Elijah Dillehay (B.F.A. ’16, contemporary dance) is a recent winner of the 2015 Miss Boston Pride Pageant as Ellie Monae, his drag persona. Learn more about Elijah, his passions, and what motivates him to teach others about pride and self through Ellie Monae.
Why dance? Has it always been part of your life?
As much as it’s cliché to say “I dance because words cannot express what the body can show” there is some form of honesty to that response for me. Although I’ve always been a very talkative person, dance and physical expression have always come naturally to me. From a young age, dance often found me; I was always placed in situations that allowed me to dance. In my high school’s musical productions, I was always cast in the dance numbers since I was one of about three boys in the entire show.
How did you discover the Conservatory?
I met Cathy Young, dean of dance, at Bates Summer Dance Festival. I took her jazz class and immediately connected with her spirit and fire. At the time, I was dancing at Nashville Ballet in Nashville, Tennessee, but was not committed to studying dance at a collegiate level. After speaking with Cathy several times throughout the festival, I decided to audition. The Conservatory’s diverse program, along with the talented and caring faculty members, made my decision to attend pretty easy.
What do you feel the dynamic is among students at the Conservatory?
Supportive. I have never felt anything but love and support from my family at the Conservatory. Students and faculty members I’ve never met have reached out to congratulate me on my recent crowning and showered me with support. The Boston Conservatory is family.
What are some of the ways you express yourself?
Everything from the clothes I wear to the way I treat other people is a self-expression. However, Ellie Monae (my drag persona) is a unique entity and an expression of one part of who I am. She has always been part of me, but ever since the first day I slapped on a wig I’ve been unable to keep her hidden.
What is your favorite type of artistic collaboration?
One of my goals in life is to collaborate with drag queens and professional dancers to create a nightclub concert dance experience. To me, both art forms are extraordinary. I am fully committed to both and am extremely proud when performing.
Have you changed since coming to the Conservatory?
Boston Conservatory fostered a whirlwind of life-changing experiences for me. The technical side of my dancing has significantly improved. Even more so, my understanding of the discipline as art and a career path has broadened to a professional level. The Conservatory has also helped to teach me pride in what I do and who I am. I feel important—I feel like my craft (whether dance or drag) is a respected, vital part of the community. Because of this support, I have gained a newfound confidence and know that with dedication and passion I can live out my goal to be a working professional dancer.
What are you hoping to achieve with Ellie Monae's persona?
Similar to my dancing, I hope that people can look at Ellie and see part of themselves. I hope they can see the pride that she carries and want to embody that. We live in a world where acceptance comes with doing what is expected of you and living within limitations. With drag I can be whoever I want to be—I hope that people see that drag is an extension of reality—we can all be whoever we want to be.
Why do you participate in drag beauty pageants?
From my very first time in drag I always felt like I had something to prove to myself. Every time I do my makeup I say, “Ellie’s face has to be better than the last time.” I’m always trying to improve her as a character. Pageants to me are a qualifying game. I usually do a pageant to find out what the judges think of Ellie Monae and what they would like to see from her. The Miss Boston Pride Pageant was a completely different story; winning the 2015 pageant made [it] a milestone year for me. I have never felt more proud of who I am as a gay man and who I am as an individual artist. When I was first introduced to this pageant I thought it was just an opportunity to represent my community and myself—I wasn’t there to win—but after I won the pageant, I realized how proud I was, and that I wanted to continue to grow.
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
World peace—what every pageant winner wants, everywhere!