You’re an Ivy League graduate who spends your days carrying a briefcase through the city’s marble halls. So how do you spend your nights? If your name -- stage name in this case -- is Sugar Magnolia, then the answer is burlesque dancing. Last Friday, Red Hots Burlesque made its weekly appearance at El Rio and among the false eyelashes and frippery emerged Magnolia's debut performance in San Francisco. We caught up with her to talk shop about the burlesque scene and bold brashness.
The performer first got her naughty on while working as a queer organizer at Yale University. She helped put on school drag shows and while she “enjoyed reclaiming pop songs and gaying them up,” it turns out dressing in dapper drag wasn’t quite her cup of tea. It wasn’t long before her day job took her to the Big Apple, where NYC’s fab femmes introduced her to a world of glitter, sequins, and good times. “I realized I could perform, feel sexy, and be revolutionary at the same time,” the dancer told us in a Guardian interview. “Burlesque was that path.”
So she's not new to workin’ the crowd. Sugar Magnolia -- she didn't want her real name used, given that whole day job thing -- teased and titillated audiences in Brooklyn and New Haven, so we wanted to know what the Burly Q SF stage was like compared to similar shimmyings she's done across the country. “I was super-anxious before Friday night's event because I was worried my act wasn't clever enough. But I was reminded by the other performers that burlesque is about the revolution, but it's also about letting go and reveling in sexuality, sweetness, and sass.” So there.
“Performing in New Haven was a beautiful way to begin my journey in burlesque,” she says, noting that the city has a strong queer community. “I knew I would always have friends in the audience. I also knew that as a young college student, simply getting on stage and performing a radical gender role was applause-worthy.”
Sugar Magnolia credits her friends and mentors from the Femme Family in NYC as well as the femme community in San Francisco with supporting her and helping her find her feet (which can be tough given the height of those heels). The dancer, who works as a legal investigator by day, broke into the San Fran scene as a stage kitten for Red Hots and was invited to perform by Red Hots resident hot mama, Dottie Luxe. Now, the performer uses burlesque as a way to be less conciliatory and fearful, more outrageous and brazen.
“I feel like I often have to apologize for my loudness, queerness, and sexuality in the normie world,” she says. But in the dance hall, “the audience is there because they love the bold brashness of burlesque and the curvy, outrageous, lovely performers who do it up.”
A red-hot revolutionary whose battle cry is “go nipple pasties or go home”? Good enough for us...
Red Hots Burlesque
Every Friday, 7:30 p.m., $5-$10 sliding scale
3158 Mission, SF