Pregnancy Burlesque

This is a long blog post that honestly shares my feelings and experiences as a burlesque performer going through her first pregnancy. I’ve broken this post down into different sections:

  • Gallery
  • A Synopsis on the Pregnancy Experience
  • The Burlesque Pregnancy Victory List
  • Burlesque Gets Administrative or “This is How I Spend My Time Now”

Each section has images and the Victory List even has a video. Enjoy!

Gallery

A Synopsis on the Pregnancy Experience

I found out in February that I was pregnant by peeing on a stick and crossing my fingers for the “plus sign” to appear. When it did, I told my partner and we curled up on the bed and spooned with the cat. We were excited.

Inspired by the other burlesque mommas in my local community, I was determined that I would not be giving up shows or burly opportunities while I was incubating. My burlesque mom, Miss Effie, had emceed and done shows while she had been growing her little one; Ariel Allegro had performed during all three of her trimesters; and I remember avidly following May Hemmer’s burlesque pregnancy stories online. I knew I could certainly do the same.

At the same time, I wanted to ensure that I exercised self-care– you know, that thing we always forget about. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do everything and, at some point, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.

I hold burlesque classes weekly at Bump & Grunge Burlesque, an Athens-based burlesque school I founded in 2015. I perform with our Athens-local troupe, Effie’s Club Follies. When I can, I travel to surrounding cities in the Southeast to perform. In addition to that, I was working 40 hours a week, cared for five animals at home, and was (am still) in amazing relationship with my partner. In addition to that? I deal with anxiety and struggle with depression.

Suffice to say I spread myself thin most of the time, and I think a lot of wonderful human beings in our community can identify with me when I say how easy it is to beat yourself up over this and bring yourself down. It never made me less of a performer, less of a creative individual, and it never made me a terrible human being. But that can be a tough thing to tell yourself when you’re exhausted and stressed a lot of the time.

So adding pregnancy to my cocktail of a life was going to be tough. I knew there were going to be days where I would not only feel like hell, but that I’d also feel like I making a huge mistake. Because I would convince myself that I would wreck, ruin, and destroy the life that I was working on creating. And on those dark days, I knew that I would need my support group.

I knew there would be days where I would not find myself attractive. I knew there would be days where I found myself unintelligible. I knew there would be days where I would not find myself worthy of my friends’ time and energy. Those were the days I needed my support group the most.

In addition to my phenomenal partner, my family and friends, I also had my awesome therapist. To that mix, I added midwives, doulas, and a chiropractor.  I was set.

Or so I thought.

My pregnancy has been difficult. Sure, it’s been an emotional trial, but also extremely painful. Not the dreamy and empowering experience I expected it and wanted it to be. Adding a surprise amount of chronic pain due to torn muscles and ligaments was never something I planned for, and I quickly became frustrated and impatient with parents who repeatedly told me that I should “enjoy my pregnancy while it lasts.” It made me feel inadequate; that I was doing everything wrong and that if I couldn’t enjoy this then maybe I shouldn’t even be a parent.

With that said, I would not take back any of the experiences I’ve had for the past 9-10 months. I am about to hold in my arms what I have spent months of agony creating.

But also?

I can look back and say, “This is what I did while making you” to my wee sparkle baby. And that is pretty badass.

33 weeks / Shot by Andrew Shearer

33 weeks / Shot by Andrew Shearer

 

The Burlesque Pregnancy Victory List

The First Trimester:

3/17/17: Sex Ed Burlesque hosted and produced by Bettie Bullet

While dealing with very mild amounts of “morning sickness” during my first trimester (really, just feeling icky and nauseaous when I didn’t eat properly), my first pregnancy performance was my raw and energetic Tank Grrl piece. At this point, no one knew I was pregnant except for a very select few. I was really happy that I had the opportunity to perform this piece when I did; I knew this wasn’t something I could tackle later on when I got larger.

4/1/17: Effies Club Follies Fool’s Gold

My pregnancy was still under wraps and at that point I had already decided to cut out my solo piece from the show. The good? All I had to worry about was our opening group act. The bad? I didn’t get to do my solo. Fortunately, I had practiced this piece already at the Lonely Hearts Burlesque Beta show, put on by Secret City Burlesque. I was planning on doing my solo the following weekend at my next gig.

I was attempting to practice self-care already, and dammit was it hard. As far as I was concerned, I was still the same Coquette. If I closed my eyes, I could still picture myself doing everything I normally did.  But physically? Physically, my body’s immune system was already lowered because of the embryo growing in my uterus. I was getting colds back to back, I was extremely phlegmy, and I was exhausted constantly.

However, I was still adamant about putting my time and energy into the group choreography.

The Effie’s Club Follies “Fool’s Gold” show was where I had the supreme pleasure of choreographing a Wizard of Oz themed piece to “Let’s Dance,” a concept created by Izzie Popp. Chair choreography, story-telling, and dancing all rolled into one– this is one of my proudest group choreographies I have ever created. I even had the pleasure of playing the Tin Lady (and if you know me, my wardrobe is basically silver so what an easy costume for me to put together!).

