Miami's glitzy, nocturnal empress Adora might be one of the most cherished and recognized drag queens in the nation. Aside from being a local nightclub staple since the mid-'80s, the ever-glamorous Adora remains busy appearing in TV ads and performing at corporate events around South Florida.
But a little more than a year ago, the colorful, tropical drag princess decided to branch out from her act and try something fresh: DJing. Joel Steed, co-owner of the perennially blissful club Twist, offered her a debut shot on the turntables. The night was such a success he offered Adora her own weekly residency. "The technical aspects of DJing are new to me," Adora says, "but I'm having lots of fun and I'm truly learning to enjoy it."
Steed notes her skills on the decks improve every week. "She's developed her own sound, but she's always centered on what the audience wants that night. With all those years onstage doing live shows, she really knows how to play to the crowd," he says. "Plus Adora has such a tremendous fan base. Everyone is drawn to her outrageous looks, razor-quick humor, and those sexy Latin beats that she spins on the dance floor."
Adora: 11 p.m. every Thursday. Twist, 1057 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Admission is free; ages 21 and up; twistsobe.com
Adora was born Danilo de la Torre in Havana 48 years ago and from childhood always identified as a performer. He began a career as a dancer and in 1985 went to Paris, where he joined a ballet theater troupe and also performed modern dance. But just a year later, he left Europe for Miami, lured by our city's unmistakable Latin flavor and a then-emerging South Beach.
That long-lost Miami Beach was an extravagant demimonde for world-roaming, carefree stragglers. And during those heady club days, de la Torre and fellow dragster Carlos Rodriguez began making appearances as the Adora Sisters at local venues.
Within a few short years, the Adora Sisters were among the most popular drag queens in town, and a stream of steady gigs allowed de la Torre to thrive as an in-demand local performer. In 1991, after Rodriguez's untimely death, de la Torre began to perform solo as Adora, steadily working throughout Miami and perfecting the character's hilariously kitschy nighttime persona.
Nowadays, Adora works her magic at nights such as the fetish-cool Back Door Bamby at the Vagabond, where every Saturday night she lip-syncs to a repertoire of old musical standards. But it's her new devotion to DJing that occupies most of her free time. "I used to read Wallpaper and Interview magazine," she says, "but now all I read are DJ equipment magazines."
Yet Adora finds many similarities between being a drag performer and DJ. "One thing that I learned is that you need to be self-sufficient," she says. "Like when I do drag, I had to know how to do my makeup. And now as a DJ, I had to learn all about the technical stuff, which is new to me, like plugging all the right sound cables to the wall and setting up all the systems."
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But self-sufficient or not, Adora comes into a DJ field that's not very crowded and thus a little friendlier than most. There is only a handful of drag queens that DJ in full drag, most notably New York's Lady Bunny and Miami's Elaine Lancaster. "We are not that many, so there's really no competition," Adora says.
Even so, she wants to bring something different to her sets. Working the Latin night at Twist gives her the opportunity to spin truly treasured but overlooked classics such as La Lupe's '60s hit "Fever" and Orquesta Aragón's '40s big-band number "Silencio."
Still, DJing in full drag can sometimes become a drag of another kind. Not only must she spend the usual DJ's hours obsessing over song selection, but also she must devote several hours to her appearance. The process can definitely be tiring, and Adora readily admits that ideally she would prefer to spin free of costumes.
To her many doting fans at Twist, though, Adora remains the main draw, and she would never dare to disappoint her audience. "The Adora personality and the music go together. I've always been a performer; I feel that I was born to be on the stage," she says. "But music has always been in the back of my head, and I decided I couldn't let this desire go unanswered."