An Interview with Burlesque Performer Freya West

You guys, I am so excited about this post! If you know anything about me, you know that Freya is my spiritual guide to body positivity and pizza. I met Freya in 2012 when I was two weeks into what would turn out to be a terrible job. I'm pretty sure my first words to Freya were "Run! Seriously, if you got offered any other job, take it." That job broke my brain and crushed my soul, BUT, I got Freya out of it. And I learned how to do front humps. Kind of.

I don't know a lot of people like me, people who get praise for doing things that other people think they can't do. It's hard because you want to be gracious and you don't want to discount the work, but you also want to help people realize they can do the same thing. It's just work, and you either decide to do it or you don't. Freya is a fantastic performer and teacher, but it's not a superpower, it's work. Meet today's bitch, my soul sister in cheese, Freya West!

What do you make/teach and what is the name of your business?

I’m a burlesque warrior and headmistress. I make ephemeral sexy performance art on stage and I teach the art of charisma at Delinquent Debutantes, Nashville’s very own burlesque finishing school.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I saw my first burlesque show in college in Chicago, mostly because it was at a BYOB theatre and my underaged friends and I knew they didn’t card. Instead of being drunk off booze though, I found this beautiful show of badass women who were bawdy, who were all sizes, and who were all unabashedly sparkly.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

It’s the most terrifying and gratifying thing I’ve ever done. After my first performance, I immediately wanted to start on the next one. And I still leave every class with a smile. In short, it makes me happy.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

I found burlesque classes in Chicago. After about a year of classes with Michelle L’Amour, one of the world’s best stripteasers, I made my debut in 2008. I moved to Nashville in 2009 and joined Music City Burlesque the same year. In 2010 I started performing at festivals across the United States and Canada, which are like big networking events in burlesque, just with more rhinestones and less clothing. In 2011 I headlined Iceland’s very first burlesque show with their national circus and began teaching seriously. I opened Delinquent Debutantes as it’s own studio in 2014. That’s the tiny highlight reel of my eight years performing, failing, trying new things, failing better, and growing.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Performing is always sort of being your own boss, which as someone who’s always had - erhm - struggles with authority, was appealing to me. I started teaching because I was asked to, and it’s absolutely the best decision I’ve ever made.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, do what will make you money. Can you finish something that will make you $100 today?

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Money! I had saved from teaching just enough to put down the deposit and first month’s rent when I decided to make the leap to studio ownership, and then we crowdfunded the actual buildout, which was incredible, but we started a business at literally $0 in the bank. It’s quite a motivator to know that you have to make your expenses every month because there is no cushion.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Every day is a new day. No matter how bad or good yesterday was, get up and do the work today. You can’t rest on your laurels (but you should celebrate your successes!), similarly, you can’t wallow in your failures (but a little cry and sad music helps the process). I also think this keeps you humble, because you’re just there to show up, put your head down and do the work.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

You can’t do everything by yourself. My ever-loving and patient husband, Keith, has saved my ass multiple times, from forgetting little things for a show to big things like those midnight tears when you’re too stressed to sleep. A little support goes a long way. If your work is good and helpful (if it’s not, why are you doing it?), then people will want to help. Pick the right people, and let them help! When we first opened the studio, Shan (my right hand business and friend babe) and I would do all the teaching, all the cleaning, and all the promo. It was way too much. Once we made the leap to trust four incredible women to work the front desk and do cleaning duties, the entire studio shined brighter, our customer service went up, and those women are so much more invested in the success of this business.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Spend that time reading and taking in art. I never lack for inspiration, but I feel so much more fed as an artist and as a business owner when I allow myself the space and time to be an audience to someone else’s art.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My performing career definitely took a hit when I opened the studio, because I had this newborn business that needed all my attention. A year and a half in, that’s starting to shift again as the studio begins to become more self-sufficient. I also tend to keep the worst working hours, as I’m in classes until 10pm and then will answer emails until midnight, but that’s not a huge sacrifice since I’m a night owl.

I’ve been very humbled by the experience of relying on others to help build this business, but it’s all been so worth it. Becoming more vulnerable with my own shortcomings, and owning up to mistakes while still leading a company is living with continual growing pains. Again though, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

With the exception of about five performers in Nashville, all the rest of the burlesquers here I trained. Some of them are producing shows, teaching at the studio, and performing at festivals and big events now. It’s beautiful to feel like I’ve really grown this community up and provided an opportunity to let these ladies shine.

As a performer, that Iceland gig is still a big highlight for me. This year I’ve also been asked to perform and speak at two major conventions outside burlesque, and I’m thrilled that my work is being recognized outside of our tiny industry. I hope I get to continue spreading the gospel of bawdy positivity!

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

I’m totally a morning Instagram stalker! I can’t handle my inbox first thing, nor the hectic pace of Facebook, so looking at people’s curated food/travel/clothing happies in the morning makes me feel like I can tackle the other things.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

I’m going to be boring and tell you that inspiration is everywhere, but it really is true! I get ideas for acts and shows everywhere from being stuck in traffic to a beautiful hike in nature. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Epsom salt baths save my ass (literally). Being in water at the end of the day means I can’t be online and have to relax. I’m also a big fan of mindless TV and midnight snacks ;)

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

I don’t know if it’s obvious or not, but motivation on bad days. When the self-sabotage in your head starts, you have to be very vigilant that it won’t wreck those precious hours that you need to be productive and move forward. Times like those, I’m thankful to have friends to reach out to. Having a lunch with someone who knows is essential to my mental health.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Of all time? Probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve watched the series a few times all the way through and it’s still really enjoyable. Right now? I’m watching Six Feet Under and it’s so, so brilliant.

Favorite snack, cheese, without a doubt. I often credit my photos with “body by cheese” and it’s true. Specifically, my favorite weird snack that I can’t keep in the house because I devour it is Ruffles potato chips dipped in cottage cheese. It’s salty crunchy creamy perfection!

All photos courtesy of Freya West

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Transformational Facilitator, Susi Willis!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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