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.