On She Goes

Bawdy Politic: The Best Burlesque in New York City

Fierce and foxy? You better believe it.

Janna Zinzi
Janna Zinzi
February 7, 2018
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While most people think of Dita Von Teese or that lackluster Christina Aguilera movie when they hear the word “burlesque,” women of color have a rich history and presence in the art form. Since the late 19th century, women of color in the United States have been creating burlesque variety shows that offer satirical commentary on American racism and gender roles. (The word “burlesque” comes from the Italian word burla, which means “joke.”) This (segregated) tradition lasted into the 1960s and ’70s until club owners asked dancers to flirt with male audience members to encourage liquor sales. Burlesque was replaced by today’s strip clubs until the 1990s, when a “neo-burlesque” revival returned to its roots in satire while uplifting body positivity and autonomy with a whole lot of glitter.

Now women of color—particularly queer women of color—are major players in New York City’s burlesque scene. Ten years ago you’d be hard-pressed to find any women of color on stage in America’s “melting pot,” but now there are shows dedicated to celebrating people of color and/or queer folks. Here’s some of the best and bawdiest burlesque shows in the Big Apple.

Agave L’amour and drummer Jojo Soul create goddess-inspired magic on stage at Butter Pecan Burlesque.
photo by Ronald Simms Jr.

Butter Pecan Burlesque

Monthly at Parkside Lounge
317 E Houston St

 “The Nuyorican Bombshell,” Miss Frankie Eleanor, produces and hosts Butter Pecan Burlesque, NYC’s only all-Latinx and Hispanic burlesque revue. She created this show as a platform for all Latinx and Hispanic artists to “perform to the language of their roots, celebrate their culture, or to just show pride in who they are.” Butter Pecan Burlesque features fan dancers, live drummers, boylesque artists, and a mix of styles that showcase the diversity of Latinx artists. There are performances to salsa greats like Celia Cruz, acts honoring Indigenous roots, and some ass-shaking reggaeton. It celebrates Latinx heritage without appropriation and challenges the homogeneous Latinx identity that’s often reflected in mainstream American pop culture. Sure, it’s a Latinx/Hispanic revue, but this show is open to all, and is in English with a splash of Spanglish (so don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish!). Frankie will make you feel like you’re kickin’ it in her living room with her “Puerto Rican hospitality.” If you’re in town on March 8, be sure to drop in for their one-year anniversary show!

Shades of Burlesque

Monthly at C’mon Everybody
325 Franklin Ave

Sweet Lorraine, “The Goddess in a Bodice,” is a super producer who has been blessing New York audiences with Shades of Burlesque, “NYC’s only all-Black burlesque revue” since 2012. She started the show to bring greater visibility to Black burlesque performers and to have a space for us, by us. Six years later, it’s an ultra-glam, jam-packed monthly show in Bed–Stuy with top talent from NYC and around the country. With Sweet Lorraine as your hilarious and bawdy hostess, you will experience classic burlesque styles featuring feather fans, glitzy ball gowns, and rhinestone corsets, set to the sounds of Beyoncé, Etta James, or Alabama Shakes. The show oozes sensuality, raw sexuality, and #blackgirlmagic in its full glory. Sweet Lorraine also produces SafewordNYC, a sex-positive show blending fetish-inspired performances, erotica, and sex education, highlighting the subculture of kink and BDSM through a POC and LGBTQ lens. Lorraine’s goal is to foster nurturing spaces for Black women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks to “share their dynamic expressions of sexuality.” Catch Shades of Burlesque every fourth Saturday at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn, and SafewordNYC returns in the spring at the same spot!

COMPOST BIN! (a RadicalASS Cabaret to Deal with the World)

Monthly at Starr Bar
214 Starr St

COMPOST BIN! is a monthly cabaret show centering queer radical people of color that is produced and hosted by brASS: Brown RadicalAss Burlesque, a multidisciplinary performance troupe. Sister selva, exHOTic other, and Miss AuroraBoobRealis created the show to share their “bodies, stories, and wisdom, and create cathartic experiences for both performers and audiences to release and compost together.” As queer femmes of color, brASS started COMPOST BIN! in response to the unrelenting madness of Trump’s America. It’s a place where everyone is welcome (as long as you’re not an asshole). The show includes not only burlesque striptease but also live musicians and singers, drag performances, and spoken-word poetry. Through these different artistic expressions, the central themes are uplift, resilience, and joy, and that in these times, art can help us feel and heal collectively. They wanted to build an inclusive community where folks can “transform the bullshit of the world and together turn it into gold.” Thus, it’s an interactive show featuring artists of all sizes, shades, gender expressions, and abilities, complete with a composting release ritual. (Not saying more about that—no spoilers!) They aim to celebrate marginalized identities and politicized bodies while challenging the isms and the systems that want to destroy us. And they make it sexy af. (And shout-out to the venue being accessible for all abilities.)

Essence Revealed, The Bubblin’ Brown Sugar of Burlesque, shining on stage as the emcee of her monthly show, Golden Lady Burlesque.
photo by Stacie Joy

Golden Lady Burlesque

Monthly at Sid Gold’s Request Room
165 W 26th St

Essence Revealed’s monthly Golden Lady Burlesque keeps it classy and sassy with an eclectic mix of tantalizing burlesque performances from some of NYC’s finest. Among other life-changing experiences, you may get to see Essence work the magic of her signature “assels.” (Yes, that would be tassel twirling on the booty!) It’s not a mere burlesque show, though. Golden Lady Burlesque is held at a live piano karaoke bar, so after the performances (and several drinks) audience members can get on the mic, and it becomes a big ol’ glittery sing-a-long. How often do you get the chance to do karaoke with a live piano player?! If you’re lucky, some of the dancers will even join you on stage to fulfill your best karaoke dreams. As if that’s not enough, there’s an auction where folks can bid on goodies like sex toys and special gifts made by the multitalented performers. It’s always a surprise!