We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessabelle Thunder and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessabelle, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking as always played a role in my career as a burlesque performer. If I didn’t take a risk, I wouldn’t be where I am now. When I was first introduced to the world of burlesque, I was in awe of what I saw but never thought I could be someone on stage doing a striptease for a room full of people. I was always a shy, introverted person, who feared being the center of attention and had low self esteem (off stage I can still be that person though; I’m forever a work in progress). After seeing my first few burlesque shows, my boyfriend at the time saw how much I loved it and basically threw me into a class. I was terrified! Terrified because I didn’t know anyone, terrified because I had to try and be sexy, terrified because I didn’t know anything but regardless I pushed through. When the time came, where I was offered an opportunity to perform on a solo on stage, my brain said “hell no” but something in the back of my mind told me to take that risk and push myself out of my normal comfort zone. I did and haven’t stopped since-I’ve been performing for 11 years now. Because of that risk I took, I’ve learned more about myself-gained confidence, owned my sexuality, empowered myself and others. I’ve met some amazing friends and have travelled all over the world- a thing I never thought I’d ever do, especially alone. Taking risks has allowed me to further my burlesque career. It’s because of that that I get gigs, near and far. It’s risking that tells me, do that photoshoot, post that video on social media, reach out to that producer (like Dita Von Teese for example), headline that show in Norway, etc. Without taking risks, I wouldn’t have known the love I have for performing nor would I have been able to learn more about myself and grow.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Burlesque is an old art form-the art of the striptease. It’s been around since the 1800s and had a big revival in the 90s with, what we call Neo-burlesque. It has a huge history that I encourage people to look up and read about, especially the presence of Black women in burlesque. What spoke to me about it was the music, movement and costume aspect of it. However, for many reasons I never thought I could it- I was too shy and I felt like I didn’t “look the part”. When I started I wasn’t aware of anyone who looked like me. They were out there but it wasn’t something I initially dug deep to find and it wasn’t as prominent and pushed to the forefront as White women doing burlesque. When I took my first set of burlesque classes, it became evident that burlesque was literally for everybody and every body. I can’t imagine the person I would’ve been without burlesque in my life-the acts, the community. When you’re alone on stage, taking your clothes off for strangers, it’s scary as hell but it’s also very empowering. So often, as a Black woman, society tells me that I’m not enough because I don’t look a certain way and that I can’t own my sexuality. Throughout my life I’ve believed that and a result it’s really messed with my sense of self. When I get on that stage most of the negative self talk goes away and I get to see myself in a new light. I’ve been told buy audience members that they like what I do because they can see the joy it brings me, they can see and feel the passion, the fun and the confidence (confidence that I’ve struggled with my whole life). My onstage self is starting to merge with my off stage self and I love it. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with myself and owning it but also still growing and learning. When I’m on stage or when people see my social media presence, I want them to feel empowered and inspired, especially the Black women out there. I want them to see me and think “hell yes, I can be that” or “I am that, my body is beautiful, my features are beautiful =, my skin is beautiful and I’m glamorous no matter what others may say or think”. As much fun as burlesque is, it’s taught me a lot. It’s not just somebody taking their clothes off on stage. It’s someone being vulnerable and feeling confident and comfortable and it permeates through to others.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh my gosh, I struggle with this because LA has it all and where I take someone really depends on what kind of person they are. But if I have to really choose I would want to take someone on long drives to some landmarks but also some hidden gems. I had some friends visit from London a few years ago and we were all over the place. They stayed in Downtown LA and visited a few places around their hotel like Tartine. When I picked them up, we drove out to Beverly Hills near the iconic Bev Hills hotel, we went through Rodeo drive and then drove around and looked at all mega mansions. We also drove to the Observatory. I love taking people on day trips around the city that involve walking around and sightseeing. Places like Santa Monica and Venice, along the beach and off the beach, Hollywood and Highland area, Los Feliz area, ya know? the touristy places. Nightlife, however, is where I really shine! I’ve recommended the following places to people: -Jumbo’s Clown Room (iconic stripclub with the stripping and more pole dancing) -Good Times at Davey Wayne’s bar (weekday nights there are live bands and most nights Dj’s play 70s music. Great drinks too!) -any Drag show in West Hollywood -Tease If you Please burlesque show (I’m in it but I would still recommend it even if I wasn’t) -The Magic Castle -BreakRoom 86 (for drinks and dancing to nonstop 80s hits) * actually any Houston Brothers bar is a great spot to take people (Black Rabbit Rose, Dirty Laundry, No Vacancy, etc) -Townhouse in Venice (specifically for the Bootleg Bombshells show, which I am also in sometimes) -New Beverly Cinema (for some cult classic movie screenings; double, triple and all night features) -The Dresden Room -Highland Park Bowl (great drinks, food and pop up burlesque shows that I’m also in) -Redline (for drag and a little burlesque) -a Lucha VaVoom show As for places to eat, I’m vegan so if someone isn’t there are a million places to take them but here are my fave vegan spots or spots with vegan options: -Trejo tacos -Sage -Gracias Madre -Sugar Taco -Crossroads Kitchen -Chicas Tacos -Cena Vegan -Donut Friend -Sidecar Doughnuts I feel like I can go on and on but I’ll stop for now Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, I want to shout out all the Black burlesque legends, who paved the way for me to be able to perform. Performers like Jean Idelle, Toni Elling, Lottie the Body, to name a few. Beautiful Black women who took risks, embraced their sexuality exuded confidence and glamour. Some of them have passed and some are still alive and honored every year at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. I’d also like to shout out my friends, who are also performers- Tito Bonito, Rynie Das Wreckless, Rex the Impossible, Jake Dupree, Donna Hood and Ginger Valentine. These are just a few of the people, who inspire me with the work they do and confident they are AND they always support me.
Facebook: Jessabelle Thunder
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