1. It seemed like in the performance, everything was fair game, accepted, without shame. Can you describe 3 distinct points in your life where you related to your body and expressing it in very different ways?
You are right on point about the acceptance and lack of shame — Boulder Burlesque is all about unapologetic embodiment and exploring all aspects of desire and expression. Identifying three points in my life of relating to and expressing my body is a bit tricky; I feel like my relationship with my body is more of a progression. For whatever reason, I cannot remember ever having shame about my body and my sexuality. Even as a child, the whole thing always made sense to me, and I didn’t see any logic in how society told me my body wasn’t right. The social narrative was that women were supposed to be small, submissive, and straight, but I knew from a young age I firmly identified as a woman and was none of those things. I was always large, always vocal, always falling in love with both men and women. I existed and existed well, so there was no way society’s version of me was correct. So I made a choice to reject society’s narrative altogether and to celebrate my body, my size, and my queerness. That’s the only path that made any sense; it was the only option.
That said here are three examples that come to mind:
1. The first time I kissed a girl: I was 4 years old and I kissed my friend Kim behind the pine tree in front of my childhood home. We decided that in order to kiss each other, I had to be the boy and she had to be the girl. This moment and the circumstances around it has served as a launching point for a lot of my creative, academic, and activist work — we both knew we had to hide, we knew we had to assign opposing genders but also that gender was something that we could decide for ourselves and could change, and we both convinced ourselves for years that the whole thing was a dream. I’ve written that experience so many times, and each time it is fresh. It was my first experience of learning my body in relation to another’s.
2. Taking a yoga class led by Brooke McNamara: In my second year at Naropa I took a yoga class led by Brooke McNamara that served as a huge culmination point. I had spent a lot of time working through and writing the manifest of my body — the details, experiences, lineages, memories, pains, loves, growths, etc — and McNamara’s class brought the whole beautiful mess together for me. There was one class in particular that was pivotal. We were in seated mediation to close out the night, and as I listened to her voice guiding our breath I put all of my attention into my root chakra. I inhaled deeply and felt how the ground was rising to support me, how the earth relentless arrived to hold my body. My sits bones met the earth in kind, and as I exhaled into the relief of this symbiotic relationship, I felt my uterus shed. In that moment, I felt clarity and connection that up until that point I had experienced mostly in intellectual terms. What I had known in my mind was now expressing and asserting itself in my body; divinity is in every body, is in the connection between body and our external world, is in our intuitive, erotic way of knowing (see Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power).
3. Joining Boulder Burlesque: I think of my body as an extension of my voice. As a poet and performer I have spent years leading with my voice and my words, and burlesque is a new mode in which my body leads instead. It opens up a different expression for me and a totally different experience for the audience as well. My body is empowered to speak for itself, and there is no way out to ignore it, no hiding, no abstraction. I am what I am as I am, and I bring that all to the stage in celebration of myself and of the generous witnessing the audience provides.
2. For me, I felt empowered and also a little like I was doing something I wasn’t supposed (in a thrilling way) by watching and enjoying the performance. What was your experience of performing? How did it differ (or not) from what you had imagined? What were some of your fears or anticipations going into the peformance and how did they evolve throughout?
You bring up an interesting point about the guilt of voyeurism, especially from a feminine perspective. Boulder Burlesque is a part of the larger erotic, queer, and kink community and as such is a safe space for performers and audience members alike to trespass the common social contract of propriety and explore a different mode of interaction. In that kind of space, there is a lot of trust that needs to be built and care that needs to be offered. When I am performing, especially if it’s a ritual like the piece you witnessed, I am always conscious of how I can establish that trust and offer that care. My primary goal is to arrive in an authentic and empowered way that opens possibility and inspires engagement. I make eye contact with as many audience members as I can as a way to say “I see you. I am here for you. I trust you.” The performance is an offering, and it requires me to be open and vulnerable. That vulnerability was definitely my main fear going into this particular piece. I was bringing my witch craft into the space without having any idea who would be in the room, and that lack of control was simultaneously terrifying and motivational. I had to trust the full room’s intent and put myself in their hands, and I had to trust my ability to hold that space for myself and for 30+ people three nights in a row. It takes a lot of energy to sustain that kind of control and surrender, and that’s what the howl on the third night was all about. I had held space for my true self and issued an open invitation for every audience member to meet me in that, and after two nights of performing in silence my voice felt necessary. It was a ceremonial seal.
That howl, and how the audience responded in full force, was the most powerful moment I have experienced in any performance I’ve ever done. I have never felt more held by my own hands and by my community than I did in that moment. We were all present together in a palpable way. I still feel that energy in my chest some days — it’s expansive, and it’s a reason to keep creating.
3. Does this kind of performance seek a cultural shift? What would it be?
YES. It doesn’t just seek a cultural shift, it demands it.
Your word is the law of your body, and your body is your own.
Fuck shame. Fuck self doubt.
Step into the god you are without apology.
Radical self love, radical self reliance, and a whole lot of booty booty booty.
4. Is there anyone in your life you can see really benefiting from doing burlesque? What would you say to them? Are they similar to a former self? (Confidentiality or name change is fine here.)
I think anyone who has ever thought about performing burlesque should do it. If you’ve felt the call in any way, it is worth exploring. You can create some truly beautiful medicine for yourself through the development of your character, and the pieces you perform offer healing not just for you but for the audience as well. There is so much joy in this kind of work — it affirms the sacredness of sexuality as well as the playful spirit of exploration. The Boulder area (Longmont and Denver included) is a really great place to explore this expression since there are so many local troupes with a diverse range of styles, philosophies, and venues. Get out there!