Friday, September 25, 2015

Why I don't twerk...

I can’t, bottom line. Try as I might, my booty don’t do what dat booty do. I’m not OK with it, but I live with it. Because in a lot of ways, I believe my inability to twerk has helped to boost my burlesque career. It’s ridiculous to think this way, but in my heart, it’s the truth.

It seems that twerking and booty popping are all the rage in the current burlesque scene. It has been quite some time since I have performed in or attended a show that didn’t have at least one woman doing “ass tricks” on the stage. And that's great! Ass tricks are amazing! I love them, and so does the audience. And coming from the New York Burlesque scene, which is pretty diverse in comparison to other cities, I was never at a lack of seeing performers of different body types and skin colors, all shaking their ass in reckless abandon. There is literally a show for everybody. And if not, New York Performers are not afraid to create their own show.

Over the last year, I have been on extreme Traveling Showgirl status. And the more I travel, the more I learn how  “diverse” the New York scene actually is. It feels crazy to say that when most of the popular shows in NY still tend to book a predominantly white cast, but there are a plethora of shows in NY that are working against this and a few revues that showcase and all black cast. And while the sheer amount of white performers still make of the majority of Burlesque performers in NY, there are still quite a bit of performers of color who take the stage on a regular basis.

Across the country is another story. There has been several times in my travels where I have been, not only the token black person in the show, but I have been the only black person in the room. I find myself asking… why the hell am I in here? Why book me? And then I realized something… I can’t twerk.

I may be jumping to some conclusions here, but when I look at the top performers of color in the game, none of them twerk. Why not? Unlike me… most of these women can twerk with the best of them, but perhaps made the choice not to in order to push their careers forward. Why would this push their careers forward, you ask? Because twerking in their acts kept them from being booked by white producers. And while thankfully there are more and more performers of color making their way into the burlesque community with every student showcase, it is still rare to see them represented on the “Big Stage.”

OK… So what’s the problem? It would seem like twerking was simply not common in burlesque at all, right? Wrong!!! Please refer back to earlier in this post when I stated that it’s been a while since performed in or attended a show that didn’t have at least one woman doing “ass tricks” on the stage. So who’s doing all of this twerking if not the black bodies that created the movement in the first place? Our white sisters are. Yep!!! Can’t see a show without a while girl twerking… whether she can or not.

The Famous “One Percent Twerks” video that went viral a couple years back seemed to open up the floodgates for white women doing booty isolation on stage and calling it twerking. Don't get me wrong, that act was amazing and the video went viral because it was clever. But I don't think it would have gotten so popular if it were a black booty under those coat tails. And since then, more and more pretty white lady performers have jumped on the booty trick bandwagon. Yes, some were doing it before that video went viral, and they have been doing it well… but now… IT IS EVERYWHERE!!!

Lately, more and more artist of color have been speaking up. It super important that our white sisters and producers alike start to hear the call. This is about being bold. It’s about taking a stand against this basic way of thinking and starting to create something new… something better. White women have dominated the burlesque stages for years, not twerking. So if you are not one of those people who are truly blessed with the gift of twerk, please move on and find the thing that works for you. And if you are a producer that desperately wants twerking in your show, then consider booking a woman of color, or two who have been doing it since they were kids so that their culture is acknowledged and represented with respect. Clearly that disqualifies me from said gigs, but I’m OK with that. I’d be even more OK with seeing these same women get the recognition they deserve by actually being booked more on the “Big Stages” of the burlesque world.

I have been very lucky in the way that I have been embraced by the burlesque community. I understand that there is a privilege that comes with being a light skinned woman of color doing some super classic shit. I realize that it’s easy to book me in shows and festivals because I am generally easily accepted by white audience members. With this privilege, I want to use it as a platform to speak up about the things I see that are unfair. I want my contribution to the burlesque community to be one that helps make black bodies on the stage a norm in the contemporary burlesque world. I want to see more black queens. I want see, perform in, and create shows that are truly diverse.

Someday I will get there. I will find the right team of people to start producing the shows of my dreams. With my first attempt at producing, I realized that I still had so much to learn. Without guidance and real know-how, I found producing to be incredible stressful. And at the end of the day, when I took a step back to look at what I had created, I was disgusted. It was clear that I had only added to the problem. Deciding to work as the kitten for my show in order to stage manage, I did not feel the need to perform in the show as I wanted each slot to be given to someone else. And while I loved all of the performer who I booked for my show, at the end of the day, I had booked an all white show with the only black person (me) acting as the kitten. I’m not sure what message the audience left with that night, but the idea that I added to the problem was enough for me to step back from producing until I can get a clue. I still don't know enough. I’m still not ready. And that’s OK.

For over a year now, I have the amazing opportunity to work with a group of talented artist of color who travel around the United States, putting on variety shows for audiences of 500+ on average. The group is made up of poets, singers, educators, comedians, and burlesque dancers, all working together to create the erotic experience known as The Sweet Spot. We currently travel to 36 different cities quarterly and are reaching an audience that I have never seen in the current burlesque scene. The audience is extremely diverse, made of up predominantly black people, with the queer community alive and kicking and our white audience members feeling right at home. It is beautiful to see so many people coming out to see an all black cast and supporting us. It is not uncommon for these shows to sell out.

When I first started working with them, I was afraid that my style would not work for them. Based on what I saw, most of their burlesque dancers were gifted in the language of twerk. I thought I’d get laughed off the stage. But after time, I learned that, not only was my style accepted, but that the team members and the audience loved what I was bringing to the stage. It feels so good to know that, despite my inability to make my booty pop, my love for the audience and performing shined through. I’m saying this, not to toot my own horn, but to make my earlier point. Twerking in burlesque is not a prerequisite. If you are not gifted in the language, it is time to find out what you ARE good at and bring THAT to the stage. The audience is craving to see your best self. Give it to them. Don’t give them some basic version of Someone Else's Act. You are better than that. Burlesque is better than that, and our audiences deserve better than that.

No comments:

Post a Comment