boyblue meets...

Laganja Estranja

 
 

RuPaul’s Drag Race star Laganja Estranja, met with BOYBLUE at the University of West London, to talk cannabis, collaborations, life in 2017 and the connection they feel with fans.

A great starting point would be talking about your name - Langanja. Cannabis is a topic that’s often brought up within our society – what’s your stance and opinion on the subject? 

L: For me cannabis is a medicine. I grew up on all kinds of antidepressants and things to help calm my anxiety, so when I moved to California and discovered that legally medicating through Proposition 215 (The Compassionate Act) I really discovered that I could use this plant and didn’t need all these pharmaceutical products that I was being charged extortionate amounts of money for, which I think were ultimately causing me more problems.

Cannabis has really opened a new world, allowed me to be myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. I’m a nicer person, I’m a lot happier to be around, it helps my body aches. This plant really helps me with my eating, with my sleep cycle - there’s really nothing it can’t do. We’re now figuring out ways to give it to animals so that we can treat their issues too, so I think we have a lot more work to do but first and foremost we need to change the stigma.

As a cannabis advocate and an LGBT (hopefully soon to be official) icon - it doesn’t matter if I medicate with cannabis, I am an adult and it does not impact on my job in a negative way. In fact, it helps me in a positive way. It helps when colleges and universities like the University of West London accept me into their home, it feels great because whether they realise it or not they are saying "we’re cool with this" and it’s really important. It’s important that people understand that just because I’m pro-cannabis does not mean that I’m not great with kids for example - I’m great with kids, I’ve always been great with kids and being a cannabis smoker isn’t something that people should look negatively on.

I was an alcoholic and I’ve been two years sober now and I always think about how many teachers drink before they go teach kids and how horrible that is and as someone who smokes, I know I’m looked at with the same perspective and it’s all about breaking that stigma. Educating people and getting them to understand it’s medicinal - when used the right way. Once we’ve achieved this we can move on to talking about recreational use, I use it recreationally too, but it’s important we push the medical side first and foremost.

You were in the UK earlier this year and spent a considerable amount of time in Nottingham producing a show - what was it all about?

L: We were rehearsing a show at the Nottingham Contemporary Museum and the final performance was at the Backlit Gallery. The entire weekend was a workshop on gender - discussing pronouns, sexuality and how it relates and differs from gender. We all came in, with our differences and pronouns and by the end of the project we all left feeling like a family who had created an art piece. It created a tightened group of people who have kept in touch since the project, they call themselves the ‘Haus of Estranja’, which is very cool!

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How did that make you feel as an artist, to produce such a special show?

L: I’m usually quite restricted to the confines of drag: padding, performing, death dropping and giving all of my catchphrases. The Nottingham event was none of that - it was me as an artist, as a choreographer and as a director. It was a very moving experience, because as an artist I’m used to entertaining people, making people laugh but this was completely different, it was really special. It was the highlight of my year and I’m looking forward to hopefully going back next year and doing something even bigger, better and longer!

Out of all of the Queens to come out of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you are one of the more diverse. Breaking down barriers and doing things we as an audience, haven’t seen other queens do before. Is there a driving force or are you just really expressive?

L: I’m very much like a Tasmanian devil; it’s hard to catch me, I’ve always got my hands in different pots. Even as an artist before I got on RuPaul’s Drag Race I had a single, a website and merchandise. I don’t like to classify myself as one thing, so on Instagram I like to say that I’m a ‘Cannabis activist, Choreographer and Creator’, I like the alliteration in it, but I really do think I’m an artist over all. I like to perform, I like to direct, I like to be behind-the-scenes, I like to write - I like to do all of it. I dream of one day having a production or dance company that I will be the artistic director of and we will put on works and travel the whole world.

Would you like this production/dance company to be touring or based locally somewhere?

L: I definitely see myself with a studio, I love travelling, it’s been amazing. But it can get quite lonely so eventually I can see myself locating in one place and having a group that I would be in charge of.

Speaking of a dance studio and music, what is your favourite song at the moment?

L: My favourite song right now is ‘Whistle' by Black Pink, who are a Korean-pop group. I also really like SZA right now, her album ‘CTRL’ is amazing. Missy Elliott is my all-time idol so anything she puts out I love - she’s who I dream of working with - I wanna have a rap album with her featuring on it.

You’re on a huge tour throughout November, and on some days with Gia Gunn as part of ‘#TeamTooMuch’, but what are the dance workshops that you do?

L: Every Dance workshop I do is very different depending on where I am, the climate, the type of people - I’ve had people aged 8 all the way to aged 63, so I’ve seen and taught it all. If you have the will and initiative to take my class, I can give you a good time. I cannot promise you’ll leave with death drops or being the best dancer, but what I teach is confidence and love. In the class I taught in West London one girl came up to me and said "this is the most confident I’ve ever felt", which is so awesome - that’s why I do this.

On the entertainment side of my career I do sometimes feel quite mindless and robotic, going through the motions and a job. Everyone loves and hates their job, and to me these classes have provided me with an outlet to really be myself and to not feel so monotonous with what I do.

For example I’m teaching people how to get on the floor and do things that most people would consider inappropriate for most adults, but what I think is that it’s showing people how to break out of their shell and the best way to do that is with sexy movement. Everybody wants to be sexy! Everyone wants to feel sexy, desirable and loved. Through my classes I give people permission to feel this way, because society puts these ideas in our heads that we can’t be sexy and that we can’t be sexualised individuals. So people can come to my classes and feel it, get sickening and feel like the drag queen they have always wanted to be - feeling what we feel on stage every night.

Are these classes a form of escapism?

L: I’m a drag queen, I walk around in wigs and heels - I don’t have any problems expressing myself in these kind of situations. I do struggle to express myself is in my real life and within my love life - those are things that I try and work on.

I think that when people come to drag shows they can be left with a feeling of awe and amazement but in dance classes, I think people get to feel something real and that is a lot more long-lasting and a real change in their life. That’s why to me as an artist I feel it’s important for me to do these workshops alongside drag, because I think they go hand in hand. I like that people get to hug me and most of all get to meet me and see the man behind the artist.

BOYBLUE meets Langja Estranja - conducted at ‘Laganja’s Dance School’ workshop at the University of West London in November 2017. With thanks to University of West London’s LGBTQ+ Society and associated societies for helping accommodate the interview.

AUTHOR: TOM SHEARSMITH