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Mykala Daniel

Subculture Documentary

A sisterhood bonded by rhinestone and tassle.

What comes to mind when you think burlesque? If you're like me, it was just a hobby — getting your girls together for a night of fun, debauchery, and dollar bills.

But If you’ve ever attended Vanessa Chevelle’s AfroTease, an all women of color burlesque review in Richmond, VA, you’ve experienced the glow of black and brown bodies owning their curves and narrative.

What started off as an assignment, became a self discovery exercise. What does it means to really find yourself? To be confident in any room you walk into and carve your own niche if you can’t find one?

Toolkit \\ Ethnography, Visual Storytelling, #BlackGirlMagic

 
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Uncovering a Richmond Gem

This was one of my most anticipated, yet challenging, Brandcenter assignments. After an entire summer of searching across the internet for a topic I could call my own nothing felt, right. That was until I was at a coffee shop and noticed a cork board plastered with community fliers.

Seeing the big bold “AfroTease” across a curvy silhouette, of who I would discover was the shows producer, Vanessa Chevelle, I was shocked.

A black burlesque show? In Richmond, Virginia at that?

I didn’t have to think about twice about it.

Black women.
Dismantling the tropes of nude performance art and the wack ass notions against curvy black bodies.

All while basking in the glory that is being their entire selves — shape, size and hue.

Not only did I personally want to explore what it meant to celebrate and embrace our bodies as black women in this type of art form — I wanted to understand how burlesque viewed them and the legacy they are hoping to leave behind.

Uncovered Their Muggle Person Personified

From a simple choice of music to a fraction of raw emotion, burlesque is used as a way to show a side that the rest of the world normally does not get to see. The use of satire and interpretive movement help audiences peek into their lives while maintaining sex appeal.

“On stage, Gigi is vodka,“ says Gigi Holliday, co-founder of Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret, “In real life, Gigi is a potato. I just want to go home and read my books.”

Burlesque isn’t just a performance art. It gives them a platform to build their voice, share their own story, it was a permission to own it.

When it’s black, it's considered pornographic.

This resurgence of black neo-burlesque didn't come without having to navigate a space that was historically racist and is often prejudicial.

Nude performance theater for black women was often seen as lewd or barbaric and they were often mocked by and fetishized. Since slavery, Women like Saartjie Baartman have been seen as something to gawk at for their features.

 
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“We are in the midst of preserving black burlesque.”

This history can”t be lost, and troupes like Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret, and Brown Girls Burlesque are dedicated to preserving black burlesque culture while building a sisterhood in the process. I’m thankful for places and spaces like AfroTease who help women remember who they are and harness the power within them.