Burlesque. The word alone probably conjures an image in your mind. In fact, if it’s conjuring the image I think it’s conjuring, you’re probably raising your eyebrows at me. And maybe that’s deserved. Or maybe it’s a misconception. For me, when I see it, I think of Vaudeville. Jazz. Chicago. A movie I’ve never seen with Christina Aguilera and Cher.
A few weeks ago I posted an interview of a rock star, and Jessica Back left a comment. She is a member of The Fischer Bodies, Flint, MI’s first ever burlesque troupe. I have not been able to get her out of my head since. So I went all creepy-girl and contacted her with a, “Hi. I’m that blogger you commented on once. You know. A few weeks ago. I’d like to do a piece on you. I mean…I’d like to interview you.” And she said yes. Because creepy girls like me don’t freak her out. Thank.Goodness.
After I did a bit of research about burlesque online (you’d be surprised, it has very literary beginnings. Think: Shakespeare), I also went to a show to experience it for myself. I called my friend Amy and said, “You’re coming to see a burlesque show with me.” And she also said yes, because Amy doesn’t mind creepy girls either.
I’m the type of person who will try just about anything once. If you live in or near Flint, MI, I say make it a priority to see Jessica and The Fischer Bodies for a performance. In fact, you’re in luck, they have a show THIS Saturday, June 18th, at 8pm . Rocky Horror Burlesque. How fun is that? Oh the antici…pation! And even if you don’t live in or near Flint, I encourage you to seek out a troupe in your area. Support art in all its forms. Writers love writers and artists love artists and since we’re all artists in one form or another, it’s one big circle of love. Amen!
For the most part, I’m going to let Jessica do the talking from here, since the point of these interviews are about the person. Not me. Not writing. Not social media. Just getting inside the life of someone else. The questions are mine. The answers are hers. As it typically goes with Q&A.
So let’s start with a cheesy question. (What would an interview be without one?): What is the part you love most about burlesque?
Spreading the message that any body type can be sexy. Not just good-looking, or ok, or passable…SEXY. Hot. Desirable. Powerful. Fierce. We are a force of nature, every one of us. It’s just that we get to let everyone know it now, in a show that we have complete control over from start to finish.
Nobody has to give us permission to look good, whatever our body type is. In our culture today women are in an interesting state of existence. We are everything to everyone, and we have to look perfect doing it. I say no. I withdraw my consent from that, to quote Richard Bach. I’m imperfect, perfectly.
“My tummy is round, my butt is dimpled, and my feet are hairy. But I’ll do this specific dance and you will be so into it that you will be blown away, and no amount of airbrushing is required.” ~Jessica Back
I get to say what’s hot to me, not some disembodied voice on a make-up commercial. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m speaking on behalf of every woman–the women who have boob jobs and the women who are obese and the women who are just average. All of it is hot, because I say so. So there. That’s my favorite part, bar-none.
Followed by another cheesy, albeit important, question: What do you think is the biggest misconception about burlesque and its performers?
That all we do is take our clothes off. Come on. If we just took our clothes off we would go join the dancers at the local club. I, personally, have no issue with strippers–get that money–but I also have something to say and I want to be challenged by making a whole show out of a concept or idea. The meat of the shows are dance, song, comedy, and skits.
I knew what I was getting into after I did a bit of research, but to someone who may not understand, explain the difference between a burlesque performance vs. a strip show.
There’s a saying that goes: the difference between a stripper and a burlesque performer is a stripper makes money. That’s partially true. There are venues for strippers, and we all know what they do and where the money goes, and there is a specific cultural protocol for how to deal with that situation and what’s appropriate. People don’t know what to do with a burlesque performance, hahaha!
The difference between what the Fischer Bodies do and stripping flat-out is, for one, we really don’t take much off. And when we do, the key is tease. You think you’re going to see something and you might or you might not. To me that’s super sexy. Our show is theatre. We have comedy, song and dance, and skits. We are entertainers and performers. Burlesque involves more planning, less taking off (most of the time, in my experience), and more theatre.
