It’s tough to stand out in the drag world. Everyone has giant personalities, and their heels are twice as big. It’s a highly competitive field that chews up and spits out even the toughest, most talented queens...so you know that those who survive are truly special.
The internationally-renowned Vivacious is one such queen, as she’s not only been at this for a very long time, she’s only getting better. The legendary New York City performer has been doing drag since long before Drag Race was even a thought in anybody’s mind, and she has some incredible stories from her decades under the disco ball.
One thing that sets Vivacious apart from the crowd is her use of fans, which also predates the current rise in popularity. Vivacious has been using a hand fan in her act for years now, and she can put anybody to shame with her talent and timing...and you do not want to challenge her in a club to a “duel,” as it were.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Vivacious about her history with hand fans, how they fit into her shows, and what these items mean to LGBT history.
Every time I've seen you perform, a fan was a big part of your show. Can you tell me about how that first started for you and your first memory of seeing fans connected to the drag world?
I have been using fans since 1987 in my performances. How that came about was a performer by the name of Franklin Fuentes from New York. Back then, people would have cheap little fans. By what I cheap is the more traditional ones that didn't have that extra, powerhouse cracking sound to it. He's one of the first artists that ever produced bitch tracks in the late '80s and '90s. I saw him with them back then.
By the first time I saw him I already had a fan of my own in the performance on the dance floor. Someone had gone to some other country and was like "Girl, I always see you dancing saw I got you a fan." It was a wooden fan that made that sound so there I was with it at the time just using it to fan myself. I think Franklin was the first one that I saw that would do the up and down movement to crack it to the beat, just up and down not left to right or any other position. That night when he was performing he cracked it and I'm like "Hey, I can join him and do that too" so he cracked it, I cracked it. Then I think after I left that performance his fan had actually ended up breaking later on in the night so I loaned him mine so he could finish up his press interview and take pictures but at the end of the night he returned it to me.
I went home from watching him perform using the fan to accentuate just one beat of his track here and there. I'm like "No, I think I want to do more than that." Being the fact that I have a background in martial arts and the fan is also part of martial arts, I then decided to take my cracking to a different level and was like "No, I'm going to teach myself to get it to the beat but start doing more things with it!”
If you go through my Instagram page you'll realize that I'm probably one of the few people on the planet that can do two fans at once, simultaneously, while performing, but also one of the only people who can do a whole song with a fan.
Through the early '90s it was me and six other drag queens in New York City that normally had fans each week as our trademark. We got it from this oriental store in New York City and we would never tell anybody where we got it. Whenever they asked us it would be, there's like "Girl, where'd you get that fan?" We'd be like "ACS." They're like "What's that?" I said, "Ancient Chinese secret, that means it's none of your business."
The fan thing actually, the craze for it, started right around 2005 in New York in terms of Fire Island. It was never anywhere before then. I would turn around [to Brian Feis] and be like "Bitch, you weren't supposed to tell them where to get the damn fan. Now everybody now has a fan but I'm still the original bitch who started the fan thing from way back then." Now almost every circuit party there'll be cracking fans left and right and so that became the thing.
Then I would go to all these parties and see these kids running around with their fans snapping their one beat thing and they'll be like "Don't do that in front of her." They're like "She invented this." They're like "No, she didn't. We all have fans." They're like "No, you can't snap a fan like her." The new would come and try their little tired bullshit where they'll straight snap up and down or snapping to a beat. I would just turn around and light them up with a 16 sound like and knock it off to the beat and let them have it. They'll be "Oh, bitch know how to use a fan." They would back off real quick and be like "Okay, we know where this is coming from."
If you go through my Instagram, you'll see that there's a fan in everything that I'm doing. Any performances there's always a fan with me. As a matter of fact, it's gotten to the point where I feel naked if there isn't a fan on my body. Sometimes I'll keep it in the corset, and I don't use it to perform, but if the fan is not on me, I feel as though I'm naked.
I remember once I had to work up at Ritz after RuPaul's Drag Race became a thing for my season. I got there that night I realized "Bitch, you left your fan home." Did the show and I felt like slightly naked on stage because my fan I left at home.
I can imagine you felt like that after having it so long, yeah.
It was like this missing element because I'm a very meticulous person. I think everything through before I start and to know that I rushed out of the building and left that part…
There are two things in life that make me feel insecure. One is if I go out on stage without a skull cap, the other is if I go out without a fan. I feel absolutely naked. It's been my trademark.
I would say I fully honed the ability of how to use the fan back in around 1994/95 because that was when Club USA shut down, and they transferred DJ Hex, Hector, and myself from Club USA to Tunnel. That's when I would say for the first time that I arrived in terms of you have this fan down to a science.
Even back then I would see other people use fans and I'm like, "Darling, there's an art and an etiquette to a fan. You're not supposed to snap the fan to just snap the fan." Fanning is a dialogue. I use the fan to talk to people. I don't speak to people. I use my fan to do the talking and there's a certain way that you can hold it and use it to show what you need to do. I tell people, some people's like "Yeah girl, I use it to fan myself." I say "No, I use it for the beats." I also use it for dialogue because I use it to invite people, and to dismiss people, and to throw shade at people, and to cut people off.
Also, if I see a cute little white boy in the club and I don't want to get busted for sexual misconduct I touch him with the fan instead. It's like "Bitch, I didn't touch you. The fan touched you." There's a video on my page where I'm wearing this red, oval thing on my head. A guy in Norway at Oslo Pride tried to jump in with his cell phone and tried to take a selfie in the middle of my performance and I used the fan, and shaded him, and blocked him out of the view. Honey, it became an international scandal. It was all over the news. Vivacious gets invited to a European country and shades clientele with her fan. I got calls from like 16 different magazines for interviews for a few days going "Who uses a fan like that?" I'm like "I do."
To Be Continued...