by Patheresa Wells
Mx. Pucks A’Plenty, known as “The They Them Yas Queen of Burlesque,” ended the debut performance of the Curve Collective Cabaret (C3) by sharing “People of Color, Black folks especially, do the most with the very least all of the time.”
And the collective is a reflection of that sentiment. They are doing the most. Dahlia Kash, Lavish Leone, Solangerie, and Mx. Pucks A’Plenty bring a greatness to the stage that is rarely seen or celebrated in the broader burlesque community. Not only do they show that fat bodies are sexy, but that Fat, Black bodies have been a part of drag and burlesque history that often goes untold, uncelebrated, and unseen. I sat down with members of the collective to talk about their journeys in self-love, self-acceptance, and combatting Fatphobia in Burlesque.
C3 is the result of a collaboration between burlesque performers and producers Mx. Pucks A’Plenty and Lavish Leone. Each had been working to combat stigma and show that Fat, Black bodies are out there moving and shaking as seductive, sensual beings. The fact that the group — founded in 2020 — is all Black is powerful, Pucks shared, “especially when you think about how Fatphobia is deeply rooted in anti-Blackness.”
Each of the members has been performing their whole lives. They come from various disciplines, including ballet, tap, jazz, poetry, comedy, and drag. Solangerie is a vocalist trained in opera who incorporates the drama and musicality of art into her act. Though she has a long history as a performer and promotes body positivity in her day job as a yoga instructor, it wasn’t until entering the world of burlesque that she says these facets of her life came together. Burlesque has elements that show Fat folks are flexible, feminine, and fiercely sexy.
Each performer has had to overcome the stigma of what is considered desirable in mainstream society. Dahlia Kash has been a dancer since they were two. “I started my burlesque journey as a challenge to myself as a new divorcee of finding myself and figuring out how my body moves … in an adult, bigger body and learning to take different risks in my body, that people of size normally don’t think of doing,” Kash shared.
Each member shared the first time they saw a body like theirs onstage performing the art form and how it inspired them. Kash says that the visibility of others like them has been instrumental in knowing they can do this too.
While members of C3 are working to combat Fatphobia in burlesque, they also recognize that this is not new work. “Queer, Black folks have always been a part of this stuff. And we just get left out, we always get left out of the equation,” said Pucks.
Black performers of the past, including those in the burlesque community, did not get the acknowledgment their white counterparts did. One example is the 76-year-old former burlesque dancer Tanqueray that made news in 2020 when Humans of New York told her story. Her incredible story, which included dancing for politicians and rockstars, was largely unknown. Pucks emphasized, “Black femmes were killing the game. But we don’t have as much documentation. We’re still struggling to find all of our legends.”
And for those trying to become the next burlesque legends, the barriers preventing them are not just about representation. After making peace with their body, another obstacle is money. Burlesque requires an investment in lessons to learn the craft, costumes, and travel.
Beyond performing in and producing shows that promote body diversity, members of C3 are tackling Fatphobia in burlesque by working to pave the way for other performers. This spring Pucks launched #ShowTHEM Burlesque Basics an intro to burlesque program held through a BIPOC and Fat Liberation lens. In addition to the program, they have auxiliary workshops with classes in wig maintenance, stage makeup, and political burlesque. There is also What the Funk?!, an all POC burlesque festival, which will take place in August at the Triple Door. Now in its third year, What the Funk?! is a space where those interested in learning burlesque can come to enjoy performances by those who look like them.
Though members of C3 are doing the most with the least to change Fatphobia in burlesque, they need help to do so. Pucks said, “We need sponsors, we need donors, we need volunteers, we need our community. This is an art form. But it’s also culture. There is a culture of Burlesque, it’s rich in something that I think a lot of us People of Color, Indigenous folks can really grasp. And that is through storytelling, we are able to use dance, to tell our stories.”
Each member has stories of someone coming up to them after a show, someone who is in a melanated body or Fat body, and sharing that they have always wanted to do burlesque but didn’t think they could.
When the collective members perform the audience is drawn in by the knowledge that, no matter what, sexuality is a universal human trait. The crowd is held by every look, every move, and every moment.
“Dealing with being in my body and hating it, really loathing it. And then coming to this place of acceptance, and then coming to a place of love … I feel like our collective does that,” says Solangerie. “It shows the love, it shows the acceptance, it shows the trials along the way …”
Patheresa Wells is a poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: Mx. Pucks A’Plenty is a queer, nonbinary burlesque performer and producer. The Curve Collective Cabaret, an all-Black, Fatlesque group, was started by Pucks and performer and producer Lavish Leone. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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