Born out of a test tube of sparkle and spunk, the delicate darling of beakers and burners. She’ll transport you back in time, the Clara Bow of Burlesque. Clara Coquette is a New York based burlesque performer, kitten, go-go dancer, and model that was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is a vintage vixen, a nimble nerd, and a cunning chameleon. She moved to New York in 2009 and stumbled upon the glamorous, glittery, and geeky world of burlesque. After training at the New York School of Burlesque, she made her debut in 2011 and has been balancing burlesque with her full time career in medical science research ever since. Born out of a test tube of sparkle and spunk, the delicate darling of beakers and Bunsen burners. She’ll transport you back in time, the Clara Bow of Burlesque: Clara Coquette.  

Jack Nickelz: So what started you off in the world of dancing?

Clara Coquette: Burlesque.  I was never in dance as a kid and didn’t really play sports, so I was/still am pretty uncoordinated and not very in tune with my body.  After seeing burlesque, I started taking dance classes.


Jack Nickelz: What styles of dancing did you like to do?

Clara Coquette: Besides burlesque classes, I have also taken dance classes in swing, Charleston, and other 1920s dance.

Jack Nickelz: How much did you know about Burlesque before you decided you wanted to do it?

Clara Coquette: I didn’t really know about burlesque when I was living in Michigan.  I knew a small amount about it historically just from my interest in history.  I first learned about the neo-burlesque movement at the Mermaid Parade Ball in 2010.  It was my first time seeing it and I just fell in love.  I started going to a few burlesque shows and eventually learned about the NY School of Burlesque.

Jack Nickelz: What finally made you want to make that jump to Burlesque?

Clara Coquette: Moving to New York was a big step for me.  It was nothing like I had ever done before. I didn’t know anyone in New York and didn’t have a job yet when I first moved here, so I didn’t even know if I was going to be staying.  Once I finally got a job, I stayed and started really meeting people in the city.  My new coworkers were the ones that introduced me to the Mermaid Parade.  We went that and the Mermaid Ball afterwards.  I saw so many amazing performers doing different styles of burlesque and immediately fell in love.  I still didn’t know how to get into or if I could even do it and I didn’t realize how immersed it was in New York nightlife.  A couple months later, I went to see a Nerdcore show and met Schaffer the Darklord.  Along with rapping, he was also involved with Epic Win Burlesque.  My next burlesque show was Epic Win’s Star Wars vs. Star Trek show.  I fell even more in love with burlesque after discovering its nerdiness.  I am not sure when I first learned about the NY School of Burlesque, but I didn’t take my first class until July 2011.  After that, I was still very nervous to be on stage.  So I took an act development class in November 2011 and finally made my debut in December 2011.

Jack Nickelz: Now to do Burlesque you have to have a good bit of confidence in yourself and your body. Is that how you have always been?

Clara Coquette: Yes and no.  When I was in middle school and early high school, I would get teased about how skinny I was and was called anorexic a lot.  I started wearing XL band t-shirts and giant raver pants.  I started gaining more confidence with my looks after I cut my hair short in high school and started dressing more feminine.  In college, I was pretty confident in my body but not completely with myself and who I was.  I was afraid to come out as pansexual being from a pretty conservative, WASPy area and having religious parents (My parents still don’t know).  Moving to the city increased my confidence and made me a more open, more outgoing person since I didn’t know anyone before I moved here.  Burlesque dramatically increased my confidence with my body and self.  I saw people of all different gender identities, sexual preferences, body types, styles, etc. express themselves on stage and it was so beautiful.  You have to be outgoing in this field to make friends and book shows.  I finally had met a group of people that were very accepting and supportive.

Jack Nickelz: How was your first Burlesque performance?

Clara Coquette: My first performance was December 12, 2011.  It was a classic act to “I Want to Be Bad” by Helen Kane.  I was completely nervous and didn’t make a lot of eye contact with the audience.  I was asked by a few people leading up to it if I was scared to be on stage naked.  For me, it was less the being naked and more about the dancing and movement.  I was afraid I was going to trip and fall, forget my choreography, or get “trapped” in my corset.  I had never taken dance classes, worked out much, played sports or was involved with theater growing up.  I felt very uncoordinated, clumsy, and nervous to be on stage.  But the more that I have performed and taken classes, the more confident I feel on stage.


Jack Nickelz: What have been some of your fav. routines to do?

Clara Coquette: My “Jazz Baby” act for many reasons. It’s a song from 1919 that was recorded acoustically by one of my favorite musicians, Marion Harris and I feel like I don’t see a lot of people performing to music that was recorded that long ago.  The costume is heavily influenced by 1920s burlesque outfits and dresses of the time and contains fringe and a rhinestone piece from an actual 1920s dress that was beyond repair.  I love my “Baby’s On Fire” act because it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum.  It’s a high energy silk fan dance to the South African rap-rave band, Die Antwoord.  I also love my nerdlesque acts.  After talking to friends about burlesque and my love of Star Wars, I decided that I wanted to do a notable, but more obscure character because I have seen a number of Leia and Vader acts.  I chose Admiral Ackbar because he is so well known especially with memes but not a character I’ve seen portrayed in burlesque.  So the act is based around his famous line “It’s a trap!” and I remove my clothing as I get stuck in a variety of traps.  I also love my new The Monarch from Venture Bros. act.  Again, I had seen quite a few Molotov Cocktease and Dr. Girlfriend/Dr. Mrs. The Monarch acts (the main female characters in the show), so I wanted to do something a little different and he is one of my favorite characters.

Jack Nickelz: Who are some of the Burlesque dancers that you admire?

