Having worked with the Brown Girls Burlesque troupe for over a year, I have to admit I have a deep fangurl thing for Essence Revealed since I first saw her two years ago, which I describe at the main blog. It’s her cross of sinewy dance style, her magnificent costumes (her ruby-colored rhinestone shoes remain my favorite), her killer eyelash-applying skills, her entrepreneurial umph, and her love for burlesque that stays winning, IMHO. This is the second part of the interview, where Essence talks about teaching female-identified people how to werk it, getting paid in burlesque and stripping, and how she does it for herself.
I know that you teach classes that combine elements of burlesque and stripping. (Full disclosure: I’ve taken one, and I loved it!) What do you think of the aspects associated with stripping, like twerking and pole dancing, moving to the mainstream?
I think that they are great vehicles for women to give themselves the permission to play in their sensual and sexual natures. It’s pretty hilarious to me that, when given the cloak of being for “fitness” or a “work-out,” then they are justified as being acceptable. But if that’s what women need to feel like it’s OK, hey, great! Society, religion, families, mainstream media, etc., have led a really successful marketing campaign teaching women to be ashamed of sexuality, so anything that makes women feel safe to explore it, I’m all for it.
In one of your post on your great blog, you said that burlesque and stripping are “sisters but not twins.” Would you consider burlesque a form of sex work and/or vice versa, especially in light of burlesquers Calamity Chang and DeeDee Luxe appearing as sex workers in the movie Shame? Why/why not?
I never heard of this movie before you mentioning it now, so I can’t make comment on it. Again, I am all for personal choice. Talk to ten burlesque dancers, and you just may get ten different answers to this question. I think that is how it should be—self-definition. I’d define what I do as sex work because, aaah, I’m not selling sandwiches onstage. I choose to sell sexy as a means through which to tell a story or evoke certain emotions. Most strippers wouldn’t even define themselves as sex workers. It’s a matter of personal self-definition.
Let’s talk about the compensation between burlesque and stripping. Unless one reaches the level of, say, Dita Von Tease, burlesque pays far less than stripping. In your opinion, why is that? And is there anything people can do to make them compensate comparatively?
I have no idea why the pay is so low in burlesque. Perhaps, something about it changed after it was banned that made its re-emergence accept such low pay. I don’t know the history, but that would be an interesting research project. Yes, burlesque can be run like a business if one chooses. Some people enjoy it being an expensive hobby. They just love having the creative expression. That’s great. The choice is ours. Performing within the burlesque community is what it is. That does not mean one can’t package, market, and book oneself elsewhere for a pay that fits out personal preference, right? I’ve been booked for fundraisers, bachelorette parties, or poetry events for example. I’ve bundled a burlesque performance with bar-tending skills for private events. I make a signature cocktail for the event, perform a piece, then serve drinks the rest of the time. An entertainer with entrepreneurial energy can build their business how they choose. Sure, it takes work and doesn’t happen over night. It does take focus and consistent effort, but it is possible. I thank my parents for giving me a strong work ethic. I’m West Indian (and a Taurus), I will make a job if no one wants to give me one. LMBO…
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
What I love about burlesque, besides the sparkles and feathers, is the creative control. I don’t have to sit powerless and wait to be picked like an actor or something. I can decide what I want to make and make it soup to nuts. Then I can market it to be performed at different events. I can even make my own show to perform it in. It’s very inspiring and exciting as a creative person.
Photo credit: Frederick V. Nielson II