Burlesque for adventures in confidence

Burlesque – when you hear that word what image comes up for you?  Olde timey vaudeville shows? the hey-days of Coney Island? Stage shows of the Wild West? Cabarets and dark nightclubs filled with cigar smoke?  Or maybe you think it’s women doing a fancy strip act while being objectified by men in the audience.  Did you ever think that burlesque could be an adventure in confidence?  That by exploring going on stage and performing, that burlesque could be transformational, giving those performers a stronger sense of who they are?  If I hadn’t seen several transformations myself, I may have been stuck at knowing burlesque only at the level of the movie, Burlesque, with Cher and Christina Aguillera.

My first time seeing a live burlesque performance was several years ago when a friend invited me to the Slipper Room to watch her graduation performance.  She had taken a course at the New York School of Burlesque (which is run by Jo “Boobs” Weldon…which makes me wonder if she’s some long lost relative!!).  It was wonderfully fun to watch, and each woman had such different styles.  Over the years I saw how this performance transformed my friend.  I believe she may have once been a hair stylist.  But now, she has gone from burlesque to becoming a strong woman bending iron bars, ripping up phone books and other feats while traveling with a carnival!  Basically, she got a taste of a different life and “ran away with the circus” and she couldn’t be happier.

Another friend discovered burlesque, and I’ve seen how she’s blossomed over the years.  When two more people I know started announcing their burlesque gigs, I let my curiosity out and decided to interview them and share here.  While burlesque may be on my “someday” adventure list, I’m quite happy to ask questions of my friends to learn more about this art first-hand.  The common denominator from these interviews and my research show that an inspiring result of burlesque is the confidence and empowerment people feel as a result!

Interview with Kater Tot

Kater as Edward Scissorhands character

1.What inspired you to explore burlesque?

I received a theater degree in college, but became burned out by the acting industry.  While casting around, I discovered a class in clowning & burlesque.  During one of those class shows there was a producer in the audience who asked me to perform at a show.  I had been attracted to the clowning aspect of burlesque because I feel I am drawn to the comedic, and enjoys the camp aspect of burlesque.  The three things that appeal the most to me about it is the self-empowerment, the self-creator aspect, and being able to create your own art and not play out as others decide.

2. How has burlesque transformed your life?

-It’s pushed me to recognize my own talents in the performing arts, and by pushing it to the forefront, help me discover my own niche. Embrace my talents.

-I stand in my own confidence.

-The response from the audience makes me feel I’m doing something right.

-I’ve traveled to other states and areas for competitions and festivals.  You don’t get paid, but they are good for exposure and networking.  But I did get a paid gig from one of my first competitions.

Performing as Uncle Fester, the Addams Family

bringing Uncle Fester to a whole new level!

3. Does burlesque help you explore your sexuality?

enjoy being a boi

Does it ever!  By creating different characters, I could try out different areas of my personality and my desires.  I realize I am not into pink and feathers, but enjoy boilesque.  I often feel gender fluid.  I feel sexiest in a suit.

The producers of the events create safe environments, not just for the burlesque part, but for exploring new characters and pushing boundaries of art through entertainment.  In a sense, a nurturing environment to grow as an artist.  And physically safe too. In the Midwest (I currently live in Kansas City, Missouri – the artsy KC!) there are still fuzzy laws around burlesque, such as banning pasties and thongs.  It seems burlesque bumps up against the stripper club regulations, which have their own hefty licensing fees etc.  I felt the producers were great at protecting the artists even when (one time) the Westboro Baptist Church was protesting outside the venue.

Women are becoming a larger part of the audiences.  I believe that they identify with the confidence and the sexuality the performers emanate.  As if by proxy they feel empowered to own their strong and sexy nature.

4. What would you like people to know who may want to explore burlesque?

Have fun with it!  Don’t get stuck with how you think you “should” present yourself.  Do it as you want to – to express your art and your self.  Say what you want to say, on your terms.

