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21 Questions with Jessabelle Thunder

21 Questions with Jessabelle Thunder

Jessabelle Thunder, by Jason Kamimura

Jessabelle Thunder has been dancing joyously across burlesque stages since 2009. With a wink of her eye and a thrust of her hips, she’ll have you hooked. In 2018, Jessabelle was awarded first runner-up for Miss Exotic World at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, and was voted number 8 in the Burlesque TOP 50 2020 by 21st Century Burlesque readers. Somehow, she managed to squeeze 21 Questions into her busy schedule…

1. How would you define yourself in three words?

Fun, goofy, ambitious.

2. Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Gabrielle Union.

3. What is your biggest strength?

Self awareness.

4. What is your biggest weakness?

Procrastination, aka a lack of self efficacy at times.

Jessabelle Thunder, by Matt Anderson
Jessabelle Thunder, by Matt Anderson

5. When are you most happy and inspired?

I’m most inspired when chatting with friends. Happiest with friends, and also alone doing absolutely nothing.

6. What is your favourite on-screen burlesque moment from film or TV? 

Ooh! First thing that came to mind was the opening scenes of The Silencers; I think that’s the Matt Helm movie I’m thinking of.

7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

To take risks and put myself out there.

Jessabelle Thunder, by Jason Kamimura
Jessabelle Thunder, by Jason Kamimura

8. If you could switch lives with one person for a day, who would it be?

I have no idea!

9. What’s the biggest myth or misconception about burlesque?

That you have to look a certain type of way to do it and have dance training. Also that it’s easy!

10. If you could only perform to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

My It’s Only (by Odseza) act.

Jessabelle Thunder on stage.

11. What surprisingly useful things do you have in your show case?

Tons of bobby pins and safety pins.

12. Do you have a backstage ritual?

This might sound crazy to some, but I do the Sign of the Cross when I’m side stage before I go on. It’s my way of saying ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck this up completely’.

13. What advice would you give to new performers starting out today?

Take classes from various people in various creative fields and never stop learning and honing your craft. Learn all you can, especially from the legends.

Jessabelle Thunder, by Neil Kendall
Jessabelle Thunder, by Neil Kendall

14. What is your proudest achievement?

Winning first runner-up at BHOF 2018, because I did NOT expect my name to be called. I’d also like to add all the great friends I’ve made because of burlesque. If I wasn’t involved in burlesque, these people wouldn’t have came into my life and I’m very grateful for them.

15. What is your biggest regret?

All the times I’ve held myself back, whether asking for my rate, reaching out to certain people, or being too shy to approach people I look up to.

16. What is the biggest challenge facing today’s burlesque scene?

Diversity in burlesque is a big challenge. Representation matters. Who we showcase, and how, can have an impact on larger society. In particular, I want to see more large scale black burlesque shows. I want to see more black burlesque performers being showcased. The burlesque community has shifted but there’s still more work to be done, like black show producers. We aren’t just one note; like everyone else in the world, we are multifaceted. We can be classic, we can be neo, we can be lyrical. We can and are all the things – we can do it all! How is it that people still don’t realise that we exist in this art form? 

17. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing when you started out in burlesque, what would it be?

Enjoy and embrace the journey, because you’re going to learn a lot through this art form and know your worth!

Jessabelle Thunder, by Jason Kamimura
Jessabelle Thunder, by Jason Kamimura

18. What is a cause or issue that’s very important to you?

As well as representation of black performers in burlesque and larger society, another thing that’s important to me is mental health.

19 What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?

Reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, listening (on repeat) to Doja Cat’s Planet Her and Dreamland by Glass Animals, and watching Love Island UK and Shrill.

20. If you could share a dressing room with one performer for the rest of your career, who would it be?

Oh easy! My bestie, Tito Bonito.

21. What would you like your life and career to look like in 10 years time?

Oh wow, 10 years. Travelling all over the world with a touring all-black burlesque revue alongside some of the biggest black burlesque stars. Maybe by then my home base will be in London!

Jessabelle has created the show Marvelous and Melanated, alongside Simone Del Mar, Sheila Star Siani and Egypt Blaque Knyle. “We produced a successful virtual burlesque show with all-black performers from LA, and now that things are starting to open back up again, we’re slowly but surely planning our first ever live rendition.

You can check out Jessabelle’s website, and follow her on Instagram.

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