Through burlesque, women defy conventions of what’s sexy

Chicava HoneyChild don't think people go to burlesque to see boobs - them you can see at home. "I want to be the space that heals the chasm. So if there is this space in you that here is the idealized you and here’s you now and how am I gonna get there, I want to be the space that tells you you can get there," she says.
Chicava HoneyChild doesn’t think people go to burlesque to see boobs — those, you can see at home. “I want to be the space that heals the chasm. If here is the idealized you and here are you now, I want to be the space that tells you you can get there,” she says. Credit: Alexis Alvarez

In a revealing blue dress, Alotta Boutte, a full-figured black burlesque performer, stood confidently on the stage at Joe’s Pub after mesmerizing the audience with her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman.” There was a sincerity in her voice that made you understand that this is exactly where Boutte belongs. Here, she feels like a natural woman.

Five minutes before, Chicava HoneyChild opened the scene with an erotic striptease. And now after, Miss AuroraBoobRealis takes over the spotlight, with swirling hair and diamond-decorated breasts. It’s Saturday around midnight, and together Brown Girls Burlesque (BGB) are shaking not only their bodies, but more importantly, the common understanding of beauty ideals, with their show, The Dirty Honey Shake.

“I want my audience to be entranced and transformed,” says Boutte, guest starring BGB for the night, when we meet her in the dressing room after the show. Surrounded by glitter, feathers, fake eyelashes and champagne, the rest of her burlesque sisters hum in agreement. “I’m larger bodied, I’m brown, and I’m queer. I walk into a room and people have already said what they think I am, what they think I’m capable of. But when I get on stage all of that changes. I can see people’s perceptions change. That’s what I want to see in my audience as I perform.”

BGB was founded in 2007 as an answer to the lack of representation of brown women in New York’s burlesque community. But the ladies’ shows are just as much about general issues in our society, whether you are white or black, woman or man.

“Your body is politicked from the second you walk out of the door,” says Maya D. Haynes, one of the founders of BGB. “For women especially — what we wear, everything that we do, it’s politicized. This is us reclaiming ourselves and reclaiming our sexuality and saying, ‘Yes, we can be beautiful and sexy, but we own it.’”

Chicava HoneyChild is sitting relaxed in a sofa, only wearing shining tassels and a g-string. On BGB’s website it says that she lures the innocent to the dark side, only to let them out in the sun again. She explains what this means.

“The dark side is about your fears and doubts about yourself. I guess that’s why I got myself a new tag line: the quantum ecdysis. Ecdysis is the process of molting, shedding your skin. Like when a caterpillar turns in to a butterfly. It’s really important to experience your sensuality the way you want to, to butterfly.”

The after-effect

Joe’s Pub is burning. Red-cheeked and excited, the audience is hooting and clapping as The Dirty Honey Shake finishes. They have been transported back to 1940s New Orleans with classical jazz and blues melodies played by Rickey “Dirty Red” Gordon and his crew, who have accompanied BGB tonight. They have seen bodies of all shapes slowly revealed, proving that stages, acting and stripping aren’t just for model bodies and L’Oréal faces, and that burlesque isn’t just another “Fifty Shades of Grey” fad.

“There were women that came up to me after [the show] hugging me and just being like, ‘You guys are so beautiful and real and confident in your bodies,’” Miss AuroraBoobRealis says, changing into a pair of sweatpants. It’s 2 a.m. and she’s on her way home to her husband and child.

“My mom makes our costumes,” she confides. “Sometimes she has felt uncomfortable with her body, and she says that seeing us up at the stage just makes her feel comfortable as an older woman. It’s deeper than just, ‘She’s hot.’”

Their show
BGB calls itself neo-burlesque. Chicava HoneyChild — who has an MFA specializing in sacred sexuality and women of color in the burlesque heritage — talks about the evolution of burlesque perfomance.

“When burlesque started in America in the late 1800s, it was an actual theater commentary form. As stripping became more socially acceptable and profitable, that took over in the burlesque scene. What BGB does today is a mix of the two lines: burlesque striptease.”

BGB have three kinds of shows, and they also teach burlesque classes once a week in Brooklyn. Find out how you can join and the next time they play here: http://browngirlsburlesque.com/calendar



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…