I consider us a Vaudeville troupe that does burlesque.
Do you think burlesque sends a message?
First and foremost it’s all about entertainment. To be a little blunt, women dancing on stage (and men dressed as women, and men as men, and all of that) is fucking hot. We want to see someone do what we are afraid to do. It’s affirming to an audience to know that someone, somewhere, closer than you think, is taking joy in being onstage in a sexy way and being fearless about it. That’s my take on it anyway.
For me personally, burlesque and Vaudeville in Flint, MI is about showing people how to have fun. This is a serious, sad statement to say but in Flint I think we have been so down for so long that as a community we have forgotten how to let loose. You don’t see people going out to dance in Flint. Numbers are dwindling at live shows of any kind, and it’s even so bad that movie theatres have had a really hard time. Movies! Even in the Depression people would pay their food money to escape for a while. Not in Flint.
We are helping people to remember that there are fabulous things IN FLINT. That our joy is not something you can lose…you just have to remember how to use it.
Boylesque–Tell me about it.
Boylesque is intriguing because here are all these hot women parading around in their panties, and here comes a dude who may or may not do the same thing…it’s like a surprise within a surprise.
Masculine energy is different from feminine onstage, and it really helps to add diversity when we have boylesque in our shows. The moves are obviously more masculine, and themes are also manlier, depending on what works for the performer. Just like the rest of us, the performance is unique to him.
I appreciated seeing all body shapes and sizes on the stage. I saw everything from cellulite and stretch marks to muscle and sinew. How do the performers build the confidence to dance in front of total strangers, even if they aren’t perfect?Rehearsal. This means that once we get onstage, we are not focusing on whether our stretch marks are showing. We are focusing on our ball changes and high-kicks, and throwing our clothes out of the way so the stage kittens can get them easily and nobody trips. That’s how you get over it. If you have a problem in life, the way to get over it fastest is to give yourself a bigger, more urgent problem.
Also we tell each other if we look funky or if we look fresh. We are very honest with each other about what works and what doesn’t. And we love each other; we watch with admiration as we all perform, and we are sure to support each other. Bring it. Be fierce. Own it. Work. That’s all there is in the world.
The names! They kill me. I just love it. I know you are Nada Teezovich. How do you come up with them? What are some of the funniest/best you’ve heard?
Names are usually created by thinking about things that you aren’t, that you wish you were; or things that you are and think they’re funny enough to expound on. One joke we have is the only difference between myself and Nada is the accent.
Names can be puns (Nada Teezovich or Paige Turner) or they can be classic names that suggest something or give a visual (Victoria Nightshade or Kitty Coquette). The most important thing to keep in mind is the character itself. It needs to be something you can slip into and out of easily, like a pair of hot pumps.
I think my favorite so far is Twiggy Boylust, for the play on Ziggy Stardust and the reference to Twiggy. It just sounds like sex and rock and roll to me… makes me want to take a shot of JD and smoke a pack of camel lights, then spray glitter all over my body and dance all night.
There’s a quote from Marianne Williamson which is often attributed to Nelson Mandela because he quoted it in his presidential inauguration:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give permission to others to do the same.”
I live by that quote, and I hope that our troupe helps let others hear that call. I would jokingly add…”sexilly” to the end of that quote if I were to say it onstage, while taking my shirt off to reveal a sparkly red corset. It’s all a giant statement: “HAHA! HERE I AM! JEALOUS?!” I wish everyone had that attitude…in a not-assholey way.
I’d like to thank Jessica for participating in my first ever Interview Day Friday (#IDFriday). I wish the troupe the best of luck tomorrow at the show and in the future!
For more information about The Fischer Bodies and their upcoming shows (Rocky Horror Burlesque on June 18th and Zombie Burlesque on August 20th), head to the troupe’s Facebook page: facebook.com/thefischerbodies. If you’d like to see a recording of past performances, YouTube shall grant your wish: www.youtube.com/user/hethunder.
If YOU’D like to nominate someone for an interview (and it can be anyone), contact me: erin[at]brambilla[dot]us.