Chicava Honeychild loves what she does.
The voluptuous performer is a fixture amongst New York City’s burlesque scene and through her work with Brown Girls Burlesque, she helps champion the tradition and culture of the storied and sultry artform. She says that she’s been intrigued by burlesque for as long as she can remember.
“I think I’ve always been inherently interested in burlesque, but not knowing what it was–from watching old school performers where someone took something off to being fascinated by all things nudity and loving to dance,” she explains. “I started hearing about burlesque performance in the late 90s. I hesitated and then one day I went to an audition to background for someone and I loved it.”
She moved to Los Angeles for a time to pursue her acting career, but was unsatisfied with simply auditioning and costuming. Upon moving back to New York, Chicava decided to take burlesque performing more seriously. “I loved burlesque and wanted it to be a part of my life but I didn’t know how it would happen here,” she says. “But I learned Brown Girls Burlesque was starting and I ended up joining and being an active member ever since.”
For Chicava, the chance to express herself through sexuality and grand costuming was what made burlesque such a major draw. But she understands why the idea of baring oneself can be intimidating. “There’s a hump to get over: baring your body. There was for me and a lot of people,” she acknowledges. “I was like ‘Ohmigod, I’m going to show my chest and I’m only going to have a G-string on!’ But stripping away a layer and enjoying your sensuality in a self-determined way is what makes burlesque stick for me.”
“African American women have a lot of ideas put on our bodies and what they mean and what showing them means and there’s a lot of other people’s influences on how we feel about ourselves,” she adds. “This gave me an opportunity express the love I have for myself and by extension, other women get to experience that, too. As you grow into it, you learn how to embrace the audience and audience appeal…while still keeping true to defining yourself and your beauty.”
“We have a long history in burlesque. It’s a long-standing tradition in African American entertainment and people don’t always understand that,” says Chicava. “I work to bring that to life.”
This article is a preview/excerpt from “NYC’s Black Burlesque Experience,” an RO WebDoc debuting on RollingOut.com