On My Mind: Art, activism and a whole other kind of dance diva

Corian Ellisor isn’t your typical dancing queen. That said, he is one of Atlanta’s popuar queens, and man does he dance. And sing. And tell stories. Performances this weekend turn you every queer way but loose.

“On My Mind” stages three times this weekend as Ellisor’s Master of Fine Arts thesis performance. Through drag, comedy, singing and dancing, the show brings his loves for social justice and the arts together to tell a compelling Atlanta story about life as a black queer man in the South.

Observations and activism through art are part and parcel of the 33-year-old Houston transplant’s personal raison d’etre.

“Being a queer person of color with a platform, I realize my importance in my community,” Ellisor tells Project Q. “I have a voice that allows me to reach several audiences and connect different types of people. With my voice comes great responsibility.”

He describes his work as eclectic, thoughtful and honest – and it’s not just for him, but for all who share commonalities of experience with him.

“I am not only representing myself; I represent my people,” Ellisor continues. “Through all of my performances, there is an important component of truthfulness and shining light on subjects that I think are very important in the queer people of color scene.”

So while some audiences may know him best as his East Atlanta drag persona Ellasaurus Rex, there’s so much more to love. We dive deep into "On My Mind" with the mastermind himself.

Some know Ellasaurus Rex better than you. Who is she?

Ella is my drag persona. She hosts the drag shows down at Mary’s in East Atlanta Village. She allows me to the super wo(man) I want to be in my everyday life. She is fearless and headstrong. She is proud the be the mother of all the drag monsters in EAV. 

What is it about dance that you love so much?

I have been dancing for over 20 years now. Movement is the only way I can express myself in my most authentic way. Many times, I do not have the accurate words to convey my feelings, but I can always dance it out.

Dance is something that has come naturally and it is something that makes other people happy to watch. It has been my gift and I love sharing it with the world. 

Tell us about ‘On My Mind.’

I am currently in school at George Washington University where I am getting my Masters of Fine Art in dance. I have been working on this show for almost two years and this is my culminating work. It has to do with the current social, economic and political climate in which I live in as a black, queer man living in the South. “On My Mind,” is a fusion of drag, dance, theater, music and storytelling. 

What does the project mean to you and the communities it features?

I see this project as a celebration of people that do not get the appreciation that they deserve. Each group [people color, women, trans people, queer people] is uniquely fierce and has taught me how to except myself for exactly who I am.   

How much of yourself - metaphorical and actual blood, sweat and tears - goes into a show like this?

I have spent countless hours reading books from James Baldwin, Roxanne Gay, bell hooks and Angela Davis. Every day I wake up and watch the news and reflect on the state of affairs through journaling. I got to the studio and dance out the pain and suffering of my people and try to make sense of the fractured relationship I have with America. 

The local community still sometimes struggles with diversity – of gender, of race, of any identities perceived as “other.” What can local LGBTQ individuals do to bridge the gap?

I think the best think we can do as a community is to be as authentic as we can in our own lives. I think it also important to listen. Through personal stories, we can find our commonalities through the human experience.

What else do you do in Queer Atlanta when you’re not setting the arts-activism world on fire?

I am the drag show director at Mary’s. Gurlfrandz is the first Saturday of the month, and Glitz is the third Thursday of the month. I also teach dance at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. There, I teach children and adult classes.

I am also the co-director of the children’s modern dance company called Prime Movers. I have choreographed several dances for myself as an independent choreographer and for different dance companies around Atlanta. I basically get to be artistic every day of the week.

Anything else you’d like to shout out to Queer Atlanta before the performances?

Queer Atlanta is a place I love to be a part of.  It has shown me love and support for so long. It has allowed me to blossom into the person I am today and I am so grateful. Everyone needs a place and a space to be exactly who they want to be.

Photo by Jamie Hopper courtesy Corian Ellisor