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Nine Ways to Celebrate Mardi Gras That Aren't Just Watching the Parade

Dance with drag queens to the early morning, don a kaftan for a poolside soirée or get down with 12,000 other Sydneysiders at an epic party.
By Rachel Fieldhouse
February 18, 2019
By Rachel Fieldhouse
February 18, 2019


in partnership with

Dance with drag queens to the early morning, don a kaftan for a poolside soirée or get down with 12,000 other Sydneysiders at an epic party.

When most people think about Mardi Gras, the parade is the first thing that comes to mind. But there's plenty more on offer and this year's 'fearless' program is chockers with new and returning events. Along with the permanent return of Taylor Square's rainbow crossing, there are over 100 parties, shows, and late-night shindigs happening around Sydney between February 15 and March 3. We've picked just nine that partygoers, art connoisseurs, and music fans can all get excited about.

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    Sissy Ball, one of the biggest events on the Mardi Gras Festival calendar, is taking over Carriageworks once again on Saturday, February 23. Hit the ballroom-inspired dance floor and spend the night making shapes to a ‘disco house bounce pop’ soundtrack powered by international DJs. Plus you’ll watch an epic vogueing championship, which will see four houses compete across six categories. Curator Bhenji Ra and Red Bull Music have lined up sets from New Jersey-based ballroom DJ MikeQ, New York ballroom DJ Byrell the Great, Brisbane-based Fijian rapper Jesswar and American ballroom rapper Precious. Meanwhile, the four houses of Slé, Fafswag, Luna and Iman will be battling it out to prove their mettle as hand performers, runway models, glam faces, sex sirens and voguers to judge Leiomy. With the action kicking off at 5pm, you can grab final release tickets for $75.

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    Mardi Gras Festival Club

    If you’re looking for a new place to party all night during Mardi Gras, you’ll find it at the 2019 Festival Club. The club is taking over the Seymour Centre with a rotating lineup of hosts and DJs every night from 9pm between February 16 and March 1. Hit the dance floor or catch pop-up performances from festival guests including drag superstar Aaron Manhattan, and burlesque performers Trigger Happy, Lillian Star and Bunni Lambada. When you’re not showing off your best moves you can relax in the chill out areas and hang out with new and old friends. Plus, entry is free.

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  • 7
    Queer Art After Hours 2019

    Get your late-night art fix at the Art Gallery of NSW when it celebrates Mardi Gras with the third year of Queer Art After Hours on Wednesday, February 27. With pop-up bars, live music and performances from queer creatives around every corner, you can explore the Gallery in a whole new light. The glitter-packed program also includes drag-led gallery tours, a life drawing workshop and queer art history talks. Not to mention that you can wander through gallery’s summer Hermitage exhibition for the final time.

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  • 6
    Strictly Kaftan Party

    Get set for a day of tunes and poolside fun at this brand new Mardi Gras event at the Ivy Pool Club. Kick back in your comfiest kaftan, muumuu or most stylish poolside fashion, sip on some retro cocktails and enjoy tunes from New Zealand comedy music duo Topp Twins and various DJs. Plus, you can enjoy the sunset while watching the debut of water ballet troupe the Fabulous Drowning Flamingos. Not to mention that there’ll be prizes for Best Kaftan, Best Cabana Lounging Ensemble and Most Outrageous Summer Accessory up for grabs. Tickets start from $52.20, and you can jump in from 4pm till late. And if you’re feeling peckish you can get stuck into an Italian two-course dinner for an extra $15, with two seatings running at 6pm and 8pm.

