interview with a burlesque dancer

Nestled between a CVS Pharmacy and a parking garage stand resilient, liquid black doors. Gold Coast tourists and tenants alike obliviously overlook the gateways to an era nearly forgotten by Chicago; it doesn’t help that this lounge is entitled Untitled. Whiskey vaults and thick leather armchairs occupy the elite and the informed. Complementary Marlboro 27s entice the ladies, planted in between perfume and hairbrushes in the dimly lit restrooms.

Clad in pink panties and her boyfriend’s black tee, Amanda Gonzalez* sits at the center table in her Edgewater home, surrounded by glitter, beads and lumps of fabric designing her latest costume. This 28-year-old Los Angeles native discusses the confidence-boosting, depression-combating, female-empowering art that distinguishes her uniquely as Siobast: Burlesque.

Tell me about burlesque.
Burlesque is about the art of teasing. It’s stripping, but it’s not just stripping. Not that stripping is wrong or anything like that, I’m all for it. Burlesque is about teasing and having fun. I’m all about empowering human beings. In burlesque, girls can feel like they are beautiful and empowered. For me, that’s how it started. I would see girls like Dita Martini and think, ‘Oh my god she’s so curvy! And beautiful! And sexy! And fun! And she’s having a blast! I want to do that!’ But also project that for other women who feel like they can’t be models. It’s an artistic outlet and a way to express myself. I try to make other people also feel like they can do this; that this is for everyone, not just one specific body type. It’s not about sex. It’s about whoever puts themselves out there and says, ‘I want to do burlesque.’

What sparked your interest?
Burlesque is something that seemed attractive to me from the very first time I saw it. The feathers. The glitter. The attitude. The teasing. For someone that fluctuates in weight so much and has so many issues with body image and the way I feel about myself, it seemed like a ring to my finger. It just fit perfect. I can get all of the attention I want on stage and then I don’t have to act all crazy in real life. I really like that I can take my clothes off, because that’s just fun. Period.

Do you have a day job, so to speak?
I am a server in a restaurant downtown. It’s definitely just a pays the bills type of job, but I do get inspiration because I hear awesome music, and think, ‘Oh! I should do a classical musical piece to this!’ It’s white table clothes and velvet booths. It’s a great place and I love it, but it’s no Paris Club.

Do you make money dancing, or is it more of a hobby?
I feel like I’m getting paid to party. I don’t make any money to pay the bills, but I make money to be out that night and do what I want, and a little extra for something else. It’s really money sucking because there’s always another costume and another act and another idea.

It sounds pretty addicting.
Oh it is. It’s extremely addicting, in a great way. The artistic outlet aspect is what’s the most compensating from it. It’s almost even a way to deal with depression. I was depressed for a really long time. It’s kind of saddening, but I didn’t want to be here, I hated this place. This life place? It’s awful. People hate each other and treat each other like crap. I’m sitting here by myself playing Farmville because everyone sucks and I don’t like anyone and they don’t like me and it’s so stupid. Then I found this and everything made sense. It’s almost like therapy, making and creating. I’m sure people find this in other outlets. Firefighters, I’m sure, feel empowered. Doctors feel, you know, they’re doing awesome things. But for those of us who don’t have the education, the funds, or downright the brains to do something of that level, there’s little outlets you can find. This is it for me. This is what I love to do. Maybe that will change but for now, this is it.

Are there any public misconceptions about burlesque?
Absolutely. I get a lot of the eye rolling, ‘Oh… you’re a stripper…” Well first off being a stripper isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Not that I’m not, but burlesque is not just stripping. All that sexism and shit really upsets me. If you’re a burlesque dancer, you must be a party girl, that’s a huge misconception. A lot of these women are serious women and have serious jobs. They have their own families and do it because they like it, not because they want to party all the time or be drunk all the time. I personally am. A lot of my peers are not. After the show they put on their jeans, they go home and in the morning they go to the office.

Have you ever dealt with uncomfortable situations?
Personally, it hasn’t happened. The venues I have worked for have been really great about things like that. It’s definitely starting to be addressed, which is a great thing… But which shouldn’t really be addressed in the burlesque scene, it should be addressed in any environment you’re in. Don’t fucking touch someone unless they told you to, you know?

How did you come up with your stage name?
I’m an animal freak. I love my cat and felines have been a big part of my life. I love all animals, but felines are what I’m particularly about. And you know, Kat Von D, there’s a lot of kitties and cats. I didn’t want to be just another cat. Bast is an Egyptian goddess portrayed as a black cat, a lot of times with dark eyes. Which is pretty awesome because I have black hair and dark eyes. If I were a feline, I would be a black jaguar.