Sometimes life truly is all unicorns and sparkles!

For upcoming performances, check out the Kater Tot Facebook page @katertotonehotpotato or Instagram at @katertot_onehotpotato

Interview with Abel Rey

1.What inspired you to explore burlesque?

I have been a performer most of my adult life. In college, I was a gogo boy. I remember having seen a burlesque show a couple of years ago for the Boylesque Festival in New York. It was there I learned the concept of Neo burlesque. Neo burlesque is a very free form version of burlesque, where the only condition is to get undressed on stage. I saw amazing acts on stage that did not include feathers or glitter, just great showmanship. I decided then and there that I wanted to be part of this performing movement! After that I joined the New York School of Burlesque for one cycle. A the NYSB I was the only boy in my class.  At the end of the cycle we all put together a student showcase. To do more shows, I started networking with other performers until finally Viktor Devone for White Elephant Burlesque gave me a spot in one of his shows.

What Abel Rey looks like as a regular person called Link.

2. How has burlesque transformed your life?

I wanted to have an act, or acts, that were more than just dancing to a song while getting undressed. I was inspired to perform magic while undressing on stage. However, in order to do that, I had to learn magic first! Thanks to burlesque I became an amateur magician.

Though I originally got into burlesque to meet other cute performers, and I am a little bit of an exhibitionist, I feel I have been able to grow as an artist.  I really like being in charge of my mini production that I get to create the costumes, direct and produce.  Each time I do one, it builds my confidence to do more!

Nothing up his sleeve, folks! Stay tuned for all the magic!

3. Does burlesque help you explore your sexuality?

The burlesque community is very gender fluid and sex positive, for obvious reasons.  Burlesque hasn’t help me explore my sexuality (yet), I do enjoy great times with many performers, boys and girls, on stage and backstage. Maybe burlesque has helped me go beyond my past.  I like that magic in my act makes me be seen as a skilled performer and not just a pretty, mindless thing on stage.

4. What would you like people to know who may want to explore burlesque?

Becoming a burlesque performer is not a hard as you might think. GO take a class, meet other performers, take the risk and join the adventure. The burlesque community is very body positive. Burlesque is about the act you put on stage, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a perfect body. Most burlesque performers are regular people of all size and shapes, who just love to perform. Abel Rey can also be seen at Homoerectus Burlesque at the StoneWall Inn, Bizarre Burlesque in Bushwick, and Room B Burlesque in Astoria.  His social media and website are tbd.

Interview with Buckwild Soulchild

1.What inspired you to explore burlesque?

The summer of 2017 I received a message on Facebook from Chicava HoneyChild Deux asking if I would like to enroll in her upcoming course of Brown Girls Burlesque Broad Squad Institute. I had been to the Mama Gena Experience with my then girlfriend, which is all about following your passion. We both looked at the opportunity like “I just gotta say yes” and see where it takes me. But to actually step up and do it? I think Mama Gena inspired me to embrace a desire and go with my gut. Also, I stopped worrying about what my mother would think. Stopped caring how she would FEEL about it, and cared more about how I felt performing.

In a lot of ways, I was preparing for burlesque my whole life. I started with ballet, tap, and jazz. In middle school and high school, I was on the hip-hop dance team (captain my senior year). In college, I got passionate about belly dancing. I always did theatre and loved costumes with or without an appropriate occasion. I have always loved wigs, drag and storytelling. A strong memory I have from when I was a very young child, I came downstairs to a room full of adults wearing only a New Year’s Eve hat on my head. I was proud. I also remember, when I was 6, thinking I was Marilyn Monroe when I wore a pink bathrobe. I was interested in acting, modeling and glamour. I loved sparkles and rhinestones and over the top makeup. I wanted to dress myself up like I did my Barbies.

