Cordero Zuckerman —better known as Denali, the stage name he uses as a drag artist — has a long and varied fitness history. He earned a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do as a kid, then left his home in Fairbanks, Alaska, at 14 to pursue figure-skating dreams in Salt Lake City. There, he learned how to backflip on ice from Jozef “Jumpin’ Joe” Sabovcik, an Olympic medalist who helped him launch a pro career.

Zuckerman began doing drag in his mid-20s (he has been a regular at Berlin since moving to Chicago five years ago), which he saw as a natural progression: “Drag is ice skating — so sparkly, dancy, athletic, and over the top.” He even incorporated drag into his figure skating, which led to him being cast in RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2021.

Now 30, Zuckerman performs worldwide, including a recent Halloween gig in Australia. The trilingual artist — he speaks English, Spanish, and some Korean — lives in Andersonville with his boyfriend, Alex, and their little dog, Donut.

Cordero Zuckerman as Denali and COSRX Vitamin C serum
Photography: (Denali) Bayly Shelley; (COSRX Vitamin C serum) Choc Choc Cosmetics Online Shop

How do you typically start your day?

“I have a nice black coffee and go for a run. Most of my creative ideas happen when I’m exercising. My blood is pumping and all of my juices are flowing, and it feels very synesthetic. I’ll see music videos or concepts for photo shoots when I’m running. I grew up doing cross-country, so if you put me on a treadmill, I will go crazy.”

Do you still skate?

“I do, mostly just for fun. I never want to lose my skills completely. I recently did a gig for the Chicago Blackhawks in drag. They had me skate for Pride Night.”

How do you unwind before bed?

“I love pampering myself. I’ll have an Epsom salt bath, or do my multistep Korean skin care beauty routine: I cleanse my face with acne wash; go in with multiple serums that contain hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and retinol; then finish with a light gel moisturizer. I get everything at a Korean-owned shop on Broadway called Choc Choc Cosmetics. They are years ahead with their formulas and serums.”