Burlesque dates back to the mid 19th century. The term “burlesque” was used to describe a wide range of comic plays, including non-musicals. Back then, many women of color were star performers. Unfortunately, their stories are seldom told.
Recently, “neo-burlesque” companies have emerged. These companies specifically highlight performers of color. Chicava HoneyChild is the creative producer of one such company: Brown Girls Burlesque in New York City. We chatted with her to learn more about burlesque and her business:
SB: How did you first get into burlesque?
CH: I was living in Los Angeles working on my acting career and needed a self contained creative outlet. I had always wanted to explore burlesque but was afraid i’d be “the black” or that it was just for white chicks.
I simultaneously took the plunge into performing burlesque and searching the legacy of Black women in it. When I decided to move back to New York, BGB was just getting started and I joined up after the first show.
SB: What is your role as creative producer of Brown Girls Burlesque?
CH: My role is to hold the space for the shows – Curate, structure shows, and come up with show themes. Then there’s the nuts and bolts of securing venues, paying bills, doing payroll, promoting shows. Ugh, the tasks are quite many.
I fell in love with producing by surprise and I’m looking forward to creating a tour this year and a non-burlesque focused immersive show this year.
SB: What are the pros and cons of being one of the few Black Burlesque dance troupes?
CH: BGB has become a production company I run because the wheels fell off the troupe model very quickly. We kept it going for quite some time in dysfunction.
The biggest con is the finances. The way the burlesque community is structured and positioned right now to run a burlesque troupe of any ethnicity is just not financially viable. There’s a desire to create it as a collective but the problem tends to be that a few folks end up handling most of the responsibilities.
What’s beautiful is the stories we’ve told, the shows we’ve made, and the women we’ve given opportunities to express themselves. I’m super proud of the first ten years of BGB and I’m looking forward to passing the legacy on to a new generation of performers. That’s my work right now – How to pass BGB and mentor as a navigator so they can avoid some of the pitfalls and hard lessons of the first ten years.
SB: How has doing burlesque influenced how you see your body?
CH: I am much more in love with the skin i’m in because of it. I am not afraid to turn on a lil sexy charm when I need to, please to, or like to.
It’s fostered my growth and development as a servant to women. I’m very excited to get my teachings called “Sacred BurlesQue” to a wider audience this year and helping tens of thousands of ladies feeling good in the skin they are in, self affirm their beauty and value, and keep their inner fire lit.
SB: In your opinion, how has burlesque changed over the years?
CH: Neo-burlesque is quite differently organized than burlesque in the golden era of the mid 1900s. Then we were a part of shows that featured live music and often toured with bands. We were workers in the entertainment industry.
Now neo-burlesque is centered on being a burlesque community and its fringe to the entertainment industry. It’s closest kin is the bellydance community – a small but thriving self perpetuating economy with a rare few making a great salary – The Dita von Teese’s Dirty Martini’s and Perle Noire’s of the game.
Performatively, it’s about to come full circle with impending doom of the orange swamp thing that’s about to ascend to the Presidency. You’ll be seeing a lot politically focused burlesque pop up around the country and world.
I say this is full circle because the genius performance artists that started the neo-burlesque movement and the founders of the art practice back in the late 1800s very much had their eye on politics. It just so happened that in the late 1800s show some skin was a revolutionary act.
SB: How do you feel about burlesque dancers being compared to strippers?
CH: Strippers are the daughters of burlesque. Club stripping emerged as a business evolution of burlesque in the 1960’s once birth control and the sexual revolution hit. The burlesque stripteasers left the scene as physical interaction with audience to make money and sell alcohol became the business model.
I don’t have a problem with the comparison other than it, usually, being inaccurate and uninformed. I think it’s important to stand with club strippers and sex workers because women deserve to be safe and respected at work whatever their chosen profession.
I also believe that not ostracizing strippers and sex workers, and that legalizing sex work is the best path towards dismantling the disgusting syndicate of sex trafficking and oppression.
SB: Where do you see your business in 5 years?
CH: I see myself growing Sacred Burlesque to a great source of fun and fulfillment for women worldwide. Fostering the next generation of Brown Girls Burlesque so we keep the channel open for the artists to come.
Building a viable tour circuit for high quality burlesque and other entertainment is something I’m very interested in. I know so many talented people I want to help forge a way for them to be known. Growing as a producer beyond burlesque, making films and other storytelling content.
SB: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
CH: Enjoy the process. Start by really anchoring yourself in your vision for your company. Focus on how and who you want to serve, who you want to be in the world. We need inspired leaders on a mission to move us through the next four years and beyond.
Educate yourself continually – marketing in the internet age is like playing with a shapeshifter. I’m preparing to launch Sacred Burlesque and am constantly research about how to do it.
Learn more about the #1 movement for movement for Burlesque Dancers of Color here!