When Lana Moy was looking for a burlesque troupe to join nearly 10 years ago, she couldn’t find any that featured people who looked like her. So she contacted some like-minded friends, asked them if they were interested in staging a show and thus, Big Girl Burlesque was born. The group is composed of self-confident, body-positive, voluptuous humans who know that size has nothing to do with sexy.
“We got together and figured out what made us each feel good on the stage, we supported each other and worked our way through the pitfalls,” shared Moy, who uses the stage name Ms. DeMunchon. “That September, we performed for the first time at the Ohio Lesbian Festival. I remember there was a woman who was throwing herself at the stage and I never felt more like a star.”
After that, the group began fielding calls from bars and kink conventions who wanted to book them. Big Girl Burlesque eventually landed at the Vanderelli Room in Franklinton and became the house troupe for the space a few years ago.
That’s where they hold their weekly rehearsals, creating shows with nine performers, plus the help of a full backstage crew.
Stage manager Sharon Orgasms* said that for many people, attending a BGB production will be a brand new type of encounter. “Not only are the dancers bringing all shapes, sizes and presentations to the stage, but the moment you walk into the door you’re in our world. A fat femme or a big squishy bear may take your ticket. A little butch will make your drink. A cheerful nonbinary human in a top hat and tails will make change for you. A spooky aging goth may sell you a raffle ticket. Big bodies are moving props. Everyone is working together to create a whole experience.”
The troupe stages several shows a year, with past themes like “Anything but Princesses,” “Big Glamour” and their annual production of “Statement,” which seeks to make the audience a bit uncomfortable while addressing topics like abortion, police violence and systemic racism.
Having this visible platform, which allows for full creative expression and freedom, has been a powerful outlet for every member of BGB. “Burlesque performers have been using their bodies as a form of resistance since its inception,” said troupe member Inanna LeThorn. “We often incorporate parody, comedy and even rage in our numbers…This type of work is so key in our communities. It gives a tangible form of representation for every type of viewer. Every time I’m on stage, I perform for the fat queer girl in the audience who just wants to feel seen and sexy in their body. I perform for the aging parent whose trauma tells her that she’s no longer sexy because she has cellulite and a kid. I perform for the nonbinary 30-something who wants to feel powerful and queer but keeps getting put back into a gendered box.”
Moy said that people audition for the troupe for a wide variety of reasons, and that everyone has their own story to share. “The motivation to start burlesque for many of us was that we were trying to find a piece of ourselves that we had lost.” She knows that it’s easy to fall into the trap of insecurity and self-doubt, but wants people to ignore those fears and find their community. “You don’t have to be brave. You just have to keep trying and reach out to people who support you, because it’s only ever going to be you who can make the change. You’re the only one who can get up and do it. You have to trust yourself enough to try.”Likewise, performer Jameson Havoc is grateful to have a safe space that allows them to explore gender in a way they never believed was possible. “When I saw my first plus size burlesque show, it changed my life. It was so empowering to see humans who looked like me own their bodies and their sexiness. In a world that told me I wasn’t beautiful or sexy or desirable, the Big Girl Burlesque told me that I was all those things and more.”
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