by Jake Uitti
Ms. Briq House—a burlesque performer, sex work advocate, professional cuddler, stripper, educator, and entertainer—wants you to see the light. Raised by her grandparents as a Southern Baptist Christian, House was an active member of the church as a youth. She worshiped. She spread the word. But, at twenty-five, she sought a divorce from her then-husband (with whom she remains in amicable contact), and that is when, “We saw people’s true colors,” she says.
Afterwards, she found the power of burlesque, says House. “A best friend of mine,” she recalls, “introduced me to the concept and to the performer, Dr. Ginger Snaps, who was hailed as the Queen of Seattle black burlesque then. She lives in Baltimore now. I’d always been a performer—theater, mime, praise, and worship—acting, singing, dancing—and I thought, ‘Hell, what do I have to lose?’ So I tried it and I loved it. It’s definitely where I should have been all along.”
Now, in addition to trading in myriad other “spiritual” endeavors (more on that later), House fronts The Sunday Night Shuga Shaq—a monthly all-people-of-color burlesque revue she jointly produces with performer Sin de la Rosa and the Theatre Off Jackson. “All of a sudden, now,” she says, “we’re selling out shows. That hasn’t always been the case. Timing has its own interesting qualities.” The revue, slated for the second Sunday of every month, features burlesque as the main course but also offers side dishes, if you will, like storytelling, lap dances with audience members, pole and aerial work, and other entertainment.
The regular revue began four years ago at the Can Can in Pike Place Market. But when that partnership shifted, House moved it to the Theatre. “When I entered burlesque,” House recalls, “I thought it was a powerful art form. I knew it wasn’t just for white people. But looking at the Seattle scene, that’s all you saw. The big headlining shows—the ones with clout—were very white, thin, and heteronormative. There was no gender diversity. It wasn’t my people.”
So, House created a place where folks who identify as queer, trans, larger-bodied and, more generally, “marginalized” could congregate and celebrate their identities through the lenses of sex and spirituality. “I consider Shuga Shaq a spiritual experience,” she explains. “I want to stimulate and educate.”
And, House is quick to point out, spirituality is not the same as religion. “Spirituality and sexuality were never supposed to be separated,” she says. It was religion that did much of the severing. “That’s why I do it on Sundays,” she underscores. “I want people to feel sacred and holy while being sexual.”
In a way, Shuga Shaq is a monument to the moments that allowed House to develop how she has always wanted. Spirituality was something she had sought. However, because of her specific upbringing, the only window through which she could reasonably find it was in organized (read: strict) religion.
Burlesque, though, was a new portal. One that felt healthy. “I got to meet people on different spiritual journeys,” recalls House. “Polyamorous folks, sex workers. That development was important for me. Prior, I had always felt out of place in spiritual and church settings. I was told I was too loud, had too much nail polish, moved my hips too much, was too curvaceous, not submissive enough.”
But, one might think, having this perspective—these strengthened spiritual muscles—might push or force House into engaging people who would disagree with her or question her lifestyle or work. People who would seek to argue and engage in negative discussion. House, though, merely waves her hand. “It’s not my responsibility if you accept me or not,” she says. My responsibility is to make my energy available to you. You can see it, hear it, experience it. Maybe it won’t change your mind but it will plant the seed. That’s my goal. Do I encounter [shitty] people? Yes. But I don’t waste my energy on them.”
Sometimes, says House, the people who attend Shuga Shaq are the ones some might expect to avoid it. But, in reality, they want to participate, too, to experience the catharsis. “One time I had a white man pay me $700 to spank him on stage,” House recalls. “I gave a lap dance to the person he was there with, and, in addition, he wanted to be spanked. So I told him it would cost $700 and he said, ‘Yes!’” House acknowledges that real-life visuals or displays like that—a black woman spanking a white man or even her literally walking over white people—benefit both the person and the audience as a whole. “Everyone is welcome to come get love at Shuga Shaq,” House says, “but they’re encouraged to remember it is an intentionally POC-centered space. So, if you are present, be prepared to pay, celebrate, and worship us.”
Featured image courtesy of Briq House Entertainment