In a 2016 interview with Jessica Price, burlesque powerhouse Perle Noire remarked that “any time a person of color reaches out to me with … complaint or they notice that other troupes aren’t featuring women of color, I always say: don’t present a problem, present a solution. If you feel that you’re not being represented, go out and represent yourself.”
Perle certainly practices what she preaches. The Noire Pageant, the first burlesque pageant to exclusively showcase POC performers, took place in New York City on March 12-15, 2020.
The unprecedented affair was the culmination of years of development, fundraising, and unshakable, single-handed determination, bringing together world-renowned headliners from across the globe.
Some performers competed to be crowned the next Noire Pageant King or Queen of Burlesque, while others braved the storm to showcase their artistry.
“I thought I prepared myself for everything that could go wrong,” Perle tells 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. “I was wrong on many levels. Despite or perhaps to spite all barriers standing in our way, The Noire Pageant was an unimaginable historic dream and a powerful healing circle that not even Covid-19 could tame or destroy.”
As the number of burlesque festivals has exploded across the globe, so too has the chance to win a competitive title at many of them. But despite the myriad opportunities for victory and recognition, only a relative handful of performers of color have been acknowledged.
After winning ‘Best Debut’ at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in 2008, Perle bypassed the Miss Exotic World crown altogether and became an undisputed icon in contemporary burlesque without its perceived prestige and validation.
Walking away from a title her peers have won is less surprising when Perle describes her experience of winning a burlesque title, and her subsequent “erasure”.
In 2010, Perle was crowned the first Queen of Burlesque at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival.
“I was so proud of myself because I managed to beat the odds. I competed against mainstream beauties and burlesque royalty, but Josephine Baker was with me that night.”
Perle’s jubilation didn’t last long.
“I wasn’t invited to perform a traditional step-down act,” Perle alleges. “In fact, Coco Lectric had to advocate for me with the festival producer, Rick Delaup. I actually had to audition to perform a step-down, and friends had to escort me into the festivities.
“What hurt the most was that although I was the Queen, my images were not used in any promotional material, and I wasn’t invited to appear in any television or radio interviews. In the years following, my name and image were completely left out of the history of the pageant.”
“I believe it’s time for a change,” Perle continues. “My mission is to promote glamour and to create opportunities for the POC burlesque community. I want to create a platform to help them become headliners, educators, and savvy entrepreneurs.”
To advance this mission, Perle created The Noire Pageant to “present, preserve and proliferate POC burlesque performers and their legacy of excellence and innovation”.
During the event, guests sipped on exquisite cocktails while an exhilarating lineup of performers including Drag Race star Jasmine Masters, Izohnny, Crocodile Lightning, Foxy Lexxi, Poison Ivory, and Tutu Toussaint took to the stage, curated to represent neo-burlesque, drag, androgynous artistry and transformative theater.
The Pageant awarded four titles – Noire Pageant Queen, King, Duchess and Princess of Burlesque – determined by an all-star judging panel which boasted Dirty Martini, Jo Weldon, Calamity Chang, Poison Ivory and Egypt Blaque Knyle, among others.
Perle has effusive praise for the inaugural winners.
“The King, Tre’ Da Marc, dazzled the audience with his confidence and sensual ferocity. He honored black magic with his commitment to glamour, musicality, and uninhibited energy. The crowd was on fire as he commanded the stage, their hearts, and the joy of celebrating the essence of a black man!
“The Queen, Chola Magnolia, called on the ancestors, and I witnessed souls dancing with her as she banged her tambourine and released old ghosts. She was stunning, and the entire Latin community celebrated their heritage, glamour, ancestors, and a new beginning with her that night, as did we.
“The Princess was none other than Kiki la Chanteuse, who is preserving the art of classic burlesque. Her performance reminded me of Josephine Baker’s performances because she was bold, statuesque, entertaining, and wasn’t afraid to incorporate singing into her striptease performance. Kiki has a powerful voice, and her tribute to her Creole heritage inspired us!
“The Duchess made the crowd gasp upon their enchanting entrance. Moscato Extatique – ‘The Them Fatale’ – honored their tagline and mission that night. I did not doubt that they would place. Moscato is not only a dancer, but their imagination and execution is magical. Their performance reminded me of the transition of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Each moment had a purpose, and each moment was spiritual for me.”
The pageant also featured workshops, and Dynastic Fantastic: A Noire Pageant Exhibition highlighting “the paths contemporary performers of color have taken to position themselves strategically to gain notoriety, economic stability, and create social change”.
“I’m a proud burlesque queen who believes in protesting against ignorance and the limited celebration of people who look like me,” Perle proclaims. “I’ve made it my mission to showcase the beauty and opulence of brown skin. Glamour has many faces. Burlesque has many faces. History will not repeat itself.”
As she celebrates and shares the triumph of The Noire Pageant, Perle’s focus inevitably turns to the Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the world in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“As I watch the news and look at my social media timeline, I am proud of all my friends and strangers who have dedicated their time to honor the voices of those who can not be heard,” she begins. “I am also terrified and emotional each time my eyes acknowledge the truth. Our reality is grievous and tiresome, and I want to do my part to contribute to our movement and well being.
“I am hosting a series of complimentary healing and burlesque workshops this month, and I want you to join me. If you’re protesting, watching the news, grieving, or feeling numb, it’s vital to focus on recharging emotionally, mentally, sensually, and spiritually. We’re absorbing negative imagery, death, racism, and more each day. We must focus on releasing the negative and hurtful energy to recharge each day.
“Some workshops are open to all, and some are POC exclusive workshops. They will focus on breathwork, connection exercises, affirmations, journaling, healing rituals, and burlesque-inspired movement to help you reclaim your power and recharge. You can register here.“
For more information about The Noire Pageant, please visit www.thenoirehalloffame.com
We encourage you to visit this list of organisations, petitions, educational content and donations funds in the US and UK which support the Black Lives Matter protests and seek to defeat racism in all its forms.
Black Lives Matter. Black Burlesque Matters.