June Slut of the Month: Chicava HoneyChild

Chicava HoneyChild is a neo-burlesque performer and educator and the foremost (s)expert on women of color in burlesque. Her signature concepts of Feminine Sovereignty and ecdysis underpin her work and her wiles, combining embodiment, empowerment, manifestation and transformation in an ongoing artistic process. We first encountered Chicava during a dazzling performance at The New School, and you can, too, when she leads a Brown Girls Burlesque evening of striptease and song at Joe’s Pub on July 5th and August 9th. As our June Slut of the Month, Chicava answered some questions about her burlesque foremothers, the new documentary about her life, and her vices and desires.

Who are your burlesque icons, what inspires your performances?

My foremothers are my icons. Women that chose the wild life of a performer from the late 1800s through the mid 1900s amaze me. Aida Overton-Walker performed from about 1893 till the end of her life in 1914. She accomplished so much and had to be so brave every day to live her life. I have four Burlesque foremothers that I stay in touch with whose friendship, mentorship and lives constantly inspire me: Lottie the Body, Toni Elling, Tina Pratt, and Jean Idelle.

How did Brown Girls Burlesque form?

Miss AuroraB00bRealis and Maya Haynes formed Brown Girls Burlesque in 2007 in response to the lack of diversity on the NYC burlesque scene. They pulled together a band of wildly smart performance artists and gave it a go. 7 years later it’s still going and growing.

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How has the burlesque community in New York (and beyond) changed since you started dancing?

It’s grown exponentially! There’s probably 10-15 every week plus specially produced shows that people do. More and more women and men are taking to the stage with classic, neo and themed work like D20, or Nerdlesque, performance art driven work, LBGTQ focused performers and a variety of other expressions. One thing that is more predominant though are classic era style performers.

What drove you to begin researching the history of women of color in Burlesque?

To find my own image and know my place in the lineage of burlesque as a performance form. I wanted to understand what it meant to be a burlesque performer throughout the different eras and how the artform has shifted and changed throughout time and what catalyzed change.

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Can you share a few lesser-known gems in your findings over the years – any women whose stories or aesthetic particularly blew your mind?

Betty Brisbane is a performer I’m fascinated with. The images I’ve found of her are a brilliant mix of classy and trash and she clearly had a strong following. She was a Harlem performer who traveled extensively around the Northeast and the country. She passed away just before I started doing research in earnest so I just missed her on the planet so hopefully she’s adopted me and is a guardian angel stripper for me.

For Black History month I made Black Ecdysiast Month and posted a performer from the Jet archives on my blog each day. It brings me joy with every visit!

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Do you consider burlesque a feminist act? If so, what do you want your audience to take away from seeing you and Brown Girls Burlesque perform?

For me it is an act of feminism but that’s not the term I use for my work and what I strive for. I’m ready for more than feminism and I’m not sure who “owns” the definition of it. My pursuit is Feminine Sovereignty – self-determined, proclaimed and manifested, Feminine Sovereignty. It was one of the guiding principles of my grad school work and is a major component of the direction my work is going in.

BGB’s mission is to “Entertain, educate, titillate and liberate!” I wrote that like 5 years into running the project, it took that long to see it succinctly. Sometimes we create shows like the Michael Jackson tribute show or Beyonce vs. Rihanna that are all about the fun and sexy and the liberation comes from seeing women express themselves in self-created spaces. Other shows like “Making Reality” are deliberately challenging for the audience to experience and hopefully expand the possibility of the artform overall.

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What’s next for you and BGB? Any upcoming shows?

My focus for the next year will be on Sacred Burlesque and my documentary work. Sacred Burlesque is Feminine Sovereignty in action; it’s a teaching paradigm that has been coming to me over the past few years. In my thesis I documented the three prong nature of my practice ==> Performing/Producing, Research, and Teaching. As I reviewed what I was learning through teaching I realized that burlesque can have a therapeutic expressive focus that makes it accessible and useful to a greater expanse of women. So this combined with my spiritual, energy work, dance and yoga studies over the years have all come together to birth Sacred Burlesque. I plan to launch the business this fall.

I met last year a remarkable woman named Arati Menon, she was at the time a New School University grad student in documentary film making. She chose me for the subject of a thesis short. We so enjoy working together and she’s excited to apply what she’s learned to bringing my research on women of color in burlesque heritage to life. So we’re getting poppin’ on that.

Show wise I have a monthly show at Joe’s Pub called Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. A guest DJ picks the musical direction for the night and dancers choose a couple songs in the theme to mix together and then the DJ spins with striptease interspersed! It’s a really fun ride! July 5th we’re doing a New Jack Summer vibe so all that great 1990’s R&B! New Jack Swing, Uptown Records, SWV, Bobby Brown, Al B. Sure, Color Me Badd, Aaliyah, yeah we’re going there!

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I Am: Chicava HoneyChild

By Day: pedestrian, ok not! I really try to be though

By Night: Alert, awake and aware, total night owl

My Vices: Donuts, but only the best ones. Indolence

My Virtues: Fairness

The Present: Is juicy full

The Future: Touches a lot of women

Favorite Flavor: chocolate caramel and champagne, but maybe tequila

Favorite Feeling: trust in the universe and myself

Favorite Fabric: silk chiffon, and stretch velvet hugging my ass

Substance is: Putting yourself out there

Style is: authentic creativity of dress the of which charm can not be denied

Slut is: Owning your yoni/pussy/hotcat, heart, mind and moving along life connected to our most intimate self. If need be, fuck anyone you’d like, however you’d like.

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