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Ice queen

Meet U alum Cordero Zuckerman—aka Denali, who recently held her own as she battled fierce competition on VH1’s "RuPaul’s Drag Race."

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of University of Utah Magazine.

Cordero Zuckerman B.A. ’13 is no stranger to competition. At the tender age of 15, the third-degree black belt in karate vied for a spot on the U.S. figure skating team. Years later, when Zuckerman started skating for Cirque du Soleil and Royal Caribbean, he really hit his stride. “I knew then that I was destined to be on the stage,” Zuckerman says. Soon after, Denali Foxx (or simply Denali)—Zuckerman’s drag alter ego, inspired by his home state of Alaska—was born.

Denali went on to compete on the 13th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”—a competition reality show on VH1. Zuckerman now lives and performs in Chicago and is set to begin touring later this year.

What brought you to Utah?

Where I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, there’s not much to do besides hockey, figure skating, or drugs. I chose the gayest of those and started figure skating. I moved to Utah in 2007 to train. The U was close to the ice rink, and it has great language programs. My mom is Mexican, and I speak Spanish. I’ve always been fascinated by languages, so I majored in Spanish literature and minored in Korean and comparative literature.

What were your favorite parts of Utah?

I loved going to Moab and Zion with my friends. And Salt Lake Pride helped me develop a lot of my queerness. I was 17 years old at my first Pride, freshly out of the closet, and I was blown away. I was like a kid in a candy store! I loved it!

What is drag, and why do people do it?

It can be difficult to define. Through the heteronormative lens, it’s about a cisgender man transforming into a cisgender-presenting woman—and the appeal is in how grand that transformation can be. But I think drag is about homing in on duality or conflict that’s within all of us. It can apply to gender or even just putting on a persona when you go to work.