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TELEVISION Former 'Drag Race' contestant makes 'Dance' history
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times by Noah McCarthy

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Miss Estranja ( AKA Jay Jackson, and sometimes known as Miss Laganja Estranja ) made her television debut on season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race. Since, she has become known for her cannabis activism and choreography.

She recently sat down with Windy City Times to talk about her history-making appearance on So You Think You Can Dance, in which she advanced to the next round ( the Academy ).

Windy City Times: What drew you to So You Think You Can Dance?

Miss Estranja: I've been a fan of the show since season one. ... It's been something that I've loved for years and years, and I've had so many friends that have gone on, some that have even won the whole show, so it's definitely something that's been in the back of my head.

WCT: No one has ever gone on to the So You Think You Can Dance Academy in drag. Does that come with any concerns for you?

ME: I went to So You Think You Can Dance to represent the drag community. I couldn't have gone in worried. I had to go in with a lot of confidence and a lot of courage and belief in my community and what I was representing. So, no, I wasn't scared or nervous at all. I was excited. I was ready to show the judges the power of drag, and what drag has become and is becoming.

WCT: Since [this interview is being conducted during] Pride Month, what does pride mean to you?

ME: Well, I celebrate Pride a lot, because this is one of my busiest months as a drag queen. So, to me, Pride means money in the bank and an opportunity for me to get on a broader stage. A lot of times, Prides are during the day and children are able to come. So, Pride is about families and bringing people together not in the shadow of a nightclub, but out in the streets in the daytime.

WCT: You first debuted on RuPaul's at the age of 23. How would you say your presence as a performer has evolved since then?

ME: I think one of my biggest strengths as an artist is that I'm both a grower and a shower. ...] I remember when I first started I was not very good on a mic. I went to school for dance, I got my BFA in dance and choreography from the California Institute of the Arts, and while we did explore theater and text and words, it wasn't like I was used to being funny or having to carry a room on a mic. So that's something that I've really learned along the way.

WCT: How are you bringing the things that you learned on RuPaul's to So You Think You Can Dance?

ME: I believe that life doesn't happen the way we want it to, but the way it's supposed to.

When I did Drag Race, I was an innocent little boy who was willing to do whatever for Hollywood. ... This time, I was able to relax a lot more because I don't believe So You Think You Can Dance is about drama. It's about talent. I remember going on RuPaul's and thinking "this is really going to showcase my skills," and instead it just showcased my shenanigans.

I've heard many people say [about my audition] "Oh, her technique wasn't that great, and she just got through because she's a tra—y." But, on the flip side, I've met so many people who say how inspiring it is, ... so my audition—in my mind, at least—stands for something bigger than myself. I'm reaching a whole different type of audience, and I finally believe my art form is being seen in the light that I've always wanted it to be seen.

WCT: When you make it further, would you rather pair with a male or female partner?

ME: I would rather pair with a man, of course. I am a woman when I am in drag, so I would prefer to keep the traditional roles. But that being said, I'm a versatile dancer and performer, and whatever is thrown at me I am ready to make the most of it.

WCT: What is it like representing a whole community when you step on stage?

ME: I really tried to bring something different to this competition. While I'm using the "okurrs," the tongue pops [and] the death drops, I'm also really trying to showcase something else, and hopefully represent the community in a different way. Even though I'm over the top and loud and extra, there's still so much about me that is a role model, that is good for kids to look up to. Even with the name—Miss Estranja—I'm really trying to mainstream myself so that more people can see what I do.

WCT: So, dropping the "Laganja" was your choice?

ME: Absolutely, I didn't want there to be a single reason my talent wasn't showcased. At the end of the day, I just made up my name. My talent is what's real.

WCT: How did you go about creating this choreography?

ME: I knew for the first audition I had to go in and stick to my traditional drag form. I've never really been confident enough to go in and audition as a man in contemporary which is my ultimate dream. That being said, I knew I would have enough confidence as my character. ... Choreography comes very naturally to me, I've been doing it since I was a freshman in high school, which is why I really wanted to present my first solo as something that I choreographed. So, that was a really special moment for me for sure.

Miss Estranja will continue her journey on So You Think You Can Dance on Monday, July 9, at 7 p.m. CT on Fox.

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