This Renaissance Queen and multimedia artist is carving out a unique space for herself in Brooklyn drag via fierce performances, eclectic looks of her own design, and… “gibberish.” All hail Dakota Ceneta, alias Mr(s) BK 2017 West Dakota!
Thotyssey: Hello, thanks for talking to us! First thing’s first: when you’re out in giesh, do your friends call you “West” or “Dakota?”
West Dakota: People call me “Dakota,”, but I actually prefer “West” in drag.
Everyone take note! So how was your Valentine’s Day? I see you were at the Rosemont.
I like OOPS! That’s where I first saw you perform.
Yes! Rosemont has become a second home to a lot of Brooklyn’s up-and-coming queens, myself included.
You did Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” the night I saw you, which seems like a tailor-made drag number… but you are the only queen I’v ever seen do it.
That was my first time performing that number! I like doing numbers that resonate with people, but also feel unfamiliar in a drag setting.
You must have to have a pretty wide and eclectic knowledge of music to pull that off!
Maybe more psychotic than eclectic… but sure!
[Photo: Danielle Aphrodite]
If I may ask, what is your ethnicity?
I’m Filipino-Vanilla swirl!
Beautiful! And where’s your hometown?
I grew up outside of DC in Silver Spring, MD!
Do you have politicians in the family?
Haha, oh god no!! My dad is a photojournalist, and he’s usually covering the White House.
Your poor dad! I’d hate to have to take pictures of that bald slug every day.
Haha! Well somebody has to! It’s important to see things that make us uncomfortable!
You’re definitely what one would describe as s multimedia artist. When and how did art begin for you?
I was in an arts magnet program in high school, and did mostly painting. I was also in band, and did musical theater. In college I started doing sculpture and printmaking, and at some point I started making clothing in most of my art classes.
What inspires your fashion designs?
It really depends. With drag, the turnaround time is always so quick. Sometimes it starts with a song, or a performance concept. Sometimes it’s a specific detail or makeup that I want to do. I’ll take that and design around it, and often times the idea will get simplified when I realize how much time I have to execute it.
And you basically design all your drag costumes?
I make a lot, but it honestly a mix. I’m also a bit of a collector (hoarder) of vintage / designer pieces. I sell clothes as a side hustle–so I’ll often keep the best things for myself, or I’ll wear something once and then sell it.
When do you actually start drag?
My first time going out in drag was the summer of 2016, on one of the last nights of TNT. My first time performing was maybe a month or two after, at Macri Park. I just showed up in a look, and Merrie Cherry offered me the stage. The rest is history!
You’ve sung in an a capella group… have you ever sang as West, or would you?
I actually recently sang live for the first time in a while, for Failure in January. I joke that since I started doing drag, I’ve stopped singing in the shower and now I only lip sync in the shower. I love singing, but not sure it’s the right medium for my performance right now.
You won the Miss Williamsburg pageant… renamed the Mr(s) BK pageant at the time of your win. What was that business like for you?
The whole experience really launched my drag career. I had only performed twice before the competition, and I signed up because i had performance ideas and looks, but I wasn’t being booked and didn’t really know anyone in the scene. When I saw the lineup, I had a bit of a freak-out and felt very intimidated. I will say being new had it’s benefits too, though.
I feel like in your short time as a queen, you’ve already seen a lot of evolution in Brooklyn drag: from the closing of TNT to the rise of new venues, new queens, and new performing styles. How would you define what the scene is like today?
The BK drag scene is incredibly diverse. I think the stereotype of the scene is the “Brooklyn grit,” sort of rough around the edges aesthetic. I think where that grit actually comes into play is Brooklyn’s willingness to forego “rules” of drag; it’s less about being able to do it all (sing, dance, act, etc.) and more about what you can offer that is uniquely you.
What’s a number that you really enjoy doing these days?
I performed “Gold” by Kiiara for Bubble _T at MoMA PS1, and I’m kind of obsessed. The chorus is kinda glitchy, and ends up not really sounding like words. Someone recently called me a gibberish queen, which I think is a very fitting descriptor.
We can all make room for a Gibberish Queen! I see you’re a runway model these days as well.
I actually just walked my first runway for Fashion Week! I have walked for friends before, but this was my first big show. I was nervous going into it, but I had to snap myself out of it and remind myself that I was there for a reason.
Anything exciting coming out of this Fashion Week for you?
I haven’t had a lot of time this week to check out the collections, but I saw video of Sanchez Kane that was really good. I feel like I’m very conscious of casting for shows, and even a beautiful collection can be sour with dull casting. For the longest time the fashion industry treated slender white bodies as the “blank canvas,” but now especially it’s hard to see that as neutral. It’s very charged politically, and it’s also a snooze.
Gurl, Drag Race All-Stars 3. Was that Snatch Game last week the worst?
It wasn’t my favorite.. I honestly think that they should have waited a year or two to do AS3. AS2 was so strong that it’s hard to follow. I also think it’s rough seeing girls who have excelled in the Snatch Game flop. I loved Chi Chi as Eartha Kitt on her season, so seeing her struggle is unfortunate.
And speaking of Drag Race, Season 9 winner and revered Brooklyn performer Sasha Velour is back at National Sawdust on February 19th and 26th for another provocative NIGHTGOWNS (her multimedia drag revue with dramatic overtones), and you’ll be performing! That’s huge! Have you worked with Sasha before?
Thank you! It’s my first time working with Sasha, and I’m very excited! Honestly, just the production value alone is any performer’s dream. I’ve been putting it out into the universe, and I’m so thankful to Sasha and Johnny for having me.
What else is coming up?
I’ll be handing over my reign of Mr(s). BK next month, and I’m very excited to see (and judge!) our incredible line up. Other than that, keep an eye on my Instagram for more projects and gigs.
Lastly: who would your Snatch Game celebrity be?
Werk, West! Thanks!