2. How has burlesque transformed your life?

It helped me embrace my body as it is. I grew up surrounded by eating-disordered girls; surrounded by people who found white, skinny, Kate Moss-types of beauty as the only kind that mattered, deserved to be celebrated, or loved. I grew up in Seattle from age 6 to 17. Being a part of the Brown Girls Burlesque Broad Squad Institute also helped me feel seen as a woman of color. I had been discounted, or told I was white, for a long time by both black and white people (and Asian and Hispanic). Performing with Brown Girls Burlesque helped me feel more aligned. Yes, I am black and light-skinned, as well as Russian and Jewish. My bio alone is an act of radical self-acceptance.

photo: Jessica Stiles

Burlesque is to your level of skill.  I have taken pole dancing lessons for years.  It’s expensive and can be difficult.  I’ve been at the beginner level for years.  Yet, with burlesque, I’ve up-leveled so quickly.  I’ve started including cosplay and storytelling into my act so that I don’t have to be constantly moving and dancing.  Although I have one main persona, I enjoy being able to create temporary characters which stretch my artistic endeavors.  I love the confidence I get being an artist in this way.

3. Does burlesque help you explore your sexuality?

I feel like it’s helped me reclaim my sexuality. I lost my way for a bit in my 20’s. I found myself not taking charge of my decisions and my relationships. I was letting whatever happen, happen. I was not delighting in my own choices or desires. I cared more about other people getting what they wanted or needed. Now I see how if I fill myself up with joyful experiences it only enhances how I treat and care for the other humans in my life.

Photo: Kevin Case

My onstage persona is an ultra high-powered femme.  I feel my onstage life impacts my personal life.  Because I am so hyper femme on stage, I feel more comfortable in my daily life being at times more of a dapper, soft butch.  On Rupaul’s podcast, he talked about how his therapist helped him see that he can tap into the power of his stage/drag self and use it on his out-of-drag-self to be just as powerful. I try to do this too.

4. What would you like people to know who may want to explore burlesque?

I want them to know that burlesque can be so many different things. Some people perform barefoot, some in Lucite 8 inch heels, and some in sneakers. It can be cosplay or it can be performance art. It can be your clothes from your closet or dripping with Aurora Borealis crystal rhinestones. A performance could make you want to cry, or could make you feel lustful. Lots of emotions are explored. It can be very political. It can be hilarious. The term allows for a spectrum of experiences.

Like many things, a good mentorship, great teachers, and strong sisterhood can make it feel possible to do really cool things. I’m grateful for my mentors, peers, teachers, and collaborators. I’m grateful for the folks that had some kind of pre-existing event and expanded it to include burlesque. That’s how I’ve been gigging. I’m not Dita Von Teese (whom I adore!!) and I’m not someone who gets booked (yet!) at The Slipper Room or Duane Park. I’m someone who finds places and people who are willing to try something new, and see if their audience enjoys it. They often completely love it! The comedy show (Todd Montesi UG Comedy Show) became a variety show by just adding burlesque to the stand-up acts already booked. The Dyke Bar Takeover event (Alana) went beyond its musical and performance art entertainment at my suggestion.

photo: Jessica Stiles

I look forward to helping people discover burlesque, whether they want to dip their toe in the water or dive right in–from the privacy of their own homes. I am creating an online course to teach them what they need to know to get started.

Check out Buckwild Soulchild’s Burlesque show on New Year’s Eve at The West End Bar on the upper west side in NYC. Organized/Produced by Peter Dunn.  Follow her on Instagram @buckwildsoulchild_burlesque

Are you ready to try burlesque?

Would you try the adventure of burlesque to discover a new sense of confidence, body acceptance or just a great way to meet interesting people?  There are schools and classes all over the country (maybe the globe).  Check your local gym, dance studio or even Yelp.  Or go to a festival – here’s a website that lists them (you can even apply if you’re brave enough!) BurlesqueFests.com/spreadsheet/   Personally, I really enjoy the shows!  (Maybe another time I will share my story about seeing the Nutcracker Burlesque!)  Tell me in the comments below your thoughts on burlesque!

 

 

 

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