Five years ago, Van Dang had a simple idea. The self-described gender-fluid revolutionist thought it was weird that Vancouver did not have spaces queer Asians.
Dang, who prefers the pronouns they and them, decided to throw a party for them. A now-defunct bar on Davie Street, XY, was willing to oblige.
“I expected 80 people or something,” Dang recalls in a phone interview with Pancouver.
The turnout vastly exceeded that.
“That bar had a line down the block,” Dang says. “People were waiting for an hour. So many people came out.”
It was a surefire sign that Vancouver was ready for more of these parties. And this gave birth to Ricecake, a company founded by Dang that puts on events featuring queer Asian performers. Over the past five years, it’s provided a platform for more than 100 queer Asian artists.
They’ve included Ongina, the first Asian contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as other drag artists, DJs, and go-go dancers.
“I like to call it the Queer Asian Revolution,” declares Dang, who’s of Vietnamese ancestry. “Because when I was starting Ricecake, a new collective in Toronto was starting another queer Asian party called New Ho Queen. And then, New York has also been throwing a party called Bubble Tea.”
Dang is also the self-described mother of the House of Rice, which is a group of Asian drag performers. Before they can join, Dang meets with them over lunch or dinner to explore their potential for greatness.
“I’m a very vibe-based person,” the Ricecake CEO says. “So I would kind of vet them in a very casual interview.”
Dang doubles as Shay Dior
Some had already started to create drag personas before they joined House of Rice.
“I’m here to help them to challenge themselves how to work with promoters, how to negotiate, and how to work as a business professional as an artist,” Dang continues.
Another key consideration is helping performers explore their creativity.
“We work together a lot to support each other, uplift each other, motivate each other to do better, and get better in our craft,” Dang emphasizes.
The Ricecake CEO and House of Rice mother has their own drag alter ego named of Shay Dior.
“My drag is, aesthetic-wise, a mix of masculine and feminine—king and queen,” Dang says. “I do not sing. I cannot. My voice is not great, so with drag, it’s mostly lip synching or dancing and stuff.”
One of Dang’s favourite drag performers in Vancouver is Rose Butch. Butch was among the first to use the term drag thing, which is neither a queen nor king.
“That kind of inspired me to also include masculinity in my drag.”
Normally, Ricecake hosts parties every two or three months. It also puts on a regular hot brunch and live drag show called Drag ‘N’ Dim Sum at Cold Tea Restaurant.
“That’s been like a huge hit because it’s also for people who don’t like to go party and don’t like to be in crowds,” Dang says. “It’s a perfect way to enjoy excellent Asian drag.”
Drag ‘N’ Dim Sum is an all-ages event, which has attracted grandparents and at least one exceptionally young patron.
“One time, someone brought their baby and it had the noise-cancelling headphones on them,” Dang says with a laugh. “It was, like, dancing. It was very cute.”
Asian drag at Vancouver Mural Festival
Early last month, Dang, with House of Rice, produced House of Rice: Rice-silience. It was presented over three days as part of Upintheair Theatre’s rEvolver Festival. Then near the end of June, Ricecake put on a free all-ages dance party to close the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival.
Ricecake will also curate a free major event at this year’s Vancouver Mural Festival. On August 10, Dang’s company will present five drag artists—SKIM, Percy Pegg, Bluee Joy, Carri Oki Doki, and Dolly Hardon—on the main stage at the festival’s Asian Night Market. It takes place from 5 to 10 p.m. at City Centre Artist Lodge.
It’s the second time that Ricecake has collaborated with the Vancouver Mural Festival. Last February, it curated an all-Asian night-market experience at šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square (formerly known as the Vancouver Art Gallery North Plaza).
It’s one of several Ricecake events before and after the Vancouver Pride Parade, which takes place on August 6. One of them will close the ENXW (East by Northwest) summit, which is the brainchild of Racial Equity Screen Office founder Barbara Lee.
From July 28 to 30, ENXW will bring together racialized creators to discuss developing content and partnerships for international markets. On the final day at Floata Seafood Restaurant, Ricecake will present House of Rice members Maiden China, Bongganisa, Ploy Pailin, Kara Juku, and SKIM, with music by DJ Bella Sie. Their show will follow Farpoint Technologies founder and CEO Nicholas Ning’s presentation on the future of AI and entertainment. (Tickets are available through Eventbrite.)
Party at Pride with Ricecake
In addition, Ricecake will present drag performances and DJ sets at Celebrities Nightclub for the venue’s Pride event on August 3. Shay Dior will make an appearance, along with fellow drag artists Bongganisa, Bibi SouPhresh, Ploy Pailin, Rose Butch, and Tiffany Ann Co. The event will also feature former Canada’s Drag Race contestants Kimmy Couture, Suki Doll, and Stephanie Prince. (Tickets are available through Ticketweb.ca.)
Then on August 6 following the Pride parade, Ricecake will host its Pride party from 3 to 9 p.m. at The Birdhouse (44 West 4th Avenue). “To make a splash, we’re bringing in a wading pool, bubbles, misters, water guns, and floaties that you can use to keep ultra cool, while you lounge in your tankinis/bikinis/speedos and boogie with other beautiful queers at our parking lot pool party,” Ricecake states on its website. (Tickets are available through Showpass.com.)
Ricecake bills itself as “Vancouver’s year-round, non-stop celebration of Queer and Asian Pride”. But there’s also a serious side along with the parties.
Dang points out that more people of Asian ancestry have been taking a stand against anti-Asian hatred in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the activities of Ricecake fit into that overall context.
“Asians are just being proud and standing their ground and not shying away from things anymore,” the Ricecake CEO says.