We eventually submitted this piece to the second Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival.

4/14/17: Shamelessly Hot Salon’s Spring Fling

The next weekend was a fun road trip to Columbus, South Carolina with my buddies Dee Flowered and Tittiana Sprinkles. We performed at Shamlessly Hot Salon’s Spring Fling and had the opportunity to teach a class each.

At this point, I was already having some trouble sleeping as my body was surreptitiously growing and some of my costuming was already pretty tight. I was getting used to having to eat something every two or three hours to fight back the impending nausea of the first trimester.

I learned that I wasn’t allowed to have deli sandwich meat, a real inconvenience when you’re on the road, so I filled myself up on snack bars. Eventually I got into the habit of regularly carrying around fruits, cheese, and almonds.

Let me tell you: best snack ever. Also? nothing has satisfied me more than chopping up fruits and eating them later. It’s like they were even more delicious because of all the slicing.

4/22/17: Boybutante Ball: Peace Love and Hair

While I didn’t actually get to perform at BoyBall, I did create the group choreography for this act. Effie’s Club Follies performed this piece and, while they did not get video, I heard that they nailed the choreography.

I seriously fretted while making this choreography because of the previous gigs I had focused on and the costume adjustments I had been making for the previous gig. It stressed me out terribly and triggered some anxieties where I questioned my self-worth, but I was unwilling to give up the work I had given myself.

I consoled myself by saying I would make it very simple; I would show everyone what to do, and then I would let them rehearse themselves to pieces. Setting hard boundaries for myself was very difficult (still is), but it was an important lesson in exercising self-care.

Per usual, I came up with a very flexible costume idea and let the troupe interpret it from there. (While I enjoy seeing performances where troupes where the same costuming, it’s not something I’ve ever wanted in my creative pieces. You notice this in my dancers too– if everyone is doing the same thing, they should still be doing it with their own persona and sass. It’s just a rigidity I don’t adhere to in my work.)

The troupe turned out, and the piece went over beautifully.

Peace Love and Hair / Boybutante Ball 2017 / Matt Hardy Photography

Effie’s Club Follies- Tittiana Sprinkles, Izzie Popp, Lucid Luci, Misty TeTons, Gwendolyn Trouble, Dee Flowered / Boybutante Ball 2017 / Matt Hardy Photography- although this is a photograph of a framed picture

The Second Trimester:

6/24/17: Sizzling Summertime Burlesque

Sizzling Summertime Burlesque was Bump & Grunge Burlesque‘s mid-year show. It had many purposes– it was a show where students could perform in a professional venue, it was Bump & Grunge’s birthday month, and it was Tittiana Sprinkles’ fundraiser for the Golden Legend’s Showcase.

I hosted the show.

I have only emceed a few times– at each student recital (which is a private event for friends and family), Mammoriam (our end of the year show in December), and when our own Miss Effie was on her maternity leave during our Effies’ Club Follies “Time and Space” show.

The only adverse thing I remember happening that evening that related to my pregnancy is that I almost lost my balance exiting the stage. Fortunately, one of my students was able to catch my hand and help me down. The show was at Nuci’s Space in Athens, which doesn’t really have any graceful exiting stairs. You just kind of have to take a big step off and be careful.

There were small mistakes I made that evening, which were mostly attributed to a lapse in memory. I had notecards to guide me, but I realized quickly that if it wasn’t written down I wasn’t going to remember even a small part of it. I already struggle with remembering things, but Pregnancy Brain was slowly encompassing my life.

Other than that, I feel I did an adequate job. I got everyone through the night and our audience got to watch some pretty spectacular local performances, as well as a special guest performance by Lola LeSoleil.

Emceeing at Sizzling Summertime Burlesque June 2017 Photo by Matt Hardy

Emceeing at Sizzling Summertime Burlesque June 2017
Photo by Matt Hardy

8/10-12/17: Burlesque Burlesque Burlesque! Festival

When I put in my submission application for this festival, I knew that there was a possibility that I would be quite pregnant. Because of that, I specifically chose my Swamp Thang act to submit– the costume already exposed my belly, so it should be easy right? Maybe my boobs would be spilling over the cups a little, but I was certain it wasn’t going to be a huge deal.

Damn, I was wrong.

Everything got bigger. I essentially had to adjust everything. In addition to that, Asheville had some blue laws I needed to take into consideration which means my g-string was going to have to get replaced (I didn’t realize until later that their g-string policy wasn’t as strict as I thought, but ultimately getting new booty coverage was really necessary since my butt had grown significantly).

My costume was commissioned Erin of the Fish and Fringe in Atlanta, so that is who I went to to help with getting a new panty done. I then made a dress to cover the bra and panty set out of fabric for the costume.

All of the modifications ended up being really fun to do, even making the pasties larger. I had trouble at first figuring out how to make costuming that I still found flattering (new body, new way of thinking), but I ended up finding a solution that made me really happy.

My partner and I stayed in Asheville for the entire week before the festival. We picked up our friend, Pandora Disaster halfway through the week and got to hang out with her as a roommate and during the festival. She was doing her Lady Hades’ act the same night as my piece and we were pretty giddy.

