Bolly-Illusion is a non-binary amazing drag performer who always brings the Indian culture to his shows and embraces his queerness! In this interview, Bolly-Illusion provided insights into his first steps into drag, the major role that LGBTQ+ nightlife played in his art, and how winning the Glory’s LipSync 1000 contest in 2019 transformed their career.
‘I am bringing my culture and who I am to the audience’
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Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How, why, and when did you start dancing? What should our audience of travelers & locals expect from watching you?
Hello everyone, my name is Bolly Illusion, and I am a performer/drag queen/performance artist/fabulous human being! My family are from India, but I was born in Britain and grew up in West London. I have been dancing for more than three years now and I started performing when I was four years old. I used to dance for a community show, since then, I participated in local dancing competitions, community shows, performing for various shows, etc. However, when I turned eighteen, I started teaching myself a Bollywood dance called ‘body flex’. I later performed twice at the 02 Arena in London along with many talented people such as Jacqueline Fernandez and many others. It was an amazing experience for me as I met lots of professional dancers.
Moreover, while I was studying journalism at university, I managed to get a dance job, which I am very grateful for to this day. This opportunity equipped me with the means to organize my performances. I also participated in a Lip Sync competition in 2019 at The Grand, won the jewel at The Glory plus the £1000 prize. Winning that competition opened more doors to perform around London. and Birmingham. I slowly started making a name for myself in East London as Bolly Illusion.
My dance style connects my cultures as I incorporate Bollywood dance moves, English pop music, and RnB. Now I am preparing to add productions and storylines into my performances because I realized that many TV shows want stories like mine and I was thinking instead of doing that on TV, I am going to do it on stage, I will bring who I am to the audience and let them know who I am.
How much does your background influence your dance performances?
My background influences my dance performances because I show the audience who I am. I am British and Asian, and I would love to show everyone my background and where I am from within my performances. I am grateful that the audience appreciate my performances and love me for who I am.
Why is it important for you to share stories and experiences of queer south Asians through your art?
I think it is important for me to share stories and experiences of queer south Asians because there is no representation out there like even on stage or through media there is not enough support for non-binary queer South Asians around the world. I feel that the world needs to see how beautiful and great queer South Asians are, how rich our culture is, music and dance. Even when it comes to make-up and hair, all these details make such a powerful statement. When I am showing my South Asian heritage, I feel like I am honoring my ancestries because they had all these gifts, and I am grateful for my ancestries. When I am performing on the stage, I get in touch with my ancestries.
Have you faced any prejudice or critics from cis-gender artists or the audience?
I have faced any prejudice from artists but with the audience I have. For example, a straight woman said that I was behaving like a diva because she was dancing with her friends on the stage, and she did not realize that a show was happening at the pub. She was aggressive and disrespectful. But once she watched all the show, she came to me and apologized for her behaviour. I found it beautiful the fact I can change people's perspectives through my art.
What needs to change to improve the representation of non-binary performers in the arts?
I feel like there are a lot of things that need to change. The biggest one which now is beginning to change after lockdown is the number of lineups of white performers and lack of diverse representation. There are many white-washed events and this needs to change. We need more people of colour on stage and I want people to know that there is enough space for everyone.
Your art is your art, you can do anything on stage! I feel like we are looking for new beauty stars that are queer people of colour to also headline shows. We do not need white queer artists in headline shows any more. We need more non-binary people and inclusive shows.
Why do you think there is such a strong relationship between drag and sexual orientation?
This very in-depth question! I feel there is a strong connection between drag and sexual orientation because even for my own experience with drag, like the reason that I am doing drag is that I am very feminine and eccentric, so I feel that drag is very natural to me and the same happens to other queer people as well. There are feminine presenting or masculine-presenting, and they are doing drag because they are very comfortable with what comes naturally to them.
Some of my straight women friends say to me that I am their best gay friends, I hate this phrase but at the same time, we know each other well. I understand why they say that, and it is beautiful when your sexual orientation is appreciated but there can be a difference in drag. For example, in the RuPaul drag race season 1, there was a queen who was bisexual, and he had a girlfriend at that time which shows that the relationship between drag and sexual orientation vary. I would love to see drag performances from straight people who also talk about their sexuality as well.
Drag is a form of expression and needs to bring these kinds of topics into our art.
Nightlife is a crucial part of the queer community. What has been the impact of queer nightlife in your life?
Nightlife is an important part of a queer person because that is how you find your second family and people with who can be relate to. As for me, I can see people who sing like me, dress like me, have the same gestures and for me that was a part of my identity, finding someone that I can party and feel safe with. The queer nightlife has always been there for me and made me realise that there are even more people from similar backgrounds to me. Examples places like Pxssy Palace, Lick events and other queer non-binary spaces made me feel that I had another family, and I am very grateful for that.
Now this pandemic has made me realise even more how grateful I am for having experienced those nights, experiences with my friends, and nightlife experiences as a performer because I was going to those places as a happy person. I enter these places as Bolly-Illusion, a sassy queen!
Tell us about some of your favourite events or club nights in London or abroad?
One of my favourite clubs in London is The Glory which is an amazing venue because of the lip sync contest. I am now able to produce my shows, show my culture, all the people there accept me, and the audience love the context of my shows. The most important thing is that I feel love and support!
Other nice spaces that I love are the Hungama and the Pxssy Palace. I love the people who are behind these clubs because they know how to make others feel at home, there are beautiful spaces to be, and people receive great vibes too. UK Black Pride is also an incredible place to perform because it is not just whitewashed, it's for us, it represents our cultures, stories and art.
What will be needed to encourage more queer members or aspiring young folx into the arts?
I think the main thing to encourage young queer folx is literally to make notes of all your ideas and all the art you create. Young queer aspiring performers should know that there is always a space available for them! We are there to show how beautiful the drag community is.
Sometimes, you only need a stage and lights to make your audience adore your art. Many spaces value your art and always make sure you have a notebook with you to write your ideas during your walk or journeys.
If there is any performer out there that is searching for spaces or nightclubs, they can always message me, I am there for every drag queen/king to give any advice and we always support each other.
We are all a message away and you ask other folx performers how they have done it or their favourite drag queens etc and the best way to find your path is by asking questions.
Share with us what you love most about LGBTQ+ nightlife?
There are so many things I love about the LGBTQ+ venues and nightlife because it is a place where I can be free, I can dance how I want, I can wear my makeup and a dress, etc. I can express myself in every form, I love the fact that I am surrounded by other queers, people of colour, and people who are free to express themselves in such a beautiful way.
I have realised also that the way I am, I am not like this on my own, when I was younger and I was a student in high school, I felt that my queerness should be hidden because there was no one like me. But after the years, I realised I am my inspiration, I am my motivation.
The nightlife helped me to build the power of my personality, that I am a fabulous human being, a non-binary amazing drag queen performer and I hope everyone can eventually express themselves in any way they want!
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