Egypt Blaque Knyle seems to have come out of nowhere to dominate nearly every major burlesque competition. In three years, she has amassed over twenty titles, earning the No.38 spot on the 21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Top 50 2016. Some have begun speculating about this dynamic performer’s background, her history, and just what causes her to be such a formidable competitor.
In January, I spoke with Egypt directly to hear her powerful story firsthand. What I learned was the story of a complex woman with a fascinating history.
Egypt Blaque Knyle grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a city she still calls home. She proudly identifies as Afro-Latina, and her heritage is a large part of her performance style. Raised primarily by her grandparents, Egypt began dancing at age four. Beginning with tap, she soon progressed to ballet and jazz, and eventually to modern dance.
In her early years, dance was a form of punishment, with her play time taken away if her ballet positions weren’t correct. Because of this, Egypt left formal dance education behind in fifth grade, only to return in Jr High School, when her elective choices were either PE or Dance. This was when dance became a serious pursuit.
“You see the women of colour in burlesque and we are all unique. We are not invisible. History will not remove us this time.”
At fourteen, Egypt entered the world of pageantry. In her first competition she was the only young woman of colour in a sea of white faces with Valley Girl accents. She describes this as a very scary experience, and one which prompted her to seek out pageants with more diversity. When Egypt competed for Miss LA, she began the talent portion of the competition by playing violin, then danced a modern piece to the same song. That year, Egypt took home the title, out of 150 contestants and only three other black girls. That was the spark which lit her fire, and she states that from then on, she ‘became an unstoppable competitor’.
In total, Egypt has participated in 45 pageant competitions, accumulating 26 wins.
When asked how she describes herself, the first words out of Egypt’s mouth are ‘a mother’.
At sixteen, Egypt had her daughter. She now has two biological children and one goddaughter, who are at the centre of her life. Although it was also occasionally a hardship, Egypt views being a teen mother as a blessing. The neighborhood in South Central LA was heavily saturated with gangs. Having her daughter, dance, and ultimately the pageant world to focus on kept her out of that life.
Teenage motherhood also provided Egypt with an opportunity to give back to her community. She began working with other young women, sharing her story, letting them know that ‘just because they’d had children didn’t mean they needed to stop everything’. This was at a time when arts funding was being heavily cut from schools, being replaced with sports. This prompted Egypt to begin offering dance classes within her community, specifically for young women of colour.
Egypt Blaque Knyle was the first in her family to graduate from both high school and college.
After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Dance, Egypt refocused her post graduate degree on Social Work. Little did she know, a close family member would be diagnosed with HIV, and her degree would abruptly take on new meaning. Whereas she initially thought to pursue a career working with children, her focus shifted to HIV/AIDS patients, which is where it has remained.
After high school, Egypt auditioned for Disney’s The Lion King. Although she wasn’t selected during the first round of auditions, she was chosen in the second round, and ended up dancing for Disney for approximately thirty shows and parades over the course of thirteen years.
Egypt’s fierce tenacity and competitive nature landed her a spot on the Raiderettes Cheerleading squad, where she cheered until the team left LA. She then joined the Rams Cheer Squad until they too left the city. At this point, she started dancing for a few prominent Rap and R&B artists, and also became a feature dancer in strip clubs. She put her professional training and glam aesthetic to work, and quickly garnered international opportunities.
In 2012, during a difficult relationship, the woman who would become the burlesque persona Egypt Blaque Knyle took a workshop series with Lili Von Schtupp, a performer who would later become a mentor to Egypt. Unfortunately, her partner at the time made some very negative comments, and she didn’t move forward with burlesque.
Instead, she became an instructor at The Secret Pole Dance Studio in LA, where she developed what she describes as her ‘Barebones’ teaching style. She discovered herself as a sexual being and learned how to help others do the same. She still teaches at the Secret Pole Dance Studio, and in addition has now developed a reputation as a ‘Naughty Counselor’, using the discoveries she’s made to help individuals and couples with their own journey of sexual discovery.
Egypt Blaque Knyle: Burlesque Competitor
In 2014, performer April Showers was part of a small group headed to the Great Southern Exposure Burlesque Festival, and invited Egypt to come along, suggesting that she submit. Egypt had been working in the studio with a student and heard the Led Zeppelin song I Can’t Quit You Baby. On a whim, she developed a routine to the piece, submitted it, and was accepted. She won Princess of the Great Southern Burlesque Festival 2014/2015, and the act has since become a signature.
‘I begin competing when I walk in the door,’ says Egypt. I’m dressed the part. Every time I walk out, it’s a pageant. It must be over the top!’ She also maintains that, rather than competing to be better than her fellow performers, she is competing to be better than herself.
