus.

Saturday’s party of glitter ‘n’ stilettos was simply a modified reincarnation of a retired Aztec Nights celebration called “Thursday’s a Drag.”

Interdisciplinary studies senior and Pride Center peer counselor Shane James said during its three-year run, the event was so successful that, last fall, some students missed out on the weekday glamour because the show’s venue reached maximum capacity.

James had been Dragstravaganza Saturday’s primary director for four months.

He handled technicalities like visuals, lighting and scheduling, and performed and co-hosted alongside prominent American drag queen and former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant Shangela Laquifa Wadley.

Despite Dragstravaganza being his first time coordinating a legitimate drag show, there wasn’t a sliver of detectable anxiety in James’s voice as he detailed the high-stakes event that afternoon.

“We want to live up to the fact that it’s been moved to Saturday, so it’s gonna have a new face, a new brand, all of it,” he said.

James’ confident fantasy became a loud, glittering reality.

A summer of planning with the Pride Center Coordinator Christopher Lujan and the rest of the center’s staff was proved worthwhile when hundreds of students gathered in a noisy Montezuma Hall Saturday.

A live DJ offered the growing audience throwback hip-hop bangers that felt delightfully prom-esque. A diverse blend of attendees chattered, grinned and boogied in their seats.

Whether they were dressed in drag, semi-formal evening attire, or a school-spirited combination of red and black, each audience member was eager for someone to graze the long, black runway before them. The crowd erupted when the bass of Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” suddenly flooded each corner of the auditorium and a parade of drag queens strutted around the runway touting rainbow pride flags.

James, who identifies as queer, said the pro-queer politicization of Dragstravaganza was no accident. James hoped that students would come with an open mind, not only ready to be entertained, but to leave with knowledge.

“We don’t have a set message, but there’s an unofficial, lowkey kind of message to the entire show,” he said. “With the political climate and everything that’s going on, we wanted to make sure that we’re making good use of the platform that we have.”

This kickstarting introduction was certainly the fraction of the evening most blatantly in touch with the origins of drag culture and the LGBTQIA community, but it definitely wasn’t the only moment of serious social consciousness. This was not the case for James, who, as dashiki-adorned queen Amber St. James, performed an Afrocentric standout number that twinkled with red, black and green, the colors of Black liberation.

Flaunting rogue lipstick and leather ankle boots, Amber dramatically tossed her long body around with fierce spirituality as the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “Black Girl Magic” were projected on the screen behind her.

While this radical recital is to be expected from a character like James, whose disciplinary emphases are Africana studies, communication and counseling and social change, it was still compelling.

Amber’s routine was inarguably the most politically charged, but that’s not to say that the other nine student drag queens didn’t put on equally amusing shows.

Although each lip-syncing queen was rocking a lace-front wig, bold lipstick and neck-breaking heels, no two divas were alike.

Attendees were faced with a Snapchat-worthy variety of performances from the members of SDSU’s own queer community.

R&B-infused pop of the early millennium like Rihanna, The Pussycat Dolls, Cassie, and Destiny’s Child were interpreted by queens who had an unabashed affinity for the nostalgic genre.

These ladies included the flirty Kat Fisher, blue-eyebrowed BaeBae Blu, and one seemingly skilled gal named Victoria who would have blended in perfectly with the rest of The Pussycat Dolls’ real-life cast. Other student performers included Lucy from Human Resources, who students can in fact spot working at the Human Resources front desk on weekdays. There was also a woman named Priscilla and big-nosed Francine, whose wacky number to D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” sent the audience spiraling into a frenzy of laughter.

Refreshingly sprinkled in between each series of individual performances was an assortment of group routines and segments in which the queens interacted with audience members.

Some of the evening’s most unforgettable treasures were the appearances of professional drag queens Shangela and Delta Work, both of whom delivered star-studded numbers with college humor appropriately tossed in the mix.

Shangela’s concluding recitals of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “Run the World (Girls)” were almost more Beyoncé than Queen Bee herself.

As Shangela skipped off stage and toward the rows of chairs filled with spectators, the radiant vigor of Montezuma Hall was comparable to that of the Grammy-winning artist’s arena concerts.

“Tonight is all about standing together and having a great time, despite what’s going on in this world and in this country,” Shangela said earlier that night, grasping a fan in one hand and a pride flag in the other. Her last performance ended with a standing ovation for the talented queen.

Indeed, it looked as if students were not only fascinated by Dragstravaganza Saturday, but respectfully admiring the LGBTQIA community and its unique, creative culture.

That acceptance is, perhaps, a true indicator of the first Dragstravaganza Saturday’s triumph.

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