In this week's installment of First-Person Shooter, we handed off two cameras to Clara Coquette, a burlesque dancer in New York City. During the day she works in medical science research, but at night she practices her true passion by choreographing intricate and playful strip teases at various bars and art spaces around the city.
Clara is extremely dedicated to her craft. In any given performance, she'll often don an Admiral Akbar mask or dress up as an American Horror Story clown to psyche-out her audience. On the Friday night she tore through her disposables, she documented the behind-the-scenes action that goes on when she's not up on stage.
VICE: What was your day like Friday? Where did it start? What'd you get up to?
Clara Coquette: I started my Friday waking up in my apartment and getting ready for my day job in medical science research. Afterward, I came home, ate a snack, and started prepping for a show at Bedlam Burlesque, which has a rotating cast of performers. It's held on the first Friday of every month at Bedlam Bar.
It looks like you have a good deal of makeup and clothes in your room. What's the process like to get ready for a show?
A few days before a performance, I will rehearse my act and fix anything on the costume that needs mending. I usually pack my bag up the day before my gig by laying everything out to make sure I have everything I need.
My makeup look for each acts varies depending on the costume and feel of the act. Stage makeup builds on the act, helps get into character, and adds glamor. It is heavier than everyday makeup because it needs to be seen from afar and under the stage lights. My routine usually involves a dark smokey eye with the colors of the costume, one or two sets of lashes, heavy blush, dark eyebrows, and red lips. I usually put glitter on my eyes and lips to add some sparkle.
I usually try to do my makeup at home before I go to the gig because backstages can vary with the lighting, mirror availability, and space. I've gotten ready in kitchen prep areas, bathrooms, offices, and a curtained-off corner of the bar—to name a few. I sometimes wear wigs for my acts which I usually wait to put on backstage. Backstage, I also apply body glitter for more sparkle under the stage lights before I get dressed.
How is burlesque different from other type of late-night dance performances?
It differentiates from other types of late-night dance types like go-go and strip-club in a number of ways, but there are overlaps in the scene. For example, there are sometimes go-go sets during burlesque shows, and there are a number of strip club strippers who are also burlesque dancers. Go-go dancers and strip club strippers usually dance to longer sets of music, usually of the DJ's choosing. There is very little choreographed removal of clothing during go-go and strip club stripping, whereas most burlesque shows require a performer to end in pasties and a g-string or merkin (though there are some exceptions). Plus, dancers at strip clubs dance topless or fully nude, depending on the club.
How did you get into the burlesque scene?
I became interested in burlesque after I saw a show at the Mermaid Parade Ball in Coney Island. I started going to more shows and met more people in the scene. I found out about the New York School of Burlesque (NYSB) and took a month-long essentials course and an act development course before I started performing. I started taking classes in the summer of 2011 and made my debut in December 2011. So I will be going on five years of performing at the end of this year. The NYSB is the best way for people to get into burlesque. They have tons of classes ranging from basics to choreography and movement to makeup and costuming taught by highly-skilled and award-winning teachers.
Where can people see you perform in the future?
My performance schedule varies but I usually perform about two to six shows a month and I produce my own shows once or twice a year. My next show in the city is the 'White Elephant Burlesque Presents Star Wars' at Rockbar NYC at 8:00 PM on May 4. The best way to find out where I am performing is through my website.
How did the night end?
After the show, I packed up my gig bag. Had a couple more drinks while chatting with friends. After leaving the bar, I grabbed a late night meal at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken before heading home. I usually a take a shower before bed to get rid of all the makeup, glitter, and sometimes paint or fake blood.