June, the month in which we celebrate the LGBTQ community, brings some fun additions to the Vineyard: rainbow flags outside storefronts and places of worship, rainbow-themed food options at restaurants, and the Yard’s annual “Pride Not Prejudice” Dance Hall.
In its sixth year, this highly anticipated party is a chance for everyone in the community to show off their dance moves and let their freak flag fly. What makes this event special is that while there are several pride events throughout the month, and even the Spectrum film festival by the M.V. Film Society in April, this dance party is a major event with a high turnout.
Typically held at the Yard’s performance space in Chilmark, this year the party went down at Nomans; a sort of grand opening party for the newly renovated restaurant, formerly known as Lola’s. The organizers of the event, including Jesse Keller Jason, director of Island programs and education at the Yard, hoped that moving to a larger space down-Island would attract a bigger and more diverse crowd.
Although the dance was slated for 8 pm, it wasn’t until well after sunset that the party got started. The decor was minimal — tables were cloaked with rainbow flags — but the people made the night sparkle. Guests from all walks of life strutted, sashayed, and shimmied onto the dance floor, greeting friends with shrieks and hugs.
DJ Frida Calor, a.k.a. the Yard’s Dylan Turmeque, was dressed in a shiny color-blocked miniskirt and sky-high curly wig. She got the party started with Madonna anthems like “Express Yourself,” “Hung Up,” and “Like a Prayer,” as well as other hits by pop divas like Ariana Grande and Jennifer Lopez.
Betty Bootleg, famed Island drag queen, also showed her stuff in her signature stiletto thigh-high black boots.
One particularly languid and graceful dreadlocked dancer, Cameron, said he had seen a poster advertising the event and was excited to have an excuse to dance, “I just love to dance,” he said.
Keller Jason said that the event started as a request from one of the Yard’s staff members. She recalled him saying, “‘I haven’t seen anything for pride on the Island,’ and he asked if we would consider hosting a party.” Six years later, the party is still on.
TruDee, a persona with a strong Brooklyn accent, pranced onto the floor clad in a magenta turtleneck and a floor-length pink sequined gown. She identified herself as a “fun aunt” whose mission was to bring people together, help them fall in love, and then disappear, “like a fairy godmother!”
TruDee busted out a choreographed number to “Dance Again” by Jennifer Lopez, provoking whoops and wild cheers from the crowd. TruDee’s alter ego, Deborah Lohse, told The Times that her character is a culmination of years of theater, drag, dance, and clowning experience that have evolved into something larger than life. Lohse is a choreographer and performer from New York who regularly returns to the Vineyard. “The Yard has really nurtured me as an artist,” Lohse said. “TruDee is a testament to that.”
TruDee followed her dance with interactive performance art. She called for a volunteer to participate in answering a sampling of “Thirty-six questions to gain greater intimacy,” and queried the volunteer, Jake, with questions like “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
Afterward, she spent the fiesta matchmaking, and painting anyone’s nails who agreed to a sparkly pink polish.
Kate Lizotte, made up with glimmering blue lipstick, said that she had been looking forward to the party for a week. “I missed my hometown pride, and I was so glad to see that there was a little bit of pride happening here. It’s awesome.”
Everyone asked about how they liked the party replied with a thumbs up.
“We’re already thinking about next year,” said Keller Jason. “If this goes well, I think it’s time to consider a parade or something.”