Naughty Noir – Underground Burlesque NYC

This project is about an alternative Burlesque Show called Naughty Noir, as put on stage by a variety of unconventional performers who defy categorisation while tapping the sources of classic Burlesque, thus presenting and worshipping an open, outgoing and confident female sexuality.

As a spectator and photographer, I found myself in the role of an observer as well as a participant, because it is their playful self-awareness that powerfully rejects objectification, challenges the audience's preconceptions, breaks up cultural norms as a non-verbal dialogue is established between the performers and onlookers.

Naughty Noir – Underground Burlesque NYC - Series of 18 photographs

The last local band has finished as the witching hour approaches. It’s Thursday night and the stage in the basement room of the Delancey Lounge, a New York City, Lower East Side live music staple, is about to be transformed. Those chasing rock star dreams will give wayto those pursuing a different passion.

Many of tonight’s performers will have travelled from far away places: New Orleans, Pennsylvania, Florida ...Brooklyn. Planes, cars and trains have been taken to arrive here tonight to perform on this stage. Some money will be made but not much then again that’s not exactly what this is about. “We do it because we love it” is a phrase that seems to roll off the tongue of many of tonight’s performers followed by a quick “It’s fun” “empowering” is another word that seems to be used a lot and indeed as the audience begins to file in down the stairs a mix crowd of monthly devotees, curiosity seekers, explorers, men and women ages ranging from mid 20’s to “I’d rather not say” have begun to fill the room up with anticipation of what tonight’s performance will bring. Cocktails are served old friends greet each other and there’s a last minute scurry from performers to find missing costume pieces and to apply final make up touches.

Perfection is not necessary but strived for. Suddenly, amidst the chaos, the background music stops and the stage lights flip bright. Our Hostess for the night takes command “Welcome everyone welcome! Thank you all for coming out late this Thursday night and supporting us here at Naughty Noir Burlesque where we celebrate all things womanly and naughty” The crowd whoops into an approving roar as the show begins.

While the last two decades has seen a major revival in classic American burlesque most smaller shows outside of the mainstream still have a do it yourself ethos and I was interested in capturing that spirit while exploring the questions that burlesque has always asked. What does it mean to buck conventional ideas of what a woman’s sexuality can be? What does it mean to be playful? To take control and to expose ones self to an audience? To take on a persona? To say this is my art and my art can be whatever it is I want it to be. To be uninhibited and sexy and and angry and naughty without feeling exploited or shamed. To run unabashed and to shout and to throw a sly smile and say this is a part of who I am. It is not the whole part but it is a part and in this place on this stage on this night we are free to explore that side of ourselves which too many people keep hidden deep within. Which for years and generations for many has been held repressed and governed and dictated to by law, by patriarchy, by society, and eventually even by our own psyches. Some of the performances were kitschy winks and nods, some had political twists meant to mock today’s polarizing American political climate, others seem to exist solely to shock or simply to amuse. The common thread were the smiles and laughter and the playful banter between performer and audience.

Let us not forget that the history of women asserting their sexuality in public and even in private spaces has often been marred by judgment, stigmatization, exploitation and in many cases has even been met with violence, imprisonment, and death. I cannot help but think that tonight’s performances above all is a celebration and rebellion against that history.

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