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Differences, for sure

Published Sep. 26, 2005

The crowd at this Spring Hill bar delights in a cross-dressing diva extravaganza.

With a mirrored disco ball spinning above, Daphne Ferraro struts center stage down an aisle of cheering fans.

In a blond wig and high heels, Ferraro holds a microphone to painted lips and flirtatiously lip synchs Shania Twain's I Feel Like a Woman.

She might feel like one. But she's not ... exactly.

Ferraro, a statuesque 6-foot-4 18-year-old, is one of the featured performers at a weekly drag show that is becoming a popular event at Differences Pub in Spring Hill.

It's been about a year since Ferraro (her stage name; her real name is withheld because relatives are not aware of her involvement with the show) first publicly cross-dressed in a high school play. On a lark, the director had Ferraro play the part of a woman.

"The only thing was, when I did it, nobody realized I was a boy," she said with a shrug. "I guess that was good."

(Cross-dressing etiquette calls for female pronouns when performers are in costume.)

Now, Ferraro performs regularly at the Show Palace Dinner Theater in Hudson (she's currently a cowboy in the chorus of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), and dances each week as a member of "the cast," as it is called, at Differences.

About 40 people gathered in the pub to watch a recent country-western show, applauding and offering dollar bills to entice performers to their tables in the cabaret-style setting.

Lynn Greene opened Differences about a year ago. The drag shows soon followed.

For years, Greene, a nurse, said she met people from Spring Hill and New Port Richey at Tampa gay bars who had traveled so far to find a place where they felt they belonged.

"I wanted a bar where people could be comfortable," she said. "All kinds of people. It doesn't matter."

The shows are not limited to a specific area. Sometimes dancers find their way onto the pub's pool table and among the potted plants.

"We get a little wild out there," said Alexis Collins, who started performing 20 years ago in Texas and Tennessee. Ten years ago, after a biohazard accident left her legally blind, the dancing stopped.

The single parent of three daughters, Collins lives in Brooksville under her stage name. She helped pioneer the Differences shows.

At a recent performance, Collins pulled off a can-can dance in 3{-inch faux emerald-studded heels.

"When I could see, I was a fearless dancer," she said. But when she took the stage a year ago after a decadelong absence, Collins said she was terrified. "But there was no way I was going to just stand there like a stick and sing."

She now has carefully arranged cues with the lighting technician to guide her through some performances _ candles on the tables, for example, help lead her way _ and as a result, many audience members do not realize her vision is impaired.

Such as when she poses as Tina Turner performing Proud Mary _ auburn hair cascading across her cheeks, wearing a glittery blue dress with a splash of shiny rhinestones.

When the music's pace grows more frenetic, her red spangled pumps are kicked off in a frenzy. She shimmies to the cheers and waving currency of audience members.

At 29 _ and holding, she said _ Collins is the oldest regular cast member.

"There is always more talent coming up behind you. You have to stay fresh and keep on moving," she said. "As long as there is Bondo, I'll be okay."