Dance instructor Michael Sharp works both sides of the footlights: As choreographer of real-girl pageants and as drag diva Sally
DON MAINES | Contributing Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Texans who go overseas get homesick for football or barbecue or country music.
Michael Sharp missed beauty pageants.
While he danced for 2 1/2 years at the Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan, to give him a sense of home, Sharp’s mother sent him videos of all-girl pageants. “I became a big pageant fiend,” he laughs.
Sharp’s fascination grew to the point where he vowed to get involved in pageants when he returned to Texas — and on both sides of the footlights.
“When I got off the plane on July 7, 2006, I was already registered [as a contestant] for Miss Gay Dallas,” he says. “I had ordered all these things and there they were, stacked at my mama’s house: an evening gown, a ton of rhinestones, two separate wigs, makeup and boob pads lying on the bed.”
Sharp had also picked a name for his pageant-girl persona: Sally Sparkles, riffing on the nickname “Sally” given him by fellow dancers. “Then I thought of ‘Sparkles,’” he says. “It’s a word that’s not used enough, and it has a pretty connotation.”
His inaugural competition taught him a lot about the art of pageant drag.
Sharp — Sparkles — won the Miss Gay Dallas contest that year, but the state pageant “was definitely an eye-opener. Talk about being put in your place! I found out that little bitty hip pads weren’t going to do it. My boobs were too small, I needed more makeup and bigger hair.”
As horrible as Sharp remembers it being, Miss Sally Sparkles still placed ninth at the 2006 Miss Gay Texas.
But becoming a successful female impersonator was just half of his wish list. Next, he set out to make his other dream come true: Working behind the scenes on “real girl” pageants. While still in Japan, Sharp had e-mailed the Miss Texas Organization, which runs the Lone Star State preliminary to Miss America, offering to “do anything — be a boy dancer, choreograph, whatever they needed,” he says. The pageant’s response was to make Sharp the assistant to its choreographer, Sunni Cranfill, who had been Miss Texas 2003.
“That made me ecstatic!” says Sharp. Suddenly, he was working side-by-side with some of the beauties he had watched win their crowns, as well as a new line of lovelies vying for the coveted titles of Miss Texas and Miss America.
“Everything he touched became beautiful,” says Cranfill. “He is truly one of the most creative minds I have known.”
In his second year at Miss Texas, with Cranfill busy trying out for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Sharp was promoted to head choreographer. Drawing on his dance education at Stephen F. Austin University, his work as a dance captain in professional productions and his experience as a dance studio instructor (which is still his primary day job), Sharp created three of Miss Texas’ most memorable productions.
“They will give me the music and an idea of what they want on stage, and without knowing the dimensions of the stage I come up with something I know I can place in any situation,” Sharp explains.
“I have watched him turn a mess into something amazing,” Cranfill gushes.
He’s worked his magic every year since. The 2008 pageant featured former titleholders performing “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, with each larcenous character changed to a pageant girl sabotaging another contestant because “she had it coming.” In 2009, Sharp corralled a huge cast to recreate a USO show that spotlighted the tap-dancing talents of the reigning Miss Texas.
Earlier this summer, all 33 “miss” and all 35 “teen” contestants kicked off the show with an energetic Sharp dance number that tweaked Beyonce’s girl-power hit “Single Ladies” by crowing “If you liked it then you should have put a crown on it.” The show also gave Sharp the opportunity to work with dozens of former Miss Texas winners who returned for the pageant’s 75th anniversary, including honorary co-chairs Phyllis George and Shirley Cothran, two Texans who heard Bert Parks serenade them in Atlantic City as Miss America.
The best thing about that experience, says Sharp, was the brunch that George and Cothran hosted, at which each Miss Texas spoke about her reign.
“I took my Miss America lunch box and had Phyllis George sign it,” he beams.
On the heels of that inspirational moment, Michael Sharp hangs up his choreographer hat and dons a crown to become Sally Sparkles again. First, he hopes to perform as a former titleholder at the Miss Gay Texas America pageant, which takes place at the Round-Up Saloon in Dallas Sept. 28 and 29.
Then, with a qualifying finish at Miss Gay Heart of America in hand, Sally heads to Columbus, Ohio, to compete for the title of Miss Gay America next month. He feels like he has something to prove this time. Two years ago, Sharp finished 12th as Miss Gay Texas; last year, he topped out as third runner-up. The latter stung a bit.
“I thought, ‘You called my name too soon,’” he recalls. This year, he’s hoping to be crowned as L&T Entertainment’s national symbol of excellence in female impersonation.
“My goal is to go and do amazing,” says Sharp. “I really want it. But I lost last year. I could lose again.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.