There are not many areas in the United States where the drag community is a true sisterhood, but the ladies of South Florida definitely are. If there is one queen who stands out as a scorching performer, while at the same time gives back to the community that loves her so much, it’s Athena Dion. From South Beach to Ft. Lauderdale and back again, Dion is setting an example both on stage and off for her sisters. I sat down with Athena to talk about her legendary drag career, the amazing things she is doing with her South Florida community who are in need, and what inspires her when she hits that stage.
Michael Cook: For those that have never seen Athena Dion on stage, how would you describe your performance style and “drag” as a whole?
Athena Dion: I like to describe myself as “The Peoples Queen.” My thrill comes from being in the crowd, mingling, and being the emcee at my events. I really like to get to know the audience, and let them get to know me as well. I love to perform songs they can jam out to because at the end of the day, the show is for them and if they are having a good time, and then I certainly am too.
You are known to perform some real dance floor stompers as well as some great mixes. How do you choose your material, any favorites that really stand out?
AD: Well, Miami is a tourist destination, the whole vibe is about having fun, letting your hair down, and turning it out! I love to incorporate Latin beats into my songs. I love impersonating Gloria Estefan; her tracks are always a hit. I generally perform songs that make me feel good, and that I know the audience will appreciate and sing along to as well.
How did you get your start in the extremely competitive South Florida drag scene?
AD: It all seems to have happened so fast really. There was a position available at a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale called Living Room. They were looking for a drag queen to be the host at the door. Having never done drag before in my life, I got my best friend to do my makeup, threw on a wig and a dress, and went to audition. Needless to say, I had a blast and the owners saw that the crowd responded well to me and they offered me the spot. After that, my wardrobe began to grow, I honed in on my own makeup skills, and eventually more opportunities emerged leading me to where I am today.
It’s so hard to stand out in South Florida and in drag; how have you carved out your own niche?
AD: This is a great question because when I started doing drag, I had this idea that I had to be like the drag queens I looked up to, the queens that came before me. The biggest thing I learned from this is that you will never be successful in anything if you are trying to be another version of someone else. Only after I took a seat, looked in the mirror and asked myself what I love about drag, did my career take a shift in the right direction. Like I said, I’m the peoples queen, and I’m a talker, I love fashion, trendy makeup, and making statements. I’m the best “me” that there is and will ever be, so I do just that and be myself!
What are some of your career highlights so far?
AD: So many to mention! I have competed in a few pageants both locally and nationally; biggest ones that have been somewhat life changing were Miami Beach Gay Pride and Ultimate Miami Drag Queen. These two really shined light on my abilities as an entertainer, but more importantly as a VOICE in my very own community. I have appeared on America’s Got Talent as Posh Spice along side four other local queens as we impersonated The Spice Girls, (in front of original Spice Girl Mel B) and judge Simon Cowell gave us a YES! I have worked alongside so many nightlife legends that I admire and respect, Susanne Bartsch, Amanda LePore, Adora, Joey Arias. That’s a dream come true in itself.
More recently, I’ve been working on something very special, and that is my Company “DREAM QUEENS” which is a Drag entertainment company, as well as a community outreach program. Aside from organizing and planning private events, once a month I have an initiative to round up the local queens and share our talents with some less fortunate members of our community. I have done makeup for burn survivors at Jackson Memorial’s Burn Unit, We also organized a huge cross county toy drive for homeless children this past Christmas, which was truly magical. This is definitely one of the highlights of my career, being able to build this company and make a change through drag.
What is left that you want to achieve as Athena Dion, any aspirations to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race perhaps?
AD: I would love the opportunity to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race because it is an amazing platform and opportunity to magnify my voice and message to extraordinary levels. The show has changed the way drag is viewed by society, and I wouldn’t turn down a chance to be a part of this movement.
Speaking of Drag Race several girls from the Sunshine State have been cast on the show and done very well. How do you think the show as a whole has been for the drag community?
