Interview with Jacqueline Boxx, International Burlesque Headliner and Instructor (Neo-Burlesque History)

Photo c. Stereovision

I first got to know Jacqueline Boxx when I was teaching a workshop while on tour, and our relationship has perfectly represented how wonderful it is to get to know people while traveling as a burlesque teacher and performers. The intimacy of getting to know students and fellow performers while on the road, sharing backstages and hotel rooms, is more important to me than the glamour, and I've gotten to spend some quality time with people I consider friends and peers. I was honored to be invited to host the Essential Tease Showcase she co-produced in Baltimore. I had mostly stopped doing interviews, but our conversations after that show lit a fire under me, and I'm excited to be doing new interviews for my blog. If you haven't already met Jacqueline Boxx, prepare to fall in love, and if you already know and love her, prepare to be very proud of your good taste!

Stage Name: Jacqueline Boxx
Locality: Baltimore, MD
Years Performing: Three, a break, then four!

Jo: When did you start doing burlesque? What inspired you to try it?

Jacqueline: I first got into burlesque as an offshoot of doing circus performance. In my early years in college, I was teaching bellydance and taking classes in aerial, hooping and clowning. Some of the other performers at my college started getting interested in learning burlesque so the one who’d had the most experience began teaching us a few basics and we learned what we could from online sources as well. Our leader arranged a first show that would be MC’d by Rose Wood who would come from NYC and would also teach a workshop and perform. I’d originally wanted to join the group learning burlesque because I’d been through a traumatic relationship and felt like I needed to connect with my own body in a positive way. The workshop Rose Wood taught ended up cementing that this was something I wanted to keep doing. Burlesque could tell a story and speak to others about so much and I wanted to be a part of it.

What are some of the differences in the level of production between your early and your current acts? Your first costumes and your current ones?

My first acts were all very message-focused. I became invested in telling only provocative and subversive stories through stripping and became laser-focused in that direction. In one of my earliest ones, I was made up like a store mannequin and painted white. I stripped off the clothes and then poured water on myself and smeared the paint around. For awhile, that’s the only kind of burlesque I thought was “real.” My costumes were all pieces I’d gotten in thrift stores with no rhinestones and were usually unusable after one show so my first three or four acts were one-and-done events.

I received a much needed education after leaving college and talking with other performers about how burlesque was intrinsically subversive. I learned that I was wrong to have this idea in my head that artsy freak-them-out performance was the only way to challenge dominant narratives. Just being a woman on stage and liking myself was subversive. Just enjoying my own body was subversive. Since then, I’ve switched gears quite a lot in terms of my performance aesthetic. I like to surprise people by having them encounter high glamour and elegance in a place they don’t expect to see it: in a wheelchair user. Showgirl style is my new artsy freak-them-out aesthetic, I guess.

What are some of your favorite experiences in burlesque, as both a performer and producer?

Honestly, some of my favorite moments in burlesque have occurred backstage with other performers. It’s unfortunately REALLY rare for dressing rooms to be accessible even if a venue is so I’m often separate from other performers in a bathroom or kitchen space. When I get to have that backstage space with other performers, friendships are formed, jokes are born, ideas are hatched that turn into acts and shows, and I get to feel really connected to the other people who love to do what I love to do. There’s a huge impact when I don’t have that space and I love when I do.

I haven’t had too many experiences as a producer yet but I hope to soon have a lot more. :) So far, getting to bring both Perle Noire and Poison Ivory to be headliners for a show in my hometown was an honor that I still can’t believe I’ve had. Writing this right now I can’t believe I got to do that.

You participate in Nerdlesque. What for you are the main differences and similarities in preparing a nerdlesque and a non-nerdlesque routine?

I think that I tend to want to dive into narrative more heavily with nerdlesque. I don’t necessarily tell a story with my nerdlesque acts, but there’s something about the character or source material when I create nerdlesque that tells a story that I feel it is important to tell. I could probably write a seminar paper to accompany each of my nerdlesque acts. I almost did for Professor X. My non-nerdlesque routines are, in a way, much more free. I get to be myself which will never fit into an easily-conveyed narrative.

You call yourself Miss Disa-Burly-Tease, One of your stated missions as a performer is to make disability visible onstage and beyond. How has burlesque helped with that mission?

Burlesque created that mission for me. I came to terms with the identity of being disabled through deciding to bring a personal wheelchair on stage for the first time, so in a way I feel like performing is a way of expressing my constant everflowing gratitude to burlesque for helping me to accept and love myself as I am.

“As I am” means disabled in a way that often doesn’t fit what most people have in their heads when they hear the word “disability.” A huge turning point for me came when I really accepted that there are infinite ways to be disabled, that it’s different for every single disabled person, and that the best (and only) thing I could do to find my place in the world was to live what was true to me. Wheelchair users have varying levels of mobility. I have found it to be the best mobility aid that I could hope for when it comes to dance that doesn’t hurt me. I think that 1) seeing a disabled person strip in a sexy way, 2) seeing a disabled person dressed in an elegant and sexy way, 3) seeing a wheelchair user dance with some limited leg mobility, and 4) hearing the words “disabled” and “disability” proudly reclaimed are all ways that I am purposefully confronting misconceptions and prejudice