Clara Coquette: I love the legends!  Seeing the older ladies get up on stage and perform is amazing.  This year I kittened the Annual Titans of Tease Reunion at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend.  I was able to talk with and hear stories about their lives and their careers in burlesque.  It was so interesting to see them backstage, nervous and anxious about performing just as new performers are.  Then the switch just flipped the second they walked on stage and they became a totally different people.  It was beautiful to see that they still have confident to get up there and bump and grind.  These women are grandmothers, great grandmothers, some haven’t performed for many years, and others have trouble walking, so they need to use walkers or wheelchairs.  The joy on their faces is just priceless.  As far as newer performers, I love Gin Minsky for her incorporation of tap dance and her love for the jazz age.  Fem Appeal because her style is very different and her multitude of acts/characters.  I love that you never know what you are going to see from her and her ability to transform between genders and portray so many different people.  I also respect that she has been producing a weekly show for the last nine years and performing in its weekly with rarely repeating an act within the year.  Tigger! was one of the first performers I saw at the Mermaid Ball and I love how he and Julie Atlas Muz both really push the envelope with whatever they do.  I think that’s what I love the most about the NYC scene.  Whatever crazy, controversial, weird, naked, trigger warning, disgusting, etc. idea that you have, you will be able to showcase it somewhere in this city.  If you have an idea for a show, there will always be a place to for you to produce it.  I have seen several performers do acts in “Bad Idea Shows” and continue to do them afterwards at other shows.  I have seen acts about rape, abortion, corruption, murder, etc. which can be done here and would not work in other cities and scenes.  The creativity and voice of this NYC scene is very inspiring.   530309_586237121403496_1612645328_n

Jack Nickelz: How many times do you have to explain to people that there is a difference between strip club dancing and Burlesque?

Clara Coquette: This really isn’t a question that I personally get a lot, but it does come up in the scene.  I think Burlesque and the New Bump-n-grind By Michelle Baldwin has a good review of this idea with quotes from performers that mostly has to do with money.  Bella Beretta said “somebody could put five grand on the stage and they’re going to see the same damn show I’ve been rehearsing in my living room.  It doesn’t change my show.  You come to my show; you don’t come to my work.  Money does not decide what I do.”  World Famous *BOB* said “Strippers make money and burlesque dancers put money into their next costume.”  There is nothing wrong with commercial stripping.  I have friends and a number of burlesque performers have or are currently working in commercial stripping.  I feel like burlesque is more about the art of tease, movement, storytelling, and self expression.

Jack Nickelz: Why do you think that Burlesque is once again becoming a big thing in the mainstream?

Clara Coquette: I think it is become more mainstream because there is less stigma attached to it.  I feel that it is also very empowering and can boost self esteem so even just taking classes is very appealing.  Burlesque allows all gender identities, sexual preferences, body types, etc. to express themselves artistically.

Jack Nickelz: Tell us a bit about your time at the New York School of Burlesque.

Clara Coquette: The New York School of Burlesque has been essential in my start and continuing development as a burlesque performer.  I took my first class with the New York School of Burlesque in July 2011.  It was the Essentials course with Jo Boobs which is a 4-week class that teaches the basics of burlesque including boas, gloves, strutting, tassel twirling, and coming up with stage names.  My second class was an intensive one day act development course in November 2011 with Jo Boobs which helped me develop my first act concept into my debut performance including helping to solidify my choreography, song choice, and costuming.  The NYSB offers weekly classes including Burlesque Booty with Peekaboo Pointe and Gal Friday, Flirting with Burlesque with Gal Friday, Darlinda Just Darlinda, and Edie Nightcrawler, and Roarin’ 1920s Dance Workout with Helen Pontani, which have all helped to enhance my skills as a performer.  The NYSB also has a variety of guest instructors which I have taken classes from including Michelle L’Amour (Chicago), Lola Frost (Vancouver), Miss Indigo Blue (Seattle), and Burlesque Legend, Marinka.  Skills taught range from facial expressions and storytelling to chair and fan dancing.

Jack Nickelz: Now some Burlesque dancers have done some pin up modeling work, is that something that you do as well?

Clara Coquette: I do model as well.  I do mostly vintage, pin-up, and alternative modeling.  I was just featured on the cover of  Giuseppina Magazine’s Alternative Issue (http://giuseppinamagazine.com/).  You can see some of my work on my Facebook page and my Model Mayhem account (http://www.modelmayhem.com/3345987).


Jack Nickelz: What advise do you have for anyone thinking of getting into Burlesque dancing?

Clara Coquette: Learn as much as you can before you jump in.  Read books about the subject, both about the history and about the neo-movement.  Definitely read The Burlesque Handbook by Jo “Boobs” Weldon.  Talk to performers and legends.  Go to show, lots of them and a variety of them: themed, nerdy, queer, classic and pretty, dirty and raunchy, etc.  Take classes: most major cities have burlesque schools and classes.  Keep learning and developing throughout your career.  Go to the Burlesque Hall of Fame and BHoF weekend.  I haven’t got to go yet, but I hear that BurlyCon is amazing (I’m planning to go next year).  It’s the only annual burlesque education convention where you take a variety of classes and go to panels from other performers, producers, costumers, legends, and other industry professionals.  Do research before you choose a stage name because you want it to be unique.  Research your act ideas before you get too deep into the idea especially for popular characters and songs.  Figure out how you are going to make the act different from what is already out there.

Jack Nickelz: Thank you once again for taking time out to do this. Is there anything that you would like to say to the fans and readers?

Clara Coquette: For anyone in the New York area that’s interested in becoming a burlesque performer, check out the New York School of Burlesque classes atwww.schoolofburlesque.com.  For anyone interested in keeping up with my life and performances, I’m on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ClaraCoquette), Twitter and Instagram (@ClaraCoquette), and I have a website at www.claracoquette.com.


Photo credit: Charles Farrah, Gabriel Biderman

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