AD: Yes, the Florida girls have definitely represented well! I think RuPaul’s Drag Race has helped the gay community to come together and appreciate queens more. I think it has awakened the rest of the country to this fabulous underground culture that’s been living in the dark clubs after hours for so many years. At the same time, it’s commercialized drag too, and made it a part of modern day pop culture. This is great because now other sub drags cultures are emerging that aren’t quite like the mainstream drag culture. So the circle of creativity and life continues.
You are part of a great group of ladies who are bringing a fresh and new perspective to drag in Florida. Who are some of your favorite sisters to perform with and why?
AD: Lord I would have to mention all of them!! I am at the core, a drag fan! I truly appreciate drag and love working with all the girls in South Florida, Now I can mention some of my idols when I started drag that I am so honored to work with today have been Adora, Erika Norell, Daisy D, TP Lords, Vegas Dion.. The list can go on, and on, and on, and onnnnnn! I love watching the shows, I love working with the queens. I just love being immersed in the culture of drag!
You got involved with the Jackson Burn Center using your spectacular makeup skills in assisting victims of severe burns. What was that experience like?
AD: This was a game changer for me, a real life changing experience. I was approached by a nurse friend of mine, Logan Almazan, to help some of his patients with makeup at one of their workshops. I didn’t know what to expect when I went in, but when I left I felt like my eyes had been closed for all these years and now they were open.
It gave me a breath of fresh air and a bigger meaning for what I do. I realized that my drag career isn’t defined by superficial things like makeup, or shows, but that i can use all my talents and take it into the real world with real people who appreciate it on a whole other level. This was my inspiration to form my “Dream Queens.” I wanted to involve all the queens and let them share their talents and experience what I experienced that day at the burn center. Drag queens get a bad rap sometimes as being bitchy, catty, and shallow, but it is actually the total opposite. We are some the most caring, big hearted, sensitive, and definitely creative human beings on the planet, and it has become my goal to share that side of us to the world. We aren’t just drag queens we are Dream Queens!
What do you think you were able to leave the people of the Jackson Burn Center with and what did you take away from the experience?
AD: Honestly, I think I left with more than I left them. We had so much fun playing with makeup and doing runway shows. Those kids were so inspiring to me, living their lives happy, brave, and with a different experience on life than I have myself. I was truly the one who really left with a bigger gift from them.
What do you do when Athena Dion is not on stage?
AD: LOL besides sleep? Honestly I love me time. Athena takes a lot of energy both mental and physical, so when I’m off stage, I like to be with my family, close friends, and definitely catch up on some quality me time!
The gay community has had a very trying year and politically things are very dark. What do you think are the biggest issues facing our community, and what do you see as your part in helping to address them?
AD: I believe we are our own biggest enemy at this present time. I feel like before we go out and continue to change the world, we need to get some things in order back at home first. The bullying, the judging, the heckling within our own community needs to end before we can ever expect any progress on the larger scale. I see too many gay people putting each other down for being too feminine, or too masculine, body shaming, drag shaming, transphobia within the LGBT community, even out casting members of our own community for having opposing political views. We are too small to be fighting each other. My goal is to expose the childlike heart within each of us, help us put our guard down amongst each other, and start stepping in the right direction together as a real community!
What does “pride” mean to you?
AD: Pride to me means so many things; I feel it represents a battle, A battle we are still fighting. Pride represents the luxury of freedom that we have in this country to be who we are, and live and speak our truths. Pride is families being formed outside of bloodlines to support, uplift, and motivate each other. Pride is a goal, the goal to achieve a thriving, truthful, and peaceful way of life that we can share for generations to come. We should be proud of where we have come from, and proud of where we are going, but most importantly, proud of who we are today!
Where can people see you perform?
I am all over South Florida. I am at the Palace Bar in South Beach on Tuesday’s and a few other days of the week, I host my super fab brunch in Wynwood every single Sunday at R House restaurant. I host The Lab Fridays at Club Score on South Beach, and I am also a regular guest at Southern Nights in Ft Lauderdale! You can definitely catch me almost all over!