Head Mistress Freya West talks about growing Nashville’s first burlesque school, Deliquent Debutants into a permanent venue to call home, what to look for in an instructor, and skirting blue laws.
Q: Delinquent Debutantes, Nashville’s first burlesque school was opened in 2010. What made you decide it was time to grow? What’s your ultimate vision for the new space?
A: We’ve been subleasing from local studios since we opened, which has been incredible, and allowed us to grow at our own pace. At the start of this year, however, we expanded our class offering just as those studios started to book up more with their own classes. So it’s all positive growth, but it became apparent that we needed to be in our own space, where we could really make it a home. In addition, we needed a venue for our uncensored monthly shows, so the new studio will accommodate both of those under one roof.
My goal with Studio Debutante, is to create a hub for body positivity through burlesque movement in Nashville. Our burlesque scene is still very small, and I’d love to help nurture and grow that scene by providing more opportunities for traveling performers, merchandising for burly businesses, and of course, continuing to create solid classes and shows for our community.
Q: In your Kickstarter campaign you spoke about creating the first non-censored venue for burlesque in Nashville. The city’s Blue Laws are well known. How is this venue going to be immune & how is not having to worry about the laws going to impact your show?
A: Our vice laws are connected to the sale of beer and alcohol in the state. The Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission has a very strict hold on nearly all the venues in Nashville, as most rely on their bar sales in order to stay in business. Since we won’t be serving beer or alcohol at any of our shows, we will have the same protection as any other theatre or artistic group in regards to nudity and sexual content. Of course, we’re still in the Bible Belt, and when we’ve done other uncensored shows, we’ve had some complaints, but we aren’t in danger of being served a $3,000 fine for offending someone’s taste, like we are if someone gets mad while we’re in a liquor licensed venue.
Whenever we’re lucky enough to perform in what we call “uncensored” shows, not only do we truly own our costuming choices, we’re also not worried while on stage or backstage that a little too much skin is going to cost us our venue. It gives us the opportunity to really push boundaries not just with nudity, but creatively. We’re creating from a sense of freedom, not fear.
Q: In doing research, I came across your Teach Your Secrets post (Which I loved!) in response to just how much to share with your students. What percent of your students want to pursue the burlesque stage, and how many come to the school just for a fun workout?
A: Some women come to classes knowing they want to be on stage, but most of them are coming to try a new way to workout and have fun. We also get a lot of women who’ve never danced before but have always wanted to, and it’s really exciting to see them light up when they realize they yes, they do have rhythm and they can move their bodies to the music. We have plenty of students who just take the 101 classes and workshops because they like the movement and a safe place for their sexuality, but some of them fall in love with burlesque through the classes and try their hand at stage.
Q: Can you share one of your favorite teaching success stories?
A: I feel very honored with the trust of my students. I’ve had women come to classes as part of healing from divorce, sexual trauma, and disordered eating, and it’s been wonderful to be part of their process. One of my favorite stories currently is an advanced student who came to class with no dance, theater or performance background at all. She went through a breast cancer scare a year ago, and said that it woke her up to her body. She said she used to cover her eyes from her bathroom mirror when she got out of the shower, but after the scare and almost losing part of herself she took a class to help boost her confidence. Now, when she pulls back the shower curtain she does a little naked dance in the mirror!
I have another student who recently graduated to her first on stage performance, and is starting her own business, because if you can get naked on stage, what else is there to scare you?
Q: One of the most important things for a teacher to do is continue to learn. As a student, what are some of the most memorable recent classes and workshops you have attended, and what qualities do you look for in a fabulous instructor?
A: One of the things that most excites me about our new studio is to be able to bring in more guest instructors that not only benefit new performers, but I love and want to learn from too!
For me, being an instructor of beginners means that I have to remember what it’s like to be a beginner. So I really enjoy going to a class I know nothing about, whether that’s a dance, cooking, or coding class, and experiencing the joys and frustrations of starting out in something totally new. And being an instructor also means I want to keep refining my own teaching skills. I love the immersive experience of BurlyCon, and have been lucky enough to attend for a few years. I also have participated in Michelle L’amour‘s workshop intensive, Strippers Holiday, three years running, as it not only helps me as a performer, but puts me in the same place that my students go through too. In town, I love taking classes from Alethea Austin. Her teaching style is really energizing to me and it turns my teacher brain off so I can focus on my craft.
I think everyone has different strengths, and it’s fun to see how those play out in different instructors. It sounds cheesy, but I really believe having a heart to teach and a passion for sharing a skill is the best gauge of a good instructor.