Dancing Diva – OutSmart Magazine
NOTew-ish Houstonian Mulan Alexander, 28, has already made a splash on the Texas drag and burlesque scenes. Her Vietnamese heritage and call for activism inspire her artistry, flirtation and mastery of “the art of teasing”.
“As far back as I can remember, as a child, I always loved dancing when I was little,” she recalls. “In my culture, we have something called the ‘Lion and Dragon’ dance. Every Lunar New Year we celebrated it and I always loved watching it. When I was a teenager, when I was little, my parents put me in a local Buddhist youth group where I went every Sunday. They had a Lion dance team and we had dance productions every Lunar New Year and every Mother’s Day.
Alexander, a transgender woman, was born in San Jose, California but grew up in Arlington, Texas. Her interest in dancing eventually morphed into an interest in gymnastics and tumbling. She was able to develop her athletic skills after a chance encounter at a gym when she was in high school. This would lead to competitive gymnastics training for the next six years.
“[During] During my freshman year of high school, my best friend and a few of her other friends started a dance group, so I just followed. It turns out that the rehearsals took place in a gym. I started bouncing around the gym like I was in my favorite movie, Bring it on. The coach noticed me and asked me if I wanted to be on his competition team. Being first generation here in America, I knew my family didn’t have enough money to do a lot of extracurricular activities, so I told him I didn’t have the expenses. We found a way for me to compete – I trained in the gym at the same time as I was training. I cheered and danced competitively in high school through my junior and senior years and then for Viper Athletics for about four years,” says Alexander.
After the gym she was in closed in 2015, Alexander found herself at a crossroads. Since becoming a licensed cosmetologist and nail technician (a love she cultivated from her mother), Alexander devoted herself to doing nails in Augusta, Georgia. It was then that an opportunity to return to the stage presented itself in Texas.
“I remember being really depressed not to dance anymore,” she admits. “Then I saw a friend of mine that I was dancing with participating in an amateur talent contest called ‘Rising Star’ at the Rose Room at Station 4 in Dallas. So I decided to go back, do nails and start competing. From then on, the queens of the community started to make me who I am now.
Becoming a drag performer came first for Alexander. She remembers her first drag performance five years ago in Dallas, at that same Rising Star competition at the Rose Room.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I had little to no makeup on, just Maybelline powder-free foundation. The song I performed was ‘Body Party’ by Ciara. I got second place!” she laughs.
Since those early Rose Room drag shows, Alexander has added burlesque to his repertoire. In his opinion, the main difference between drag and burlesque is “the art of teasing”. But even as an experienced drag performer, her first burlesque performance was stressful.
“My very first burlesque show was at the Red Goose Lounge in Fort Worth about a year ago. I was definitely a nervous wreck. Back then, I was used to performing in front of very energetic LGBTQ crowds. I didn’t know how this “straight” crowd would take a trans showgirl [who does] drag and burlesque]. I was so scared of being timed and that people would be ugly, but I pulled it off. The crowd was definitely confused, but I took that to conflict with their own sexual preferences,” she says.
“I have evolved in so many aspects [as an artist]. My makeup skills exploded. My costumes have improved so much. My attention to detail; my professionalism behind the scenes and on stage; learn how to host shows and also how to catch and throw shadow. I’ve learned to take what inspires me and incorporate it into my shows, which makes me want to do what I do even more,” says Alexander.
Inspiration for his drag and burlesque art comes from many different places.
“My biggest drag inspirations would literally have to be all the queens from Texas, Florida, Chicago, California and New York,” she says. “So, so, so many great local drag queens that I look up to. And what really inspires my burlesque should be the greatest – Dita Von Tease. Now that I’m getting to know more burlesque performers in the community, they’re all definitely [inspire me as well]. I would be nothing without my community.
Alexander also draws a lot of inspiration from his Vietnamese heritage. “I take a lot from my culture and incorporate it into my performances. I love our beautiful traditional clothes and the way we danced for royalty. Every time I perform, I feel like the tallest of concubines: smart, poised, beautiful, and chosen the world over just to play and seduce the king.
These days, Alexander is a much sought-after artist and nail artist, especially
in Texas. If you follow her on Twitter or Instagram @mulanalexander you’ll see she’s constantly on the move with regular gigs every Tuesday at JR’s Bar & Grill in Montrose. She also appears in Dallas, Galveston and, more recently, Chicago.
Another thing you’ll find out about Alexander through social media is his community activism. Her Twitter bio describes her as “a trans warrior” and pinned to the very top is a performance video of her from June 7, 2020, during a peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter.
“I just want to spread love, light, positivity and good vibes,” says Alexander. “Share my art with the world and take care of my family. There is already so much darkness and hatred. I want to be that positive role model for my community, the AAPI community and for the world. I know that is why I was put on this earth – to share my light, my wisdom, my knowledge and my compassion. My art. I, Mulan Alexander.
Follow Mulan Alexander on Instagram @mulanalexander.