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  • 5
    Mardi Gras Parade and Party 2019

    Dubbed as the biggest night of year for Sydney, the Mardi Gras Parade will fill the streets of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills on Saturday, March 2. Join in on the celebration of LGBTQI+ culture and communities and watch the colourful array of floats and performers as they make their way down Flinders and Oxford Streets from 7pm. Tickets for seats in the viewing area are sold out, so if you want to cop a view, you’ll have to arrive (preferably with a crate in-tow) early. Plus, the party is set to continue after the parade at the official after-party. Featuring a diverse lineup of local and international artists including dance trio Pnau and pop sensation Kim Petras, you can enjoy the tunes while exploring three fantasy worlds set up around the Entertainment Quarter — with 12,000 other Sydneysiders. This one is ticketed — you can pick up final release tickets from $186.

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    Blackout Mardi Gras After-Party

    If anyone can promise a Mardi Gras after-party you won’t forget in a hurry, it’s the folks at monthly LGBTQI+ dance fiesta Saturgay and the ever-inclusive All Sorts. And indeed, the two are coming together to host one especially memorable shindig, helping to round out Mardi Gras’ jam-packed program with their post-parade Blackout Mardi Gras Party on Saturday, March 2. Taking over three rooms across both levels of The Lansdowne Hotel, this double whammy celebration will be hosted by the highly entertaining Miss Ellaneous and Marzi Panne, from Party Passport.

    Downstairs, punters will experience Saturgay’s signature serve of disco-drenched, dance floor-filling good times, while a All Sorts delivers one of its legendary mixed bag adventures — headlined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQA+ crew, Brotha Boys, Sista Girls — upstairs. You’ll catch high-energy performances from the likes of Dreamtime Divas, Nova Gina and Miss First Nation finalists MadB and Timberlina, along with DJ sets from favourites like GLDSPK, Ruby Slippers and Nelly Yuki, well into the wee hours. Best bring your dancing shoes for this one.

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  • 3
    Club Briefs

    What do you get when you mix disco, a circus, and cabaret? Our best guess is Club Briefs, an adults-only variety show of disco, circus and burlesque that is making its return for Mardi Gras. Get ready to dance to your fave dance floor bangers and watch the crazy antics of the Briefs cast, which is made up of cabaret and circus artists from across the queer cabaret world. The show, running nightly from 8.30pm, mixes genres and ideas as they challenge stereotypes, celebrate inclusion and diversity, and explores gender, race, politics, and sexuality.

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  • 2
    Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite

    A night of song is coming to the City Recital Hall on Thursday, February 21 for 2019’s Mardi Gras. Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite is an original choral work written by American singer and composer Holcombe Waller in collaboration with local LGBTQI+ communities. The piece, performed by  Sam Allchurch and the Sydney Chamber Choir, reflects on the persecution faced by LGBTQI+ people and gay history from the 1980s to the present day. Remaining tickets are still available for $39, but get in quick before the event fully sells out.

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  • 1
    Mardi Gras Film Festival 2019

    When you’re not partying, heading to performances and hitting up the parade, you can spend time in a darkened cinema watching the latest and greatest queer movies. Returning for its huge 26th year, and running between Wednesday, February 13 and Thursday, February 28, the Mardi Gras Film Festival is going big in 2019. A lineup that boasts 54 features, 66 shorts, 70 sessions and 75 Australian premieres isn’t small by any means. It’s also making a sizeable footprint, using Event George Street Cinemas as a base but spreading its screenings around the city too.

    After opening with the Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello-starring Giant Little Ones, MGFF’s program includes a little bit of everything. There’s the werewolf thrills of Good Manners, plus an award-winning drama about toxic masculinity and sexuality in the form of Slovenian film Consequences — as well as a Paris Is Burning and Rize-style dance doco courtesy of When the Beat Drops, and a restored version of the 1987 Merchant Ivory classic Maurice. Famous figures are in the spotlight thanks to biopics Mapplethorpe, The Happy Prince and Wild Nights with Emily, focusing on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, playwright Oscar Wilde and poet Emily Dickinson respectively. And when the fest comes to a close, it’ll do so with the tender, luminous and important Rafiki, a lesbian love story that was initially banned in its native Kenya.

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