*Name changed to protect identity.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

invisible food

One out of five American children are hungry. Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization with more than 200 food depositories located through America, reported that children suffer the most from hunger. “It’s never a child’s fault that they don’t have enough to eat,” Nikki Grizzle, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the nation-wide children’s charity, Blessings in a Backpack, said, “so why should they suffer?” Children who are malnourished for an extended amount of time can suffer mental, physical and cognitive disorders, according to Ross Fraser, the Director of Media Relations at Feeding America. James Conwell, the Communications Manager of The Greater Chicago Food Depository, reported that within Cook County, one out of four children are hungry, whereas the national average is one out of five. “It’s kind of an invisible issue,” Fraser said.

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atalanta and the lion

Atalanta (noun): A huntress who would marry only someone who could beat her in a foot race. She was beaten when a suitor threw down three golden apples, which she stopped to pick up[1]. According to Greek mythology, Atalanta’s father left her to die on a mountaintop, for she was not the son he had desired. Legend has it that bears cared for Atalanta until hunters had found her. She was raised in the wilderness, apart of a wild pack of family bears. Atalanta was a fierce and female and happy huntress who was utterly uninterested in men; she took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis. Her father eventually returned to his daughter and demanded she wed, despite her lack of desire for marriage. A game was thus proposed. A competition. Those who lost to her in the foot race would be killed. The winner? Her husband. With help from the goddess Aphrodite, a young man Hippomenes was given three golden apples to roll on the ground during the race; slowing Atalanta down, for they were irresistible to her. Zeus turned the couple into lions after they made love in once of his sacred temples. Other legends say Aphrodite turned them into lions because they didn’t honor her. Lions could not mate within their own species – only with leopards. Atalanta and Hippomenes would never be together again. Underhandedly, Atalanta was given the opportunity to once again be alone in the wild. Returned to her independence. Free.

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fall reflection

No matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing, one detail remains sempiternally true: The first semester of college is stressful. Values, work ethic, and even individual penchants are challenged by the labile nature of attending a university. When Allie Yazel and I discussed our beliefs of what journalism is and whom we hope to work for, our reveries flourished in our wide, dilated eyes. I believe my dreams didn’t change, but evolved. I went into our class believing that the definition of journalism is to bring light to the issues that are still in the dark. I still have this belief, but I understand the difficulty in it and thus appreciate it even more. Talking about controversial issues like terrorism or politics or the latest big-news murder trial, using credible and factual sources, maintaining an objective voice and still being sensitive to your audience, is pretty damn hard.

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jesse jackson jr.

Jesse Jackson Jr. deserves a pat on the back. After having an affair with a waitress, being Candidate #5, and resigning from Congress due to his bipolar disorder and ongoing federal investigation 15 days after being elected, it’s hard to remember the once-promising political candidate he was; a rising star in Chicago, Presidential material, even. He tried, right? It’s not his fault all of these “false” scandals broke out! But, to quote Cassius, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

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ellen carpenter

Ellen Carpenter is the quintessential journalist: professional, talented, and hard working. However, with the current title deputy editor of Nylon Magazine and previously an editor for both Rolling Stone Magazine and Spin Magazine, these cookie-cut definitions don’t, well, cut it. Ellen Carpenter is more than a journalist. She’s a mother, a music enthusiast, and “a theater geek”– above all, she is passionate.

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people aren’t supposed to look back

“‘So,’ said Billy gropingly, ‘I suppose that the idea of preventing war on Earth is stupid, too.’ (Vonnegut).” War and literature are sanguinely germane to Kurt Vonnegut. Throughout the Vietnam War, he and postmodern authors analogous depicted the intergalactic—through the wonted use of space travel—as a literal and imaginative frontier to essentially homestead. In Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-five, space travel functions as an escape from protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s psychological problems, elicited from his particular and personal experience in World War II; thus metaphorically exemplifying the lives of the American people and the austere realities they faced in the 1950s through 1970s during the Vietnam War. Vonnegut’s science fiction novel, published in 1969, (Reiko, 1) creates literary escapism from subsisting with the experiences that Vietnam brought and continued to produce. The recurring theme in American science fiction—space travel—emerged from the post-depression period, epitomized in Slaughterhouse-five: Where celestial crossings and the fourth dimension symbolically imply forms of detachment from reality and the repercussions of war.

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convince + create

“I wish I was your age,” Rick Kogan – yes, the Rick Kogan of the Chicago Tribune – says to one of Columbia College’s introduction to journalism classes that I happen to be apart of. A few of us twist around the plastic chairs to get a glimpse at the man of the hour. I am in the front row of a beautiful conference room with a beautiful view at WBEZ’s Navy Pier home, waiting to be enlightened. Truthfully, I had been doubtful: do I really want to be a journalist? This is a dying field. Rick Kogan walks up the isle with the confidence only a cultured, urbane writer can. “You’re in for a remarkable journey,” he says to our wide-eyed, diverse class. And so it begins.

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