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Drag King Soundtrack: Crafting Unforgettable Performance Through Music

anti-racism kings of joy all-stars Sep 18, 2023

Why are some people able to shoot off straight after Kings of Joy Gold Stars and go solo while others are not sure what to do next or even where to start?

I’m Danica Lani, the King Coach and I’ve proudly mentored 89 first-time Drag Kings through Kings of Joy since December 2020.

I want to share with you a path for developing your skills in makeup, costume, and choreography, and strengthening your Drag King persona so you know exactly what to do next and you don’t have to do it alone. Let’s make this fun. Once your Drag King persona gets clearer, you’ll start experiencing more confidence and you’ll have the balls to make your next bold move.

Recently, I sent out an email asking for your top question about being a Drag King and I was so heartwarmed by the response. I wanted to make a quick video and teach you a little about how to master your Drag King persona and your unique style of performance.

Trying to find your unique self-expression isn’t always as simple as people sometimes make it seem. It comes with its challenges. That’s why I’m going to demystify the process of making your Drag King persona come alive on stage. This is going to save you a lot of time, frustration, and confusion.

When I first started out as a Drag King, I had no idea what to do… It’s lonely doing it by yourself and can take 3 times longer. Before I performed as a Drag King, I had little makeup skills. It was terrifying going out in public with my hand drawn on moustache, but that’s all I had. I struggled to find masculine clothes that would fit my size - all menswear was too big for me. And I didn’t know who I was as a Drag King. It took me 6 years to find a name I really resonated with - Dario di Bello.

What I discovered was that it’s way more fun developing your Drag King persona while in a Drag King crew. Before I started collaborating with That Guy Steve and before I was part of a crew I didn’t have the motivation to get gigs or create new routines. After being part of a Drag King group, I got inspired to start working on an idea I’d had forever. I also gained friendship, bromance, and community that had been missing ever since I’d moved to Sydney.

This process was unexpected but worked really well, and that opened the door to doing more gigs together and solo gig opportunities such as Heaps Gay, Sydny Kings, and The Drag Kings, as well as short films, photoshoots, community ad campaigns, and Mardi Gras parade floats. 

Imagine if you were able to take your Drag King persona to the next level with ease and without life getting in the way - and your job being such an interruption to your Drag King pursuits. Without having a performance to work towards though, nothing gets done. This is such a common struggle among emerging Drag Kings.

This isn’t just my experience. 

I have a really powerful story to share about Max’d Out. They were not a performer and never had any desire to be onstage or dance. In fact, they had a phobia of dancing. After starting Kings of Joy in April 2021, they wanted to continue. And they did. Two Kings of Joy All-Stars group performances and a Drag King solo coaching program later, they achieved their debut solo - an iconic routine of Tom Holland’s Umbrella which they said they never would have done. After participating in Kings of Joy, they have gotten a lot of confidence and have been able to express gender in diverse ways for themselves. In their words, they’ve met amazing people and have had a ball! 

There are essentially 10 steps to achieving this transformation:

Step 1: Line up with your values

Step 2: Create your Drag Persona

Step 3: Song choice

Step 4: Study male movement

Step 5: Master lip syncing

Step 6: Create your overall story arch

Step 7: Choreography & props

Step 8: Makeup

Step 9: Costume

Step 10: Learn how to access your masculine energy

In this video, I want to deep dive into what to consider when you are selecting your song so that you can immediately make your drag persona come alive on stage. More importantly, however, is that you will open yourself up to learning the other steps so that you can finally become the best Drag King you can be.

Step 3 - song choice: think deeply about it.

When you lip sync, be aware that you are literally implying that the voice is coming out of your self/body. Choosing a song to perform to therefore requires deep thinking.

There is an important distinction between impersonation and moving and lip-syncing as yourself or your persona. Impersonation means taking on cultural aesthetics, characteristics and appearance. Within the context of drag, this is problematic and results in cultural appropriation.

Unfortunately, like all communities, drag has its own history of racism including white Drag Queens who have dressed up as 'Aboriginal' in a derogatory and disrespectful manner, causing harm and perpetuating a tolerance for racism. Similarly, white Drag Kings impersonating black rappers has also been harmful and problematic. Read more about drag history in this article written by Madhuraa Prakash aka Mannish Interest, 'Drag Race Down Under' Has Quickly Exposed A Racism Problem in Australian Drag.

So does that mean I shouldn't perform to any BIPOC voices? If the answer was yes to that, then that would mean continuing to amplify only white voices and artists. This is not a great solution. Amplify means to increase the volume of, to enlarge upon. We do want to amplify BIPOC voices, musicians and artists - queer artists too! So think deeply about how to do that in appropriate and respectful ways that do not impersonate.

Don't rely on the fact that you have good intentions. Being non-BIPOC and having good intentions is completely insufficient to ensure that you are amplifying BIPOC voices versus appropriating. In the end, you are the one responsible for your performance, so go in eyes wide open, having done the deep thinking and research (typically from pre-written, pre-recorded sources- see below for some resources) and be ready to deal with any consequences of your choice.

Most of what I'm saying right now is directed as white person to other white people, to non-BIPOC people so that we avoid any of our unconscious biases that are in the background and avoid doing any cultural appropriation or anything that would be racially problematic.

