Have you ever made a bad decision you’ve always regretted? I know I have. But for one burlesque performer, a single lapse of judgement could have proved fatal. Four years later, they’ve come through the fire and are ready to be heard.
Nox Falls, who has been a burlesque artist for eight years, describes their distinctive brand of performance as “seductive neo dark themes applied to mundane situations or experiences, with a message of never-ending empowerment”.
Naturally artistic as a child, Nox was shy, closeted, and home-schooled. It wasn’t until they found burlesque in their late twenties that they came into their own.
“I became Nox Falls when I started performing/competing in slam poetry, eventually becoming the overall winner of our local Slam Battle. Shout out to my Slamarillo fam, you have my heart!”
“My intended message is always the same: to show that my Black is beautiful, desirable, strong, sexy, and MINE.”
“We didn’t have a school in my hometown for burlesque; it was the type of art you just ‘did’ by research and practice alone with help from the internet. So, I did just that – sometimes well and sometimes badly – and I kept pushing at it because I fell so hard for the dress-up and revelry of it all.
“I really, really like getting almost naked onstage to a beat,” Nox continues. “I love everything from the costuming to the music mixing to the choreography, and I take power from the art unapologetically. Every time I step onstage, I do it for me, and also for someone who needs to see that representation, whether it be Black, thick, short, alternative, or neo-burlesque.
“My intended message is always the same: to show that my Black is beautiful, desirable, strong, sexy, and MINE.”
Nox’ signature ‘Foxy Noxy’ act embodies this philosophy.
“Foxy Noxy is an ode to the seventies (my favorite decade when it comes to a lot of black culture). She was based on a velvet painting my father had made of a 1970s Playboy model. I always wanted the painting but was never afforded the chance as I was so young and my mother wanted it out of the house. I wanted to make that painting come to life and become the woman that I was obsessed with for years.
“When I finally sent my mom SFW pictures of me in the purple velvet set and panel skirt, complete with the iconic Afro, she responded, ‘You remind me of that lil nasty painting your dad had when we lived in our first house.’ I felt then that body of work was completed and successful – that I finally told a story that mattered the most to me.
“I debuted in 2015, and I WORE IT OUT. I toured and took it to almost every festival that accepted it. To see it go so far has been warming and humbling.”
Grace Jones has been a constant inspiration to Nox.
“Her ability to make anything instantly provocative while becoming a type of armor is fascinating to me. I remember first seeing her in Conan as a kid and wanting to be ‘the strong lady’. She could stare into space knitting a sweater and I’d watch every minute. I want to be that interesting one day, to make that type of defining difference in someone.”
The proudest moment of Nox’ career has been their involvement with Dark Diamonds Burlesque – an ever-evolving POC collective of artists established in the Pacific Northwest. Current members are Mara Maravilla, Carson St. Clair, Sapphire Savant, Nox, and new member Adra Boo. The original, founding members of Dark Diamonds Burlesque oversold their debut show, The LickHer Cabinet, in Seattle at The Palace Theater and Art Bar, now closed due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s always nerve-wrecking when you attempt a visualization, and it was warming to see the support given and to realize (even though we all knew our own worth) that people really DID want to see us performing on stage together, giving them black and brown stories and bodies encased in glamour and our cultures,” Nox recalls fondly.
“Our tagline is ‘The Natural State of Tease’ because we believe, even at our default settings, that we are desirable and worthy and matter. We just want to continue to amplify that message within burlesque the same as the movements, troupes and collectives that came before us and paved the way.”
A recent high point for Nox was performing in the King Showcase of The Noire Pageant’s inaugural weekender in March 2020. Perle Noire has attracted criticism for the Pageant, which was created to exclusively showcase and celebrate performers of colour, with most of the criticism received from other performers of colour.
I ask Nox for their insight on the conflict of opinion about creating exclusively Black performance spaces versus pushing for inclusion and recognition in predominantly white spaces.
“Racism will not be dead within my lifetime, and I doubt it will be gone by the next because it is a taught and learned thing; we will always need some type of sanctuary. No BIPOC needs anyone’s permission to create these types of spaces, and I encourage anyone within their power to do so.
“We NEED these spaces just as much as we need various types of representation for ourselves in various media and campaigns. No single person or even a group of people can (nor should) bear the responsibility to represent an entire ethnicity – we are multi-faceted.
“As for fighting for inclusion in previously white dominated spaces and creating our own spaces – we can and will do both things – and it is not hypocritical (as I’ve seen some claim); it’s simply survival within an industry in a world that also, by example, has made our perceived value very clear with its erasure and exclusion.”
“The Noire Pageant was, in short, witnessing history,” Nox continues. “I think it’s important to acknowledge when making history that it’s never going to be perfect or to everyone’s liking or approval. While I am not privy to all of the criticism that was expressed about the Pageant itself, I’ve never seen an all-POC creation NOT receive some type of inner-disapproval.
“All we can do is our best, and I appreciate Perle for taking that particular helm and doing the work to make it happen, pushing forward for her dream and making it a tangible experience that has lingered. For me it was life-changing, and watching my burlesque brother Tre Da Marc win King made the journey complete in so many ways. It was black and brown joy.”
