Field trip to Play Dance Bar interest meeting educates participants on history of drag

The outside of Play Dance Bar in Nashville. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

By Caroline Nixon
Staff Writer

On Monday, April 1, Emma Chinn (C‘19), Talia Greenberg (C‘19), Hayden Dunbar (C‘21), and Nellie Fagan (C‘20), students from Dr. Schneider’s LGBTQ+ Studies class and the Barnwick Women’s Center, hosted a ‘Field Trip to Play’ interest meeting. The meeting was required for anyone who wanted to go on their field trip to the Play Dance Bar in Nashville on Wednesday April 10.

Play, a small chain of dance bars with locations in Nashville and Louisville, is known for both its food service through Suzy Wong’s House of Yum and its vibrant drag shows. Drag is an art form featuring crossdressing performers, often incorporating lip syncing and flashy dancing.

Dr. Schneider’s course requires that groups of students host a media project that engages the Sewanee community with LGBTQ+ issues. Chinn’s group chose to plan a trip to Play Dance Bar, an LGBTQ+ inclusive bar, as a way to inform and provide Sewanee with a space for drag culture. Additionally, the bar also showcases many drag performers, such as RuPaul All Stars winner, Valentina, who is slotted for the night Chinn’s group plans to go.

“While Commerce Street is historically where drag culture began, Play, which lies on Church Street, has become the biggest and most influential drag bar in Nashville,” Chinn said.

“To go to Play we must be aware of the history of drag queens and drag culture,” Chinn said.

She gave an informational presentation detailing the origin of drag and the community’s battle to become accepted. Despite initiating the first instances of resistance against police brutality, drag and transgender persons were excluded from the LGBTQ+ movement of the 1960s and 70s. This forced the drag community to create their own spaces, giving birth to drag ‘houses’ or ‘families’ with an appointed ‘housemother’ and ‘housefather.’

Each family would typically perform at a drag ball where contestants would ‘walk’ for trophies and prizes. Contests could include competitions to look the most feminine or androgynous. Chinn also provided definitions for drag slang, such as ‘beating your face’ for perfecting one’s makeup and ‘tea’ which is a word used for gossip. “A lot of the language used on Twitter comes from drag,” Chinn said.

In closing, the group wanted to establish group norms for those who wanted to go to Play. “I think respect is the most important thing,” said participant Jaden Turner Oliphant (C‘21). “It’s also important to use their preferred pronouns and respect their space.” Fagan added.

The group plans to go to Play on April 10. Contact Emma Chinn or Nellie Fagan if you are interested in going as there are still spots open.