Ultimately, drag is for entertainment and community, not for fuelling conversations that perpetuate systemic racism. There are not many rules in Drag but perpetuating systemic racism on stage is always unacceptable. Stay open to being in the inquiry about systemic racism and your own participation in it. Notice where you stop listening or think you've got it handled. Stay open. 

Here are some additional Anti-Racism Resources for non-BIPOC people:

1. Racial and Social Justice 101 by Erika Hart

2. White Fragility: Why it's so Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

3. Read these 6 books to help you be an anti-racism activist: Curated by Anita Heiss

And now, here are some more useful guidelines for choosing your song for your Drag King performance:

  1. Know Your Audience: Understanding the crowd you'll be performing for is key. Think about the preferences and tastes of your audience. Are they into pop, rock, hip-hop, or something else? Tailor your song choice accordingly.
  2. Know Your Environment: Will you be performing in a club environment? Go for the well-known, high-energy, beat-driven tracks. Hype it up. Is it a queer community audience like Queers of Joy? Use this opportunity to lean into the theatrical - go for a narrative or express something truly authentic.
  3. Express Yourself: Select songs that you resonate with. What’s the message you want to convey? It helps to feel a personal connection to the music. And, if someone else chose the song, my top tip is to pretend it’s your favourite song. That’s what I do on the dance floor. Find something to connect to whether it’s the beat, the lyrics, or how this could be your Drag King persona’s favourite song.
  4. Energise the Room: Consider the energy level of the song. If you want to get the audience pumped up, go for upbeat tracks. For a more emotional or introspective performance, slower, more moody songs may work better.
  5. Craft a narrative: Many great performances tell a story. Choose songs with lyrics that can be interpreted or incorporated into their act. This can make the performance more engaging. But keep it simple, don’t over complicate. Make sure you can own the lyrics and express them in a way that doesn’t represent toxic masculinity. You can have a dick, just don’t be a dick.
  6. Mix It Up: Sometimes, creating a mix of songs or a mashup can add an exciting twist to a performance. Be sure to practice transitions between tracks if you go this route.
  7. Time it Right: Consider the length of the song. Make sure it fits within the allotted performance time, and plan for any necessary cuts or edits.
  8. Engage Your Audience: Think about how the song can involve the audience. Whether it's through eye contact, interaction, or a surprise element, engaging the crowd can elevate the performance.
  9. Dare to be Unique: While it's okay to perform popular songs, adding a unique twist or interpretation can make it stand out. Get creative! If you’re in a club environment, known songs work better, but otherwise, you can choose any song you connect with.
  10. Practice, Practice, Practice: Finally, emphasize the importance of rehearsal. A well-rehearsed performance can make even a simple song shine.

Remember, these are just guidelines, and ultimately, the choice should come from the heart. It's all about expressing oneself authentically and connecting with the audience. 

And one final tip - the success of your performance does not rest on the song choice. Remember, energy is the currency of performance. Your masc presence will make or break the performance, not the song. The song is the backdrop. You are the one who shines, King.

So imagine for a second what it would feel like to be dancing to your own beat and have confidence as your Drag King persona. What would your experience be? What kind of impact would that have on your life off the stage - in your relationships? 

Imagine that this is your experience. You are rehearsing regularly with your Drag King buddies and fall about laughing every time. Your Drag persona takes to the stage with his mates and the crowd whoops and hollers throughout the whole show. You get a standing ovation! Your group starts getting gigs to perform in shows around town. Your Insta following is growing and people love your Drag persona. This is so much fun! Then, as your confidence and experience grows,  maybe you get your first solo gig. People come up to you at queer events and let you know how much they love your Drag King persona.

Getting from not knowing what to do next to being confident in your Drag King persona is absolutely possible for you. When you are able to lean into your masculine expression on stage then you can be confident in yourself as a Drag King and attract the gigs you want, the self-expression you want, and the freedom on stage that you want.

As you can tell, I just love sharing about gender, sexuality, and Drag performance. I’ve been coaching so many Kings of Joy about finding your inner Drag King and have received so much positive feedback. Lately, I’ve been getting so many questions that I've decided to offer another round of Kings of Joy All-Stars.

This program is going to be specifically about taking your Drag King persona to the next level. It's going to go deep on each of those steps I just talked about. 

There will be 8 weekly rehearsals starting on Tuesday 26 September. During each rehearsal, we will explore the 10 steps to mastering your Drag King persona - while working towards a group performance at Drag Kingdom. You’re also going to get additional resources and recordings on makeup and costume to support your progress. All of this so that you can be confident on stage, lean into your masculine, discover the unique self-expression in your Drag King persona, and be 100% at home in your own skin.

Now, one important note… You do not have to do this alone. Think about it. How quickly could you do this on your own? It took me six years to come up with a Drag King name that I really loved. It took Gabriel Angel three years to really nail their Drag King persona. It doesn't have to take such a long time for you to master your Drag King persona. 

So join me. There’s going to be a limited number of spots - 8 places only -  in order to really serve each King who joins me. 

It’s going to be coming out very, very soon. Watch your inbox for an email in the next day or so when I open up registration for the Kings of Joy All-Stars. There will not be another program like this for months and it’s very likely the price will be going up next season.

So watch your inbox for this time-sensitive offer for the Kings of Joy All-Stars. You don’t want to miss it!


Danica Lani

The King Coach

P.S. If you'd love to be part of a Drag King crew, sign up to the waiting list for Kings of Joy All-Stars here.

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