When I was a teenager, I used to come to Key West frequently on vacation. I always marveled at the women lined up selling the drag shows outside the 801 Bourbon Bar. They were gorgeous, and I was envious beyond belief. When I meet Elle Taylor for the first time, I realize my envy has not abated in the last decade. She is stunningly beautiful, poised and the picture of feminine grace. When I compliment her on her striking beauty, she chuckles and exclaims, “Thanks — I’ll tell my doctor!” Breathtaking with a sense of humor to boot? How could you not fall in love?
Elle, née Austin, has been doing drag since she was 12 years old. Today, at 27, Elle has been doing drag more than half of her life. But female impersonation isn’t just a career for Elle — it’s who she is on the inside and out. “I view myself as a female impersonator because that is my job — to look as much like a female as I can,” she explains. “I have had surgery to assist in that, and it is always gratifying to have complete strangers tell me how beautiful I am with no intentions or ulterior motives.”
Twelve years old is early for anyone to make such a drastic identity change, especially a boy living in conservative Birmingham, Ala. But Elle says, “I’ve been lucky. I was never bullied in school. I was always very active and well known. I was the dance captain and a choreographer for the cheerleaders and the step team. I think it’s because I’ve never been insecure. I have always known exactly who I am.” It shows. Elle is confident, radiant and incredibly passionate about everything she does.
One of Elle’s great passions is travel. “I love to travel. I do it often and always have. And I’ve been especially fortunate to be able to travel all over the country for pageants.” In fact, this week Elle will be performing at the Louisville Pride Festival in Kentucky. “I love pageants because I get to meet a lot of people and I always learn something new about myself both from the people I meet and from the critiques,” she says. And she has an impressive pageant streak. Elle won Miss Utopia in 2007, Queen Mother in 2014 and Miss Paradise in 2015, among myriad other titles.
A nomad at heart, Elle moved to Key West from Chicago in 2009. “I loved Chicago, but the hustle and bustle and corporate community was just too rude for me,” Elle reflects. “I needed a change and everywhere I traveled I always heard Key West was so amazing. By the end of 2009, I had to get away. I had never been to Key West before, but I had a feeling I would love it and I was right. I’ve never left.” And Aqua Nightclub has been an ideal fit for the performer.
Aqua has given Elle the perfect platform to do the types of performances she loves to do. She has been a dancer her whole life, so dance makes up a huge portion of her routines. Her specialty is silks, and she puts on an amazing aerial acrobatic show. “I was working at a haunted house up mt North one Halloween when a few members from Cirque du Soleil came out to work as part of the freak show. They hung their silks and started teaching me and I fell in love,” she reminisces. “You really have to trust yourself with silks so that you can just let go.”
And let go she does — her routines have guests at Aqua breathless on the edge of their seats as she wraps and floats and drops within inches of the stage.
Elle’s creative process is, like us Elle herself, incredibly unique. “When I first hear a song I want to use, my brain immediately starts picturing i what I would do in a performance. But I never sit down and choreograph a number start to finish. I usually get on stage and let my body go while I make my grocery lists. Everything happens organically, and every night iis different. That’s how I live my life. I never ask ‘Should I do this?’ I always take the risk of just doing something,” Elle discloses. “I just want my performances to be as enjoyable for everyone in the audience as they are for me.”
Her silks performances are also often intense and moving. “All I’ve ever wanted was for my performance to tell a story, invoke an emotion,” Elle divulges. “On stage, nothing else matters. I just feel what I need to feel at the time, and I live in that moment.” Her emotional intensity and physical creativity make Elle stand apart from many of her cohorts. “I always go completely left field,” she says. “I love that there are no guidelines in drag. When I first started, people tried to tame me and tell me how to do drag. But I think that this lifestyle is a two-way street, and there are different ways of doing things. I want to be different.” Mission accomplished.
As creative as she is in so many ways, at the end of our conversation Elle sheepishly admits that her drag name was inspired by Elle Magazine. “I always loved Elle and fashion. But I hid my persona for a long time!” She giggles. “Even though they were accepting of who I was, no one knew I did drag as a career until 2008. When my family finally figured it out, they just didn’t care. They said, ‘Baby, as long as you’re safe and taken care of, that’s all that matters to us.’” She smiles big enough to fill the room, and my heart melts into a puddle.
The performance schedule at Aqua Nightclub rotates regularly, so make sure to check out www.aquakeywest.com to see when Elle Taylor is performing with the Aquanettes. You can find Aqua Nightclub at 711 Duval St. ¦