Here at Vollers Corsets, we are fascinated by the cultural sensation that is the art of burlesque. Since launching our ‘Little black Book of Burlesque’ we are continually looking to uncover more and more secrets from within the alluring burlesque movement.
We recently caught up with producer of Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret, Che Monique to discover her thoughts on sexuality and empowerment within her industry and how far the burlesque scene is evolving.
When did you first discover the world of Burlesque?
When I was a teenager I learned about Big Burlesque in San Francisco. I wanted to run away from home to join them. I spent my adolescence being self conscious about my weight and feeling undesirable, and here was a whole band of fat, sexy women. It was a game changer for me.
And when did you decide you wanted to make being a part of that movement, your job?
Fairly recently actually. I've performed as a hobby with the DC Gurly Show for years but it wasn't until after I started Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret and saw how it impacted people, then I knew it needed to be my priority.
What makes for the ideal corset to wear during a Burlesque show?
It needs to be of good quality with steel boning. I've worn corsets that aren't steel boned and the boning sometimes will bend or break and poke you in the most uncomfortable way.
What is the troupe’s greatest achievement to date through your work on the Burlesque scene?
We have a constant stream of requests to join the troupe. It's a testament to both the safe space we've created for our performers and our ability to reach people who maybe previously thought burlesque wasn't for them. When we do hold auditions and casting calls the things people say about their experiences as women of color in the world make me tear up sometimes. Being able to create a space where people feel free and safe to creatively explore their sexuality is our biggest accomplishment.
So how do you plan the acts that people want to be a part of?
A lot of my acts are prop heavy, so the planning goes around using them well.
Do you think that the industry helps with body confidence?
I do. I've had numerous audience members tell me how powerful it is to see different bodies on stage together and how it has helped them feel more confident in their lives. We as an industry have the ability to define what is sexy, powerful, glamourous, beautiful. When we put different bodies on stage, maybe a little older, fatter, browner, thinner, saggier than what we are told is the standard and praise those bodies, we are redefining ideals for people.
You have a very strong vision and manifesto, how do you think that sets you apart from other troupes?
It gives us a different focus and in a city as political as Washington DC, increased credibility. DC is an intellectual city and people appreciate the thought behind what we do. A lot of our community and fan base is grown through the community and educational events we hold. We've had events discussing beauty and body image, queer burlesque history and cultural appropriation in pop culture and entertainment to name a few.
What do you think is a common misconception about the burlesque industry?
That it can be written off in some quick phrase. A lot of people say trite things like burlesque is "stripping with degrees," "stripping for hipsters," or things of the like. Burlesque is such a complex and dynamic world, you can't sum it up in a sentence.
Did you find it difficult to find like minded people? And how did you find them?
Not at all. I do things that interest and inspire me and likeminded people tend to be in those spaces.
How would you say your image and performance is different from other artists? Do you have a unique style?
I don't perform often. I mostly host Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret shows, and I host like a proud mama hen. I think my image and style is influenced by the fact that I am the producer of the troupe. On stage there is a mutual reverence between me as producer/emcee and the performer, we are both so differently essential to the experience we're creating for the audience. When I do perform, I tend to be silly.
How do you see the Burlesque scene evolving over the next 10-20 years?
I see it getting more mainstream traction. In DC when I mention burlesque to people outside of the 'scene' they are shocked to learn there is a scene. I think burlesque will infiltrate broader society.
Do you see yourself a part of the Burlesque industry for the rest of your life? Are there any others areas you'd like to move into?
Yes, in some capacity or another, I'm a lifer. I also want to lead workshops and retreats dealing with women's sexuality and self esteem. I want to help people to feel free to explore all the possibilities life offers.
So what’s next on the Chocolate City Burlesque And Cabaret Calendar?
We are gearing up for our Summer SOULstice Show, July 1, 2016 at the GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights.
Who would you like to see next on our blog?
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