Whether they’re performing in straight or queer spaces, the alternative drag burlesque act Eddie Divas knows how to make a statement. A number will often start with the star’s back to the audience. “I always have my hair down,” Divas says, “and I wear heels, so you assume I’m a woman.”
When they turn around, revealing a full beard, the crowd goes wild. “You can hear everyone saying It’s a boy!”
Imbuing the traditional art of the burlesque striptease with the daring of contemporary aerialism, Divas raises the stakes by playing with gender norms. You can catch the lithe showstopper delighting queer audiences at spaces like ReBar, Ripcord, and Numbers.
“In the gay community, everybody is super-welcoming.”
But after hitting straight stages for years, Divas can get off just as vividly on more traditional crowds. “I started burlesque dancing downtown,” Divas notes, “where guys would come in suits with their beautiful wives, all done up. They expected an only-female show, so when I would come onstage, I would look at the tables and I could see the girls were excited while the guys were trying to look away.”
Divas has asked show producers if such a bold sans vêtements act would scare off ticket buyers offended by nudity. “They were like, ‘Just do you. That’s their problem.’ That gave me more confidence to step up in front of these tables [with the embarrassed husbands] and say ‘You’re not going to see me? Then I’ll just dance in front of you until you have no choice.’”
By the end of the show, Divas’ manic mash-ups would inevitably win the straight boys over. “They’d approach me and go ‘Bro, what you do is awesome.’ They don’t have the confidence to view the male body as feminine. But when I’d get in the air and hang from my toes, they’d be like What the fuck is going on? ”
Moving to Houston from Caracas, Venezuela, in 2016, Divas had a passion for dancing, makeup, and aerialism, but no fixed ambitions to perform. Shortly after arriving in town, Divas was told by a friend about a vacancy for a performer at the now-defunct Prohibition Theater.
“It felt really good,” they recall. “People were having fun with me; I got to express ideas and be creative.”
Soon, the act evolved to blend in elements of circus, drag, and burlesque. Divas would draw ideas based on the season of
the show, the music they liked, or even the outfits they had gathering dust in the closet.
They would cut together multiple songs and tell stories through each piece. A classic routine begins with a zipped-up bodysuit and Betty Jean Newsome and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
As Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” surges, Divas strips, giggles and flirts, and then goes into full man-eater mode for Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.” Garments go flying, audience members in the splash zone receive intimate visits, and the cartwheels and splits are met with roars of applause. “I try to hit a little of every note in my numbers, so everyone has fun with it.”
Houston proved to be a warm and welcoming home for Divas, who likens its tightly-knit gay neighborhood to Caracas. “I love the gay scene in Houston and how the bars are all close together. That reminds me of home. I’m a foodie person; I love to eat everything, and I love that you can find any kind of food anywhere you go.”
Divas admitted to a childhood buzzing with electric curiosity, too wild to tame or constrain in any one box. “I was always a hyperactive kid. My mom would put me in every sport to tire me out. She didn’t know she was only building endurance. I would come home asking What’s next?’”
Though Divas remembers Caracas as a generally accepting environment for gay youth, they were still singled out. Happily, the budding performer chose to push the limits rather than play it safe. “I was very extra—I would dye my hair when it wasn’t allowed at school.”
Divas’ high-energy routines have brought them to Numbers’ Kinky Circus, the Houston Zoo’s After Dark series, the Renaissance Festival, and shows in Dallas and beyond. Right now, they’re delighted to be “riding the wave” and learning from other performers, in hopes of hitting Austin next.
“It’s been amazing to think: You can actually do this!”
Divas’ prime base is ReBar, where they’ll take the stage early this month and every Saturday in October. They promise more shows to come as Halloween approaches, complete with a guaranteed-outrageous wardrobe.
“Meeting with drag queens recently, they pointed out that what I was doing was kind of a drag—alternative drag. I do a bit of everything. I just have fun with it, and people enjoy it.”
For more information, follow @eddiedivas on Instagram.