The House of Lewan brings drag to Dartmouth

The new club hopes to make drag accessible by hosting workshops and performing in shows, such as the annual Transform event.

by Michaela Gregoriou | 5/5/22 2:05am

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Courtesy of Riley King '24

Source: Courtesy of Riley King

The House of Lewan, Dartmouth’s first recognized drag club, hosts free, all-inclusive drag workshops and will be performing at the upcoming Transform event on Friday, May 6th at 8 p.m. in Kemeny Courtyard. Transform, one of Dartmouth’s traditional PRIDE celebrations, will feature drag performances from students and Adore Delano, a drag icon and season six finalist on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” 

The House of Lewan was founded this past winter by Jaime Aranzabal ’24 and Richard Lai ’23. The club is named after Stuart Lewan ’79, an alum who was one of the first advocates for queer student rights at Dartmouth, Lai said. Now, decades after Lewan’s time at Dartmouth, Dartmouth has a space dedicated to the art of drag.

“I feel like Dartmouth in general does not really have any spaces for, first of all, queer expression but, second of all, drag. There’s not really any institutionalized drag organization,” he said.

For Lai, drag represents a sense of liberation and freedom.

“What [drag] means to me is being able to find that freedom of expressing whatever you want to express without having to feel the constraints of any societal expectations,” he said. “... It’s like living a fantasy that you might not have access to in your real life, but you can experience it for a brief moment.”

Aranzabal also described the House of Lewan as a space of queer expression. 

“We’re not just fighting for our right to be here and be valid in the Dartmouth community, but to express ourselves and be as vulnerable as possible,” Aranzabal said. “When you’re fighting for your place in this school, you have to put up a lot of fronts and this is about tearing down those fronts.”

Omar De La Osa Febles ’25, a member of the House of Lewan, explained that one reason he joined the club, aside from improving his drag skills, was its emphasis on inclusivity. 

“A lot of queer spaces on campus, [including] Greek houses, are somewhat divided so taking eveything I love about drag and performance art and putting it in one space together I [thought] this is definitely a space for me and for a lot of other queer and non-queer people to come and enjoy the art of drag,” De La Osa Febles said.

Speaking on his desire to create a drag club at Dartmouth, Aranzabal said that he wanted to make drag financially and socially inclusive on campus. 

“Where our goal came from was trying to work as a community to provide a space that will let people do drag in a way that’s inclusive in terms of money and [the ability] to learn from others within the club,” he said. 

In the beginning of the term, the club hosted open-to-campus makeup and fashion workshops, with the goal of educating the community on drag. Aranzabal said the fashion workshop highlighted the inspirations of drag fashion and how it differs from ‘everyday’ fashion. 

Additionally, at the workshops, members were guided through the costume designing process, from sketching to construction. The makeup workshop functioned as a tutorial session on drag makeup and how to customize makeup according to one’s individual features. The workshops also established the House of Lewan as a safe space where people were encouraged to share their interest in drag, Aranzabal said.

“Although those workshops were informational, the main purpose was setting ourselves as a third space, somewhere that you can go and feel safe and able to talk about your interests because there’s a lot of places on campus that you can’t talk about [drag] because a lot of people will judge you,” Aranzabal said.

Aranzabal and Lai both explained how drag performance, consisting of several components like makeup, garments, wig styling and shoes, is incredibly complex and often very expensive. They added that The House of Lewan is committed to financial inclusivity and provides all materials to their members for free. 

“The concept for this term [was] that we would build up our reservoir of drag clothing and drag wigs through the customization that the performers had earlier on … They ideate their stuff, they send it to me and we purchase it,” Lai said. 

13 members of the House of Lewan, the majority of which are novices to drag performance, will be performing in Dartmouth’s Transform celebration alongside Adore Delano. Lai also said that Transform is one of the few opportunities on campus in which drag performers are visible and celebrated, and how it can expose the broader campus to drag culture.

“It will be a very rewarding and liberating experience for each one of the performers and, hopefully, provide more exposure to the rest of campus of what a drag queen or a drag king or a drag performer actually is,” Lai said. 

Aranzabal said that this will be “the biggest Transform [the college has] ever had.” The gender-bending celebration will feature a runway portion, singing, dancing and the opportunity to meet Adore Delano.

De La Osa Febles said he is “freaking out” about being able to perform alongside Delano, as he remembers rooting for Delano to win on her season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” 

“Me, as a kid, watching Adore Delano on a TV screen and now in a few days I’m going to perform next to Adore Delano — it's like full circle,” De La Osa Febles said.

As the first drag club at Dartmouth, the House of Lewan has encountered several challenges. While there are many supporters, Lai said, the majority of people at Dartmouth are neutral or indifferent towards drag, as they don’t know much about it. Additionally, the social stigma of drag heightens the pressure surrounding the club’s public performances, Lai said. 

“Drag itself has only recently become more socially acceptable so there’s a lot of pressure to make all our public appearances super polished or flawless," Lai said. "Being the first [drag club] really makes me feel like we have something to prove. We have to make it perfect in order for us to pave the way for future clubs or future interest to sustain."

Correction appended (May 5, 11:30 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the House of Lewan was created 43 years after Stuart Lewan’s graduation. The club was founded several decades after Lewan's time at Dartmouth. The article has been updated. 

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