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This Down Syndrome Group Is Shaking Up the Drag Scene

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When you think of drag queens, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” may come immediately to mind. But there’s nothing quite like a live drag show — brilliant costumes, great music, high energy and more glitter than you can fathom. Baked into drag’s history, however, is a long line of people bucking stereotypes. U.K.-based troupe Drag Syndrome has joined this decades-long tradition with style and sass.

Drag Syndrome is the first drag troupe featuring artists with Down syndrome. The U.K.-based group started in March 2018 because choreographer Daniel Vais wanted to give individuals with intellectual disabilities a platform to perform. The troupe — comprised of queens Lady Francesca (Francis), Horrora Shebang (Otto) and Gaia Callas (Danny) and king Justin Bond (Ruby) — work with other queens to bring their shows to life.

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Otto Baxter at Drag Syndrome

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The group members, along with Vais, are passionate about the work they do. Vais told The Mighty he wanted to create a place to gather those talents in a format like drag that already challenges expectations and stereotypes.

“When people see us perform they recognize the immense talent in front of them and the sheer quality entertainment of the artists.” He said the fact the artists have Down syndrome is just an added bonus. Vais added:

Drag Syndrome is about talent, creativity and freedom of expression. It’s art, it’s theatre, it’s entertaining. People with Down syndrome have the extra chromosome to excel in the arts, culture and anywhere else.

Their work doesn’t come without criticism. In a recent video for the BBC, the group said the attention Drag Syndrome has gotten comes with a fair share of criticism and hate mail. People have said it is exploitative to have individuals with Down syndrome participate in the drag scene. Drag Syndrome’s performers see it differently.

“Gaia is not a character, but she is a part of me,” Gaia Callas said.

Justin Bond added, “If you have a problem with that mate, you shouldn’t be here.”

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Miss Gaia Callas at Drag Syndrome

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Vais said the response to Drag Syndrome’s shows also speaks for itself. “We know how to rock crowds, in every show the response is electrifying,” Vais said. After one show in London, Vais said the stage security guy came to congratulate the troupe on a great performance, saying it was one of the most uplifting things he ever experienced.

“It was very special moment,” Vais said. “At the end of the day it is culture that connects us all.”

Vais said through their performances, Drag Syndrome hopes to show others that individuals with Down syndrome are creative, dedicated, professional and can deliver to high standards — and big crowds.

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#downsyndrome #besteverfan

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Vais said for anyone who wants to get involved in drag in their area, the first step is to get creative and play around with ideas for costumes, music, makeup and give it a go. He suggests seeing drag shows and getting in touch with a local queen to ask for advice.

The queens and kings also offered their favorites for music that really helps them deliver a great performance. Gaia Callas likes cabaret, dramatic songs and is always up for Britney Spears. Justin Bond is into R&B and loves to perform to “Let Me Love You” by Mario. Horrora Shebang has a knack for anything by one of the most famous drag queens of all-time Divine, and Lady Francesca is partial to Whitney Houston, so “I’m Every Woman” is a favorite.

In addition to breaking down stereotypes, Drag Syndrome hopes to inspire other young people with Down syndrome to find what they love and not be afraid to go do it.

“Find your passion, go out there and get it,” Horrora Shebang said. “Live your dream, you can do anything you want, you can be anyone, just get out there.”

You can see Drag Syndrome on tour around the U.K. and learn more about the group on their website.

Originally published: June 3, 2019
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