Egypt has developed relationships with several performers she considers to be mentors, including Jeez Loueez, Red Bone, Perle Noire, and her newest mentor: SweetPea. Many Legends have had a hand in mentoring Egypt, including Trina Parks, her dance mentor. Egypt describes the joys of long conversations with Gabriella Maze, Suzette Fontaine, Kitten Natividad and Satan’s Angel, and the opportunity to ask questions of Toni Elling and Bic Carrol. Egypt expresses her love for knowledge, and for the burlesque community’s appreciation of its legends.
Although careful to clarify that each award is meaningful in its own way, when asked specifically about which of her titles stand out as particularly significant, Egypt selected the following.
Unsung Hero Award: HIV/AIDS Prevention 2016
‘This means everything to me, because it brings so much meaning to my name,’ says Egypt. Winning the Unsung Hero Award was a way to tie the public and personal elements of her lives together.
Sparkly Devil Scholarship
Egypt became very emotional talking about the significance of winning the Sparkly Devil Memorial Scholarship. She describes the application process as a time where she spoke her truth, terrified that she was going to be judged for it. Instead, she was accepted and awarded.
‘It felt like a monumental moment,’ says Egpyt. ‘The whole weekend was very empowering. I was able to sit with burlesque legends who knew who I was, and some of them said they’d learned things from me. Burlesque icons like Dirty Martini knew who I was. Suzette Fontaine, one of my favourite legends, said she loved my work. It was unreal!’
Egypt says the 2016 Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend felt like a breakthrough for performers of colour. The same year as our second black Miss Exotic World, there was an increase of black performers for Movers, Shakers and Innovators. These things, to Egypt, seem like steps in a positive direction.
Burlypicks World Championship Games ‘Overall Winner’ 2016
Egypt names this as a significant achievement partially because of all the elements which came together for it to happen. She competed three times before she won the California Burlypicks regional title, making her eligible to compete at the World Championship. She went in to 2016 feeling like this was her year, and she was proud to show there are strong performers in Los Angeles.
In Egypt’s own words, her journey in burlesque as a woman of colour has had ups and downs.
‘Anything is possible for something that you really want. If burlesque is an art that you really want, you have to set goals. Everybody wants to be Queen of Burlesque. But maybe that’s not your path. I think my path is to show women of colour, or weight, or whatever, that I went through the struggle. My journey is to let you guys see that I went through the path of rejection. You see me break all those barriers. I didn’t have to rant, or curse, or break anybody down to do it.
‘As an African American woman, you must be patient and do the work. You have to set a goal and work toward it, and work toward it extra hard as a woman of colour. You see the women of colour in burlesque and we are all unique. We are not invisible. History will not remove us this time.’
When discussing her goals, Egypt makes no qualms about her desire to be the record holder for most awards and titles in burlesque history. This goal came about somewhat as a joke, with a sarcastic remark: ‘Is your goal to win all the titles, at all the festivals, in the entire world?’ Instead of taking the question personally, Egypt thought it over and decided to make that a core focus of her burlesque career.
In addition to winning awards, Egypt plans to return to school to get her PhD in Psychology, with a focus on sex studies. The goal closest to her heart is to create a legacy for herself. Egypt says that she would like to have a lasting place in history, one which will be remembered. It appears that Egypt Blaque Knyle is well on her way to achieving her goals.
Current List of Egypt Blaque Knyle’s Burlesque Titles
21st Century Burlesque Magazine’s Burlesque Top 50 2016 No. 38
Unsung Hero Award for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention 2016
Miss San Antonio Burlesque Queen 2016
Burlypicks World Championship Games Overall Winner 2016
Legends Choice Burlypicks International 2016
Master of Assels Burlypicks International 2016
Best Dancer Burlypicks International 2016
Most Fierce Burlypicks International 2016
Best Costume Burlypicks International 2016
Miss Pin Up Perfection Queen 2016
Most Entertaining AburlyQ 2016
California Burlypicks Gold Medalist 2016
California Burlypicks Master of Assels 2016
Miss Viva Las Vegas 1st Runner Up 2016
Sparkly Devil Scholarship Winner, Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2016
Best Soloist Great Burlesque Exposition 2016
Most Erotic Hollywood Burlesque Festival 2015
Queen of Southern Fried Burlesque Festival 2015
People Choice Award Southern Fried Burlesque Festival 2015
Biggest Tease Oklahoma Burlesque Festival 2015
Silver Medal Winner CA Burlypicks 2015
Princess of the Great Southern Burlesque Festival 2014/15