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Drag performer Shangela makes 'Dancing With the Stars' history

The "RuPaul's Drag Race" alumnus is the first drag performer to compete in the U.S. version of the dance competition franchise.
Shangela dances with Gleb Savchenko on "Dancing with the Stars."
Shangela dances with Gleb Savchenko on "Dancing With the Stars."Eric McCandless / ABC

Drag entertainer and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumnus Shangela made history Monday night on the hit competition show “Dancing With the Stars.”

On the show’s 31st season premiere, Shangela, whose real name is D.J. Pierce, became the first drag queen to compete in the U.S. version of the international franchise.

“My heart was racing like crazy but when the announcer guy started the intro, in my mind I went into full on Beyoncé at the Super Bowl mode,” Pierce wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “I wanted to deliver y’all a moment that was worthy of all ur love and support, and also show people that might not be familiar or loving of drag queens, that we belong, and we know how to Turn The Party! Keep cheering, watching and Voting because we are in this together hopefully all the way to the finals!”

Pierce and his dance partner, Russian American dancer and choreographer Gleb Savchenko, received a standing ovation after their dazzling salsa performance to the Pussycat Dolls’ song “When I Grow Up.” The duo earned sevens from all four judges, the fourth-highest score of the 16 dance partners who performed.

“We’ve never had anyone like Shangela,” Savchenko, who has been part of the show since season 16, said in an interview with E! News. “So it’s going to be extra, extra, extra special.”

Savchenko and Pierce — who performs as Shangela but identifies as a man and uses he/him pronouns — are also making history as the first male couple to compete in the U.S franchise, which will now stream live Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Disney+.

The international “Dancing With the Stars” franchise is no stranger to bending gender norms. Last season, dancer and pop star JoJo Siwa made history as the first contestant in 30 seasons of the U.S. show to compete with a person of the same sex. And in 2018, gay fashion designer Giovanni Ciacci and his dance partner, Raimondo Todaro, made history on the Italian version of “Dancing With the Stars” as the first male couple to compete regularly throughout the season.

The U.S. show's new season premiered Monday as a full two-hour program with performances by 16 dance couples, judged by four renowned ballroom experts and hosted by Tyra Banks and Alfonso Ribeiro. Dancers can earn up to 40 points from the combined judges’ scores. Those points are combined with viewer votes to determine who remains on the show and who is eliminated.

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