The first time I saw Ms. Briq House perform, she was the headlining act at the one year anniversary dance party of erotic boutique WinkWink in Bellingham, WA. After the gorgeous but predictable opening acts closed out their cheery sets, the lights dimmed. A dark, moody song droned from the speakers.
Out stepped the one and only Ms. Briq House, floating like an immortal being in a gauzy cape and golden crown, a lit candle clasped between her hands in front of her chest. Her eyes were staring forward, no hint of a smile behind her lips. Without a single word, she commanded our silence and attention.
She came centre stage and stared piercingly into the crowd, unwavering. The song reached a crescendo and she slowly began to drip wax from the candle onto her skin, never breaking eye contact with the crowd, or betraying one hint of emotion or pain in her face. It was like nothing I had seen before.
When I call up Ms. Briq House for this profile, the first thing I ask is where the darkness in her acts comes from.
“Cupcake pinup burlesque is not my style,” she says. “I am full of light and dark, and both of those things are within me. I believe in connecting with people fully. I’m able to channel my energy and work through my performances. Burlesque is a channel for that.”
The Heartbreak Hotel
It was that drive to showcase her inner darkness that led Briq to host her first show, The Heartbreak Hotel, in Seattle years ago.
“I wanted to do an all POC burlesque show,” she says of her first ever production. “It was going to be about heartache and triumph over heartache. I wanted to talk about the other side of love. It was really sad and reflective burlesque mixed with irreverent and sexy burlesque. I’m not afraid of the sad scary beauty. I’m about showing both sides of the coin and the real.”
Since the early days of Heartbreak Hotel, which sold out back to back shows on opening weekend, Ms. Briq House has become an institution for BIPOC-centred, queer and kink-forward burlesque in the Pacific Northwest and the nation.
Her show Shuga Shaq, which she co-hosts with her colleague Sin de la Rosa, markets itself as the only all BIPOC burlesque revue in the Pacific Northwest. It’s widely known as a show that celebrates and elevates BIPOC performers and prioritizes BIPOC audience members.
Highlighting the Black queer experience and showcasing the darkness and the light: all of that is the manifestation of Briq House’s philosophy on burlesque – that sexuality and sex magick is a path of healing, for self and for society.
“Things can be sexy and great, and they can be horrific and scary and not fun,” she says. “Everybody’s sexy happy place looks really different. I’m not up on stage pretending that I made it to the mountaintop. I’m actively and constantly working through my healing. I’m working through myself and my shadows. I think people just appreciate that and appreciate me not fronting.”
Healing and Helping
As a survivor of childhood abuse, Briq’s healing process has been long and ongoing. She had a severely religious upbringing, got married at a young age and divorced soon after. Burlesque became the vehicle through which she began to step into her power.
“Burlesque was fulfilling and fun for someone who had been conditioned my whole life in this Christian cult to believe that I couldn’t show my body or express myself. I couldn’t be sexual on my own terms, you know. It was so freeing to feel like I was shaking myself free from those beliefs.”
Now she’s built her career dedicated to helping others get free in the same way. In addition to Shuga Shaq and solo acts, she facilitates workshops like ‘Body Love’ – a workshop for healing your connection to your body through sex positivity, ‘Drip Too Hard’ – a workshop for performers and sex workers about confidence and conserving your energy, and ‘Kink-Based Anti-Racism’. She offers consultations to couples and individuals, and intimate cuddle therapy.
“My favourite part of my work is my consultations,” she says. “I have really transformative healing conversations. The majority of people who are hitting me up for these conversations are survivors of sexual violence who want to cultivate their own practice with themselves. They’re wanting to work through things with their partners or establish their own brand of sexy and sensual intention.”
During the pandemic, consultations and online workshops have taken on a larger role in her work as clubs and venues in Washington State have shuttered until further notice. Burlesque performers across the country have suffered a financial hit without income from performing, but Briq House has had it especially tough over the past year. She’s faced housing insecurity and deaths and illnesses of family members, all of that on top of the lack of income without Shuga Shaq.
“It’s been a whirlwind of tragedies back to back,” she says. “A series of unfortunate events. I’m essentially trying to make my way back to Briq. I’ve had to take time off to deal with the matter of myself.”
Even amidst the layers of personal tragedy on top of pandemic strife, she’s still remaining true to what she calls her ‘sexual entrepreneurship’.
“I am still plotting and planning,” she says, “and I’ve got lots of good ideas. I have a sex toy company in the works. It’s going to be very inclusive and body safe. It’s going to be life changing and ground breaking. It’s really exciting.”
Her doggedness to thrive and persevere is fueled by an irrepressible optimism that shines through her performances.
“I am a super optimistic person,” she says, “and believe in the impossible on a regular basis. I call my optimism my secret power because my life has been so hard and rough, but somehow, someway, the universe decided that whoever has been through that much deserves some radically outrageous optimism. I’m not sure how anyone who has lived this life can remain so optimistic, so it must be magic. Here I am.”
She pauses, and then adds: “Having a beautiful black vagina keeps me super optimistic. It’s hard to be so sad when you’ve got a million dollar pussy between your legs.”
For burlesque hopefuls or fans who don’t often see themselves represented in the thin, white bodies behind the ostrich feather fans, Ms. Briq House – a proud, self-described ‘size 16 queen’ and a kinky, queer, femme Black woman – is a life saving breath of fresh air.
When I asked her what advice she has for a burgeoning burlesque performer, especially someone who is queer, or Black, or in a bigger body, and doesn’t necessarily see themselves represented in popular burlesque at large, she has a ready reply:
“Burlesque is a vehicle, it’s not the destination,” she says. “I would like folks to remember that. Who they are is going to shine through whatever they do. It doesn’t have to be important to everyone but it has to be important to you. The connection is what’s important, the exchange of energy, the continuation of love is what’s important. As long as we have that, we have everything.”
Briq House interviewed by Morgan Dykeman.