Asian Pacific American LeadersFeatures

Dancing Diva

Mulan Alexander brings her artistry to the Bayou City.

Mulan Alexander (photo by Victor Contreras | hair by Fabian Espinoza)

New-ish Houstonian Mulan Alexander, 28, has already made a big splash on the Texas drag and burlesque scenes. Her Vietnamese heritage and her call to activism inspires her artistry, her drag, and her mastery of “the art of the tease.”

“As far as I can remember, as a kid I always loved dancing when I was growing up,” she recalls. “In my culture, we have a thing called ‘Lion and Dragon’ dancing. Every Lunar New Year we’d celebrate it, and I always loved watching it. When I was in my teens, as a boy, my parents put me in a local Buddhist youth group where I’d go every Sunday. They had a Lion dance team and we put on dance productions every Lunar New Year and every Mother’s Day.” 

Alexander, a transgender woman, was born in San Jose, California, but raised in Arlington, Texas. Her interest in dancing eventually evolved into an interest in gymnastics and tumbling. She was able to develop her athletic skills after a chance encounter at a cheer gym when she was in high school. This would lead to competitive gymnastics training for the next six years.

“[During] my junior year in high school, my best friend and a couple of her other friends started a dance group, so I just tagged along. It just so happened that rehearsals were at a cheer gym. I started bouncing around the gym like I was in my favorite movie, Bring It On. The coach noticed me and asked if I wanted to be a part of their competition team. Being first-generation here in America, I knew my family didn’t have enough money to do a lot of extracurriculars, so I told him I didn’t have the expenses. We found a way for me to compete—I coached at the gym at the same time that I trained. I cheered and danced competitively in high school my junior and senior year, and then for Viper Athletics for about four years,” Alexander explains. 

After the gym that she was at closed down in 2015, Alexander found herself at a crossroads. Since she is a licensed cosmetologist and nail technician (a love she cultivated from her mother), Alexander was pouring herself into doing nails in Augusta, Georgia. That’s when an opportunity to return to the stage presented itself in Texas. 

“I remember being really depressed that I wasn’t dancing anymore,” she admits. “Then I saw one of my friends I used to dance with compete in an amateur talent competition called ‘Rising Star’ at the Rose Room at Station 4 in Dallas. So I decided to move back, do nails, and start competing. From then on, the queens of the community started molding me into what I am now.” 

Becoming a drag artist came first for Alexander. She recalls her first drag performance five years ago in Dallas, during that same Rising Star competition at the Rose Room. 

“I had no clue what I was doing. I had little to no makeup on—just Maybelline foundation with no powder. 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 her repertoire. In her opinion, the main difference between drag and burlesque is “the art of the tease.” But even as an experienced drag entertainer, her first burlesque performance was stressful.  

“My very first burlesque show was at Red Goose Lounge in Fort Worth about a year ago. I was definitely a nervous wreck. By that time, I was used to performing in front of high-energy LGBTQ-friendly crowds. I didn’t know how this ‘straight’ crowd would take a trans showgirl [who does] drag and burlesque]. I was so worried that I’d get clocked and people would be ugly, but I powered through. The crowd was definitely confused, but I took that as them being conflicted with their own sexual preferences,” she says. 

“I have evolved in so many aspects [as an artist]. My makeup skills have gone through the roof. My costuming has gotten so much better. My attention to details; my professionalism backstage and onstage; learning to host shows and also how to catch and throw shade. I’ve learned to take what inspires me and put it into my shows—which makes me love doing what I do even more,” Alexander says.

Inspiration for her drag artistry and burlesque comes from many different places. 

“My biggest drag inspirations would have to be literally all the queens of Texas, Florida, Chicago, California, and New York drag,” she says. “So, so, so many great local drag queens that I look up to. And what really inspires my burlesque would have to be the greatest—Dita Von Tease. Now that I’m starting to get to know more burlesque performers in the community, they all definitely [inspire me as well]. I’d be nothing without my community.”

Alexander also takes a great deal of inspiration from her Vietnamese heritage. “I take a lot from my culture and put it into my performances. I love our beautiful traditional wear, and how we danced for royalty. Whenever I’m performing, I feel like I’m the highest of concubines: smart, poised, beautiful, and chosen from all over the world just to perform for and seduce the king.” 

Nowadays, Alexander is a widely sought-after nail artist and performer, especially
in Texas. If you follow her on Twitter or Instagram @mulanalexander, you’ll see she is constantly on the move with regular gigs every Tuesday at JR’s Bar & Grill in Montrose. She also pops up in Dallas, Galveston and, most recently, Chicago. 

Another thing you will discover about Alexander via social media is her community activism. Her Twitter bio describes her as “a trans warrior,” and pinned at 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,” Alexander says. “Share my art with the world and take care of my family. There is already so much darkness and hate going on. I want to be that positive role model for my community, the AAPI community, and for the world. I know this is why I was put on this earth—to share my light, wisdom, knowledge, and compassion. My art. Me—Mulan Alexander.” 

Keep up with Mulan Alexander on Instagram @mulanalexander.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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