Student Drag Club to Perform at Pride Event Next Week

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House of Lewan co-founder says he has been transformed into a “passionate leader.”

A photo composite Jaime in and out of drag.
A photo composite shows House of Lewan co-founder Jaime Aranzabal ’24 in and out of drag. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

By the time Jaime Aranzabal ’24 steps onstage to perform at Transform on May 3, he and his fellow drag performers will have spent countless hours preparing for the popular show, which is part of Dartmouth’s annual Pride celebration.

Aranzabal, who co-founded the student club that hosts the event, says his experiences on and offstage have helped him evolve in ways he had never anticipated.

From storytelling techniques and stage presence to makeup and costume design, “there are so many parts of the art form that you have to embrace,” says Aranzabal, who started the House of Lewan in 2022 with Richard Lai ’23. “Drag has revealed to me so much more of what I’m capable of.”

Jaime Aranzabal '24 pulls out a bin full of wardrobe accessories
Jaime Aranzabal ’24 pulls a bin from under his bed containing wardrobe accessories that will be used in Transform, the House of Lewan drag show, on May 3. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Aranzabal, who first tried drag at Dartmouth, had never thought of himself as a leader. But after several years of planning and producing events, leading workshops, and supporting club members in his role as “house mother,” he’s changed his mind, he says. 

“I’ve realized that I have become a very passionate leader, which I think is really good growth.”

Transform will feature performances by students and special guests Mistress Isabelle Brooks, a finalist on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Boston-based queen Candace Persuasian, and include time for audience members to walk the catwalk, should they choose. The free event, sponsored by nearly 20 campus organizations, starts at 8 p.m. on an outdoor stage built in Kemeny Courtyard for the occasion. It will be hard to miss.

“We want to show who we are as queer people, the voices that we have, what that means to us, and what that can mean for the whole campus,” says Aranzabal, a sociology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major who performs under the name La Paloma. Holding the show outdoors and cranking up the speakers “is part of us declaring ourselves as here, and making sure that we’re not fading into the background.”

Initially a sort of fashion show with some performances, Transform has changed form over the years, says Angélique Bouthot, assistant director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership. Previously hosted by OPAL, it “has really become the House of Lewan’s baby.”

In 2022, club members dove into preparing for the show, which was headlined by Adore Delano, a vocal artist and Drag Race finalist. 

House of Lewan members pose
House of Lewan members pose with co-founder Jaime Aranzabal ’24, center. (Photo by Owen Leavey)

Since then, their engagement has only grown, with regularly offered workshops in makeup, costume design, walking and dancing in heels, building routines. 

Strong bond

The House of Lewan provides a social network and a sense of belonging, say club members, who gather frequently to share meals, hit the books, and practice for gigs. The students have performed together locally and in Concord, N.H., Boston, and Worcester, Mass., and went as a group to this year’s Queer Prom, another Pride event on campus.

Earlier this month, members of the House of Lewan shared the stage with drag superstar Priyanka, who performed as part of a Hopkins Center for the Arts screening of HBO’s We’re Here. The student club was among the collaborators for the program, which also brought to campus Stephen Warren ’82, who co-created the critically acclaimed show with his husband Johnnie Ingram.

House of Lewan member Felipe Mendonça ’27 says Aranzabal has been “the biggest supporter” he could wish for, sharing the skills he’s acquired over time, and looking after the club and its members.

And the connections he’s made have been central to his time at Dartmouth so far, says Mendonça, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Practicing and performing together “creates this bond that’s super strong.”

Transformative power of drag

The club, whose faculty adviser is Sara Swenson, receives support from staff and administrators across campus, including David Pack, director of student involvement, Scott Brown, dean of the college, and Bouthot.

“I’ve learned so much under Angélique’s support,” says Aranzabal, who served as a Pride coordinator with OPAL before starting the House of Lewan. Having that safety net “has given me the opportunity to experiment and do things that I didn’t think were possible.”

Brown says he’s always proud of students who bring to life their bold visions for a program or organization, and called Aranzabal’s efforts to create the House of Lewan and Transform “enormous.” 

“The club members clearly spend hours and hours practicing for each performance, and it pays off,” Brown says. “I enjoy seeing students having a great time, and they always draw a fun and supportive crowd.”

Jaime Aranzabal '24 poses in full drag in the woods
Jaime Aranzabal ’24 poses in full drag in woods behind his apartment in Lebanon, N.H. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Bouthot says it’s been nice to see performers experience “the transformative power of drag.” 

“Students are building the skills that they need to be more confident on stage,” which translates into other areas of their lives, she says. “I see students using it intentionally in performing at events that are aligned with their political or social causes,” in their enthusiasm for event planning, and their increasing ability to be “a little more assertive in their communication.”

Lauren Spencer ’24, who recently joined the House of Lewan, says having a drag community on campus is inspiring, particularly given recent legislative efforts in several states to restrict drag performances.

“It’s such a contested art in some political circles,” says Spencer, who is studying English modified with film and media studies. “To stand up for drag and the people who perform it, and show that it’s a form of queer expression, that is really important to us and our group.”

Next up on the Pride 2024 schedule is the Pride Parade and Festival, which starts at Triangle House at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 27. The Pride celebrations will continue through May 24.

Aimee Minbiole