In my ever-relentless quest of knowledge in all things DIY, my mind came to Roxy Reverie. Born on the East Coast of the United States and educated at a liberal arts college, Roxy is a burlesque dancer and one of the most fearless and opinionated women that I know. As a Black woman, this makes her many things including but not limited to: important, politically dangerous, and mistreated. Time and again we see the oppression and trauma that Black women face in the pursuit of a just and equitable world. Roxy’s form of sexual and empowering dance art see
I had originally planned to interview Roxy when the protests concerning the murder of George Floyd by police officers began; however, I only got around to it now by the end of summer. This matters little as the protests are still occurring, even spreading to other cities such as Portland. A little more than 5 hours away is Vancouver, where Roxy has relocated. Introduced through a high school friend that attended undergraduate with Roxy, I kept up with her over the years and followed her journey as she began to incorporate herself into the Vancouver burlesque scene. As a city with 1.2% population of Black people, I worry about Roxy occasionally and check in every so often to catch up on the happenings of being a Black American expat in a predominately white city.
This time, however, our check-in comes as a GSC exclusive, encompassing the development of the Diasporic Dynasty, a lifting of the veil on the racism in the Vancouver burlesque community, and inside knowledge on how to build a burlesque act. Check it out below.
GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?
I’m Roxy Reverie and I’m a Black femme burlesque performer based in Vancouver. While living in Vancouver, I’ve also very much become “a person from New Jersey.”
GSC: How did you get into burlesque? What has been the effect of burlesque on your life?
Three years ago, I had some choice about where to move to for work and I chose Vancouver in part because of its burlesque scene. I’ve always loved theater, and I’m particularly drawn to the types of theater that is extra, weird, and done late at night. I was a part of a Rocky Horror troupe for five years and I wanted to start working on musicality and developing my own character on stage. I jumped into the scene by taking classes with local performers, who are top performers in the burlesque scene generally. The Vancouver scene is pretty open to new people, so I started making connections by consistently training and volunteering.
Burlesque has had a huge effect on my life, in that it’s literally a second life: a different name, persona, wardrobe, and community. For me, it’s also a different mode of being. In ordinary life, I find I need to tone things down…how I express myself both verbally and physically. In contrast, it’s very hard to do “too much” in burlesque. I feel there is a true freedom in being an unapologetic self onstage.
GSC: You recently told me the burlesque community is also having a reckoning right now and producers are being kicked out of the scene left and right. Can you speak more on that situation?
That sounds a lot more dramatic now than it did when I texted you. I shouldn’t say producers are being kicked out of the scene left and right, but rather there has been a hard look at problematic behaviors and people are finally being held accountable. To be honest, I have a very limited view of the scene’s history; I’ve only been around for two years. But even in that time I’ve seen and experienced pretty yucky things: cultural appropriation, ignoring BIPOC performers’ concerns and experiences in favor of “peace and love,” TERF and SWERF bullshit. Different scene, same oppressive systems. I believe the pause on shows due to COVID has allowed performers to look at who has been in power and who has been using that power (ir)responsibly. When I say people are being “kicked out,” I mean some performers are rightfully raising the bar of what constitutes an apology and reparation when deciding who to continue working with.
GSC: What is this BIPOC collective that has formed in the wake of this reckoning?
Diasporic Dynasty is a new performance collective that aims to uplift the stories of BIPOC performers. Our group is mostly, but not exclusive to, burlesque and drag performers who have performed around British Columbia for the past decade. Ultimately, we were individual performers weary of working in productions and communities that didn’t see us and our experiences as priorities. So, we decided to join together to produce our own work and provide opportunities for BIPOC creators.
GSC: You said you were co-producing an online show. What goes into producing a burlesque show? And what changes by bringing that production online?
I can’t speak for producing in the before-times, since this is my first time having any sort of role in production. I can say we are incredibly grateful to have received the KW studios summer initiative for equity seeking artists. The team at KW provided us with five hours of shooting time for six numbers in a fully decked out studio, as well as tech support. Four of our collective members truly stepped up to be at the shoot all day to make sure things went smoothly and everyone was fed (and socially distanced). We’re currently working on online promotion, which a few of our collective members are experts in, and my partner has generously volunteered to edit our show together. This production is really unusual for an online burlesque show, which typically features individual performers in their homes streaming live. So I think it’s safe to say the Dynasty’s debut will be an online show unlike any before.
GSC: What is the distinguishing line between burlesque and stripping? Are burlesque dancers considered sex workers?
First of all, people need to destroy the notion that burlesque is somehow classier than stripping. It’s a bullshit hierarchy. Burlesque involves stripping, but the focus is typically on choreographed theatrics and is traditionally based in satire. I’m not going to speak for strippers, because I can’t, but I’d imagine the compensation structure of working in a club is quite different. I personally wouldn’t consider burlesque sex work because burlesque is rarely full-time or a primary source of income. But burlesque performers are sometimes also sex workers (and vis-versa).
GSC: What do you find therapeutic about dancing on stage? Have you always been interested in dance?
I have zero dance training and just recently started taking non-burlesque movement classes for skill training. For me, I would say that it’s honestly less about the dancing itself and more about seeing how audience responds. I love working with (rather than dancing to) a song. For example, a build up to a chorus means a build up to a reveal. Hearing an audience (at least in the before times) respond to that build up and release in a number is instantly gratifying.
GSC: How do burlesque dancers develop their choreography? Is it a communal, solitary, or are there leading choreographers?
Some people work with a coach to develop an act, some people work alone, some people only do group numbers, and some people do a combination of all of the above. It really depends on the performer and the act. I personally like to work on my own and then hire a coach when I feel that it’s ready to be pushed further. I also like to try things out on stage and rework numbers based on how it went. Constantly developing and workshopping an act is pretty common.
GSC: You are in Vancouver, Canada. How has the Black Lives Matter movement been present in the city? How has the lack of diversity in the burlesque scene played out during this summer of protest?
Black Lives Matter Vancouver is an amazing group of humans. I was briefly in the collective last year before having to take a hiatus for work/personal health, and was always floored at how much passion everyone had. BLM puts on and supports great community building events in Vancouver, as well as organizing and supporting local protests. Compared to the U.S., I would say the movement is less visible in the city but it’s still there and people are working hard.
I believe BLM is what sparked conversation about the lack of diversity in the burlesque scene. Previously, people would say “BIPOC aren’t coming to us.” But with the rise of BLM, people began to recognize that racism is a systemic level problem that they should be personally responsible for changing. A few Diasporic Dynasty folks and I were asked to speak on an all-Black panel about being Black in Vancouver burlesque. It had great attendance, and I believe pushed organizations to re-evaluate their values and make changes. And of course, it inspired Diasporic Dynasty when we were tired of waiting for others to catch up.
GSC: With the lack of diversity in Vancouver and the burlesque scene, how impact has this newly created BIPOC collective been for your mental health?
I have never felt more comfortable and authentic at a show than at the backstage of the Diasporic Dynasty shoot. Having a safer space to express myself and my frustrations fully, and to hear that others are experiencing similar things, has re-sparked my drive for creating new acts.
GSC: How has the Vancouver burlesque scene been affected by COVID-19? Have shows shifted to all online? Are in-person shows coming back any time soon?
There used to be at least one or two in-person shows a week before COVID-19. Now, there’s very little going on. There has been a shift to online shows, but most of them I’ve been to have been in other parts of Canada and the U.S. There have been a couple of outside gigs I’ve heard of, but unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be back to before-times frequency any time soon.
GSC: How have you been taking care of your mental health during the pandemic and racial uprising?
I rhinestone a lot of shit.