After a series of events four years ago which brought Nox’ life and career to a standstill, any win or happy evening is precious.
In 2016, Nox found a ring and decided to pawn it. “I was an asshole. I absolutely made an error in judgement, and I take full responsibility and accountability for that action,” they state.
The ring was recovered and restored to its owners – a white, male producer and his wife.
According to police records, the producer said he would not contact Nox regarding this incident, but would call police when Nox returned to the area to have Nox arrested.
“The producer and his spouse offered me a place to stay for mid-May when I would be in town, and they also offered me a booking and photo shoot in April, which I could not attend,” Nox explains.
Nox was arrested in the early hours of Saturday May 14th, 2016, shortly after their arrival at the producer’s home, while getting ready for bed. Due to the timing of the arrest, Nox was left in the county jail with no resources and no hope of being released before Monday.
“Leading up to it, everything felt normal (as it usually does before life-changing events), but right when it happened, I felt alone. I was extremely terrified, confused, and oddly enough, I felt damned. It was my first time being arrested, and it was quick, slick, and quiet on the outside – and necessarily so, for my own survival’s sake. Inside, there were a lot of emotions battling for attention, but the instinct kicked in even then: ‘stay quiet, no sudden moves, speak softly and do not agitate; make it through alive.’
“As a Black person, every minute spent in police custody is potentially fatal, and every extra minute spent in police custody increases the risk of fatality.”
In fear of remaining in the US justice system any longer than was necessary (Sandra Bland died in police custody less than two months after Nox’ arrest) Nox took a plea bargain.
The court assigned reduced probation. The charge was dismissed and has been expunged from Nox’ record as of 2017.
“My record is clear, and my legal debt to society has been financially paid,” Nox affirms.
“This type of trauma never goes away, and I knew even after legal matters were resolved that I would constantly have to defend and fight for who I was, am, and will become.”
Despite the titles and accolades that followed, including an invitation to compete for the Miss Exotic World crown in 2020 (deferred to 2021), Nox couldn’t move on from the incident.
“This type of trauma never goes away, and I knew even after legal matters were resolved that I would constantly have to defend and fight for who I was, am, and will become,” Nox concedes.
“For people connected to any scandal or crime, it’s a label people hold you to no matter what is later proven or revealed. And, unfortunately, some people encourage it with no intention of holding space for growth and/or changing their perspectives.”
I ask Nox what they want the scene to know and understand about these events, and what lessons can be learned.
“In the beginning, I wanted people to believe me. I wanted people to give me the benefit of the doubt, to understand it was a mistake.
“It was already hard enough as a thicker, darker skinned, queer Black femme trying to make art in the Bible Belt community I’m from; I had to work five times as hard as performers with privilege to attain and maintain my trajectory of success. Then this all happened, and I had to defend my character in the court of public opinion and work even harder than I already was.
“Now? I just want people to question things, use common sense, and think and read as much as they can about anything they choose to believe. Dig deeper before you share something that can harm someone, no matter how trivial it may seem to you or others. Think critically and carefully; human lives are involved and that alone should be enough.”
I ask how their life and career has progressed since this happened.
“To my surprise, I’ve managed to accomplish so much more than I ever thought I could: I’ve headlined festivals, competed and won awards, and collaborated with fantastic individuals. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to do all of these things despite the odds and actions against it.
“I would just like to acknowledge and thank all of the black and brown women/femmes who believed in me, helped me and continue to contribute to my growth.”
Nox has remained productive throughout the Covid crisis, healing through professional therapy, activism, witchcraft, and a great deal of sewing. A hardcore bibliophile, Nox’ current daytime reading is Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and at night Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry or And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi.
I enquire eagerly about their preferred witchy rituals.
“I tend to keep most of my rituals private – but I will say I’m very fond of Return to Sender spells and protection ones frequently. Some of these are enabled by oils from Hoodoo Hussy – I definitely recommend perusing their site for aid.”
Naturally, time away from the stage has created concerns and reflections.
“My fear about burlesque is that during [the Covid shutdown] I will fall completely out of love with it. I have a fear of doing all this fighting and work, pouring my soul and goals into this craft, only to walk away from it.
“My hope is that burlesque survives and does better by those who choose to continue to contribute to the art, especially Black performers as well as other POC performers, trans performers, plus size performers, older performers, and performers with disabilities. I want this art form to climb and eventually find its elevated place, and be just as celebrated in the mainstream as we celebrate it ourselves.”
I ask what drives Nox to keep performing and pushing for change in a scene that has been so hostile and unforgiving.
“I perform for myself first, mainly to remind myself that I can, and secondly for the audience.
“Other than enduring the unavoidable complications of being Black, thick, and voicing my opinions/feelings in this age of ally theatre, performative vulnerability, and digitized trauma-bonding, simply STAYING sometimes is an achievement within itself.
“Merely existing in an industry that can erase you is a weight I feel most Black performers carry. My personal view is that every crumb of Black Art given freely is an undervalued contribution.”
Nox Falls interviewed by Holli Mae Johnson.