An Interview with Burlesque Student Becca Kemp
Welcome to the fifth installment of These My Nominated Bitches! Today's bitch was nominated by my friend, and fellow bitch, Freya West. Take it away, Freya!
I don't mean to brag, but I kind of have the best job in the world. I teach ladies to shimmy, and the most incredible people walk into my life because of it. Becca came to my chair dance class with a friend, and thankfully she's been one of my steady showgirls in training since then! I don't know her much outside of the studio, but she's consistent, confident, and makes modifications for cranky knees look truly beautiful. She'll grinduate from Delinquent Debutantes with her first act at the end of September, and I can't wait to see the semi-naked art she creates! -- Freya
What do you perform and what is your stage name?
I am a burlesque student at Delinquent Debutantes in Nashville and an aspiring performer... Stage name yet to be determined! I've been taking burlesque classes for about eight months and am beginning the final series of classes that will finish with a performance of getting a bit naked in front of a real audience.
When did you first learn about this field of dance? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Last summer, I finally learned that the chronic pain in my knees was advanced arthritis with severe degeneration. I had just finished recovering from major abdominal surgery and now I was told I couldn't exercise the way I wanted anymore. My body had become my adversary and it was so discouraging. My friend Rachel happened to mention that she was going to try a burlesque dance class and wanted me to go with her. My initial reaction was "absolutely not". I never dance. I am incredibly clumsy. I have limited mobility. But in the last few years, I've tried to deliberately contradict the negative stories I tell myself and expand my definition of who I am. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do something scary and wildly outside of my comfort zone.
The first class I took was Chair Dance and initially I felt so awkward I wanted to cry and run away. But Delinquent Debutantes has such a welcoming and supportive vibe in the classes, no matter your size, age, or abilities. There’s no sense of judgment or competition. We are all there to have fun and move and let loose. The teachers gladly modified choreography for me when my knees wouldn’t cooperate. I’m so grateful that burlesque classes gave me back the enjoyment of movement and fitness. I’ve met wonderful friends and it never fails that I leave class happier than when I arrived. Even still, I never imagined that I would consider performing. But I kept taking more classes and workshops and now I’m taking that next scary step.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The mirror is just a tool. Nothing more. It's not your enemy, it's not your self-esteem, it doesn't assess your value as a person. It's just a shiny piece of glass that shows you if you need to point your toes or lift your chest or smooth out that hip roll.
And if you don’t know what to do, just move your butt.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you perform?
Don’t make an “Oh shit!” face! No matter what happens, keep going and make it look like you totally meant to do that. It’s fantastic advice for everything in life, not just burlesque.
What would you do with two more hours a day?
I’d probably use one hour to sleep and one hour to knit. I love the processing of designing and creating with string that came off of a sheep.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
Way back in my younger days, I was a US Army bomb squad technician. My greatest accomplishment is being a graduate of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School. It’s one of the most difficult schools in the military, boasting a 60% failure rate, and it taught me toughness and perseverance. I spent five years destroying dangerous ammunition and rendering safe unexploded ordnance. However, when it comes to dancing, with my military background I tend to march and glare rather than shimmy and smile. Burlesque has given me a new way to connect with my body and express my confidence in a completely different style.
How do you decompress at the end of the work day?
There's no better way for me to unwind than to move. Sometimes I go for a hike, but more often than not, I am at the Delinquent Debutantes studio after work. My day job in finance involves sitting at a desk all day, so I'm more than ready to stretch out and shake my butt. Flipping upside down on a chair is a great way to forget about deadlines and meetings.
What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?
The fear that selfishness, hatred, and ignorance in our country will drown out hope and goodness.
What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?
That you have to know how to to dance or that you have to have the “right” kind of body to enjoy burlesque. There’s this clamor of cultural messages that says we have to hold back and make ourselves less visible if we don’t hit some ever changing target of “perfect”. Not in burlesque! Anyone can do this. I am SO not a dancer. I’m 46 years old, my body is achy and far from perfect. You can be sexy and badass and silly at any age or size or ability. This is a place where you can be exactly who you are and celebrate it, even if you don’t want to perform.
What does self care look like in your life?
There are very few problems in life that can’t be made better by taking a nap.
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?
Cursing. Cursing helps. I write, too. Letting my tangled thoughts flow out onto paper or a keyboard is the best therapy.
I like the quote, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.” It’s a good reminder to love myself perfectly where I am while continuing to grow and improve.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
My daughter inspires me. She is 19 years old and just finished her freshman year at the University of Oregon. She’s an incredibly hard worker and so much braver and smarter than I was at her age. We took a road trip from Nashville to the Oregon coast last fall and I had a blast with her. I’m delighted at the person she’s becoming and I think she’s getting a kick out of me learning to bump and grind. Sometimes I can’t believe this beautiful and successful young woman is my child but then I think that I raised her, so she must have gotten some of that from me! Her bold and adventurous spirit gives me encouragement to go out and be bold too.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
Jessica Jones. Black licorice.
All photos courtesy of Becca Kemp