Queer Burlesque and Nerdom, What More Can You Ask For?
This past month, I had the utmost pleasure of interviewing a good friend and phenomenal entertainer: queer, body-positive, neo-burlesque performer, Chocolat Swirl
I had not seen neo-burlesque before, and this was my first introduction to my friend’s character ‘Chocolat’. In a small town in western Massachusetts, Hors D’oeuvres Entertainment presents fun queer events for the community. With their host Hors D’oeuvres, “hors as in multiple prostitutes” they like to say, the group presents quality events such as, Drag Brunch with Hors and Friends in Holyoke, MA and Bon Appetit Burlesque in Florence, MA.
The theme for the night I attended was ‘Hollidaze’. Each performer chose a national holiday to pay homage to. Chocolat did a Serial Mom act for Mother’s Day in the first half of the show and an ode to 4:20 to close.
The show was mesmerizing, with clever costumes and concepts done by all performers. Chocolat and friends, Jeza B Fierce and Jāne Doe, stole the show for me. Chocolat’s attention to detail and commitment to full out performance was a pleasure to watch. She went into a full on scene from Serial Mom, lip syncing to audio straight from the movie and pulling off her housewife polka dot dress to bring out the crazy in red lingerie.
Her fire comes out on the stage in a way you could not predict from her giggly fun presence behind the scenes. It is something precious to find one’s self out in the open, and Chocolat is unapologetically searching and finding the awe in herself with every performance.
I was able to grab Hor’s burlesque babe, Chocolat, before they hit the stage.
Finding Body Positivity
BNP: What is your burlesque name and style?
Chocolat: My burlesque name is Chocolat. The style is androgyny, gender blending, you think you know but you actually have no idea. Lots of color, some glitter, mostly sass and a little bit of humor.
(Editor’s Note: Since the interview, Chocolat has begun performing as Chocolat Swirl. We’ve updated the article to reflect this change, but kept integrity of the interview, which has not been changed, in tact.)
BNP: Why burlesque? How did you find burlesque?
Chocolat: Why not burlesque? Burlesque has really given me the outlet I needed to find some love from within and project it out. Within not only as an entertainer, but in my everyday, I find myself being on, you know through my work – through my muggle job. I chose burlesque because…well, it found me mostly. I just decided that I needed to embrace my inner star, express it, and let others see that light. And be enthused, and be serious, and be funny, and a little – What’s gonna happen?… but push through it you know? Cuz I was born to perform.
BNP: What is body positive burlesque, and why is it the burlesque you chose to perform?
Chocolat: Body positive burlesque is embracing every inch of yourself, body, mind, and soul. Beauty comes in all forms. You should never throw labels on anything, and freedom of expression is everything. Neo-burlesque is having some schtick, a storyline and you know, beginning, middle, some shimmy, and a little glitter. It really helps me believe and explore my body sensually, and also gives me confidence that I felt I didn’t have before. So this opened up you know, a really good door for me, and I’m enjoying the journey.
BNP: So you said neo-burlesque. Talk a little about that, because that’s kind of what Hors D’oeuvres Entertainment does, right?
Chocolat: Yea, neo-burlesque is kind of reclaiming the cat call. You’re here to celebrate all folks of all sizes, there is no limitations here. Beautiful classic burlesque is such a staple in some areas where their storyline is based on the appeal, the tease, and the glamour. We bring it to neo by telling a story with our body, telling a story with some props, from the beginning you see the character, in the middle you see the trial and tribulations or you see this big explosion of a party and then there’s the tease within all of that. Sometimes you are on the edge of your seat, you don’t know what you are going to pull out, it’s just embracing yourself through and through.
BNP: You know, I don’t know a lot about burlesque, I saw it once in Vegas which was awesome, but I don’t know all of the different avenues.
Chocolat: It’s beautiful to express all of these stories from different avenues of your soul and of who you are celebrated out.
Using that Queer Black Girl Magic!
BNP: Doing burlesque as a brown girl, what has been your experience?
Chocolat: This has been a super cool experience because, as I explore my identity in my everyday, I found such an outlet, such an empowerment, such a power and that Black girl magic is real! There’s nothing more beautiful than owning every inch of yourself and knowing that you are someone of special existence, of magic that, you know – not everyone can touch. That unstoppable-ness and identifying as a queer person of color is everything. Because sometimes you have closed doors or you are emulating these characters that are white, and how do you embody that psyche, to kind of put forth your spin on it, while being a Black girl queen? It’s a bit of a challenge sometimes, because I’m seeing visually just – white, but knowing there is a twist I can bring, a little mocha, a little Chocolat, I can put that forth and people will remember it. That’s my hope and my goal, that it’s always entertaining, and I am here, the magic is alive.
BNP: Is that why you chose the Chocolat name?
Chocolat: Yass! So, I obviously chose Chocolat because I find myself a mixture of white and African American. As I explore that journey for myself, I thought, “how can I blend them?” I like sweets and cake and dessert, how can I blend this and find a good mold, and a good name that is strong and beautiful and people can say, “hey, do you remember Chocolat?” How could you forget your first chocolate!?
BNP: You mentioned being a queer burlesque performer, how has that experience been for you?
Chocolat: It’s pretty cool, I can pull out an act from, well you know – tonight my act is based on a John Waters film, Serial Mom. A white lady, prim and proper, but she’s crazy. But then she brings it right back. I resonate with part of that. I can reel it in and pull it all out! You know being queer and not conforming to the ‘gender’ roles, that’s super important cuz, you’re blocking your art [conforming] – you gotta be unapologetically you at all times. Chocolat has a lot to offer and being in the moment and being queer and not conforming to a certain mold, is what I am all about.
BNP: So now you are married…
Chocolat: I am.
BNP: How is navigating burlesque life with your wife? How do you handle fans and things like that?
Chocolat: Well, we have a really strong bond in the community, and people kinda know that Chocolat is tight with Loo D’Flyest Priesly, you know my partner is also an entertainer. Fans can get kinda close. They want to be a part of the experience, and I allow that. I’m not really a jealous type of human. I embrace the creativity and the curiosity that some people are like, “where did you get that from? I love what you did with your face, with your movement.” You gotta kinda let the experience engulf you, while also knowing…well I kind of think of it as Jay Z and Beyonce having that firm presence, like we’re here. It’s not too hard to navigate. We’re pretty strong and our bond is, you know – unbreakable.
BNP: And she supports you?
Chocolat: Oh yea! She’s the one who pushed me to do this. I was like, “oh burlesque could be cool,” and she’s like, “it could be real cool this Friday. Are you ready?” And I’m like, “no, I’m scared.” But that moment you step on the stage, that light hits and you know deep down your partner is there for you ride or die…that is everything. To have someone who is so supportive, it means the worlds, the stars, the universe to me.
Talk Nerdy to Me!
BNP: What are some stories and characters you’ve portrayed?
Chocolat: Well, my very first act I pulled out a Susie from Rugrats, I kinda manipulated with a Cynthia doll as a sort of F%$# you to Angelica. I had Rihanna in my act, because she’s a badass. I actually didn’t know what I was doing, but it felt great, so I kept going. I did an [Steve] Urkel act, you know I was teased as a kid, I was a little nerdy and little dorky with my glasses, so I thought it’d be so cool to bring something that used to be a negative to a positive, and people lived for it.
Another act I have is my Joker act, that one I get full body. It’s a chance for me to be vulnerable and kind of scary, you know with my inner demons, because the Joker character is so intense. It’s the Jack Nicholson take from the early Batman movie, you know I idolize the Heath Ledger [Joker] and I was like, how can I blend them, while paying respect to their artistry and their take on that dark character? And it’s a beautiful thing to see, the evil humor and bring it to life where people are like, “wow that was real weird.”
BNP: And then burlesque!
Chocolat: Right yea, so they are like, “oh, wuh, oh yea okay!” You gotta make them love it, even the darkness – that’s the beauty in it.
BNP: What is next for your burlesque career?
Chocolat: I still have a lot of honing to do, a lot of homework. Thankfully, Bon Appetit has given me a such a beautiful platform. These people have really saved a beautiful part of me, and I just want to walk my truth as a queer person of color and celebrate what it means to be body positive. So, what’s coming up next is the next show! I have a show coming up in July and from there take some time off to create and get some new things under my belt, so I can start the next year with something that’s just elevated. I’ve only been doing burlesque for about two years, you know I use YouTube and read books about burlesque, and I’ve seen my fellow entertainers do their thing, so I’ve pulled bits and pieces from how I want to build Chocolat, so I am always learning and always growing.
Shout Out to the Door Openers
Props to Hors D’oeuvres Entertainment for inspiring this community and providing a safe space for all their performers. Hors will fight you if you’re disrespectful, and that is something I strive to do as an ally every day.
You can find Chocolat Swirl on Facebook at Leo Crayz (Chocolat Chaud). Chocolat will be performing at the “Sci-Fi Summer Burlesque with Double B” in Providence, with Betty Sue Taylor and Bli Tzen VonShtupp on Sunday July 8th at 7pm. So, if you are in that area or want to travel out, you can find more information on the event’s Facebook page
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