Day of the show and of course I was nervous as hell, but excited. My stomach was upset the majority of the time, and I had to make sure that I was still eating as much as I could to ensure that I wouldn’t get sick. I had to make a lot of trips to the restroom before and during the show. At this point, sitting for long periods of time was already uncomfortable, so I ended up walking and pacing more than sitting.

I purchased the video that Starrlight Images made of the performance to keep as a souvenir. Looking back, it’s not really what I envisioned. We are all our own worst critics, though, so I decided to focus on the positive feedback I received during the performance and after the show.

I’ve provided video of the performance below. It’s one of the few videos I have that I have made public.

 

The Third Trimester:

9/14-16/17: Second Annual Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival

At this point, I was big and in an obvious way. Throughout my whole pregnancy, I was carrying everything baby upfront, so from behind it wasn’t immediately obvious that I was pregnant. But the second I turn to the side, and you knew. That profile was the profile of a pregnant lady.

My anxiety for performing at this festival was high. Throughout my entire pregnancy I had been dealing with extreme amounts of pain from my psoas muscle. At this point I had literally tried everything I could think of– yoga, chiropractors, muscle relaxers, etc etc. Honestly, I am STILL trying things to keep the pain at bay.

I had a very upset muscle and I never knew when it was going to act up. Staying still, moving around, gentle stretches– it didn’t matter. And I could always feel it coming too. At the height of the spasm, it was like a red hot knife digging into my hips. I wanted to vomit, it was so painful.

What I’ve read and learned about psoas pain? It will calm down when you calm down– not very helpful if you are on edge for a show, or you’re anticipating the flare up because it creeps up on you. To calm myself down, I drink a lot of water, nibble on something, and practice breathing. If I can, I add in yoga/meditation music. It’s all I can do.

So with all this in mind, I cleared it with my troupe that I could bring in a back up. We were doing our “Red Shoes of Oz” choreography (the one we did in April). I asked Daisy Ya Dareme, a long time friend and performer, to learn the part of the Tin Lady and travel with me to Knoxville. I have worked with Daisy for nearly a decade through both belly dance (where we started) and burlesque. She is part of the Athens local troupe, Secret City, and also one of my instructors at Bump & Grunge Burlesque.

She agreed, and I am still eternally grateful. Even though she didn’t perform, she definitely made me feel so much better just being there and, as always, she’s an incredibly supportive human being.

Terrifyingly, I had a psoas spasm two numbers before we went on. I had irritated it, I think, by over-stretching.  I tried to walk it off at first, then I tried to stay still. I tried to sit down, lean out, but none of that was helping.

Through tears and sharp throbbing pain, I was able to drink water (thank you Lola, I owe you a bottle!) and calm down enough for me to be able to perform and go one without any trouble.

The number went over really well. I could hear it while we were performing, which anyone can tell you is one the best ways to amp up the energy onstage and forget that you almost passed out five minutes ago from some hot searing stabbity psoas muscle.

I was incredibly wiped the next day, though; very grateful to have such wonderful friends close by.

Red Shoes of Oz / Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival / La Photographie

Effies Club Follies- Keith Manify, Izzie Popp, Coquette de Jour, Pandora Disaster / Red Shoes of Oz / Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival / La Photographie

 

Burlesque Gets Administrative or “This is How I Spend My Time Now”

Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival was my last show before going on a performing hiatus. I did a maternity photoshoot with my friend Andrew afterwards. The images were standard, for the most part, and something I could share with my family. There were some that we also took that were more sensual in nature.

It’s hard to feel good about your body when it goes through some rapid changes. That is true for anyone. I had trouble looking at myself and seeing the same person that I was before I became pregnant.  I didn’t feel sexy, although I also regularly struggle with feeling sexy so that could have easily influenced the other. I wanted to take some photos in something comfortable, something that fit me really well, and something that was slamming hot.

I felt good about the photos, and have only shared a few on this post. I am sporting some hot pink in my hair and KT tape on my belly.

 

However, the main thing I have been doing since my performance hiatus has been more a strong transition in focus on burlesque classes. Bump and Grunge Burlesque‘s fall session started in September. While I am not actively teaching currently (my last class was in October), I am trying to help out with things behind the scenes.

I’m also assisting Tittiana on the upcoming Mammoriam show in December. I get to do things like update websites, update application information, and make fun promo photos that I can throw on Social Media. It’s been fun and it keeps me busy.

I’m also not working my forty hour work week any longer, which I am grateful for.

My days are short but my weeks are long. I am currently at 40 weeks 4 days (yes, overdue). I spend my days binge-watching Netflix (finished Star Trek Voyager and watched Stranger Things 2 in two days), trying to go on walks when I can, and sketch out projects that I have for future acts.

I even ordered myself what I am calling my “Postpartum Suit.” It’s light blue, three piece, and I am going to bedazzle it as soon as it gets here. I can’t wait to touch it and I can’t wait to wear it. I have an awesome bowtie that I will wear with it that I purchased from Iva Handfull’s line, Haute Under the Collar.

Here’s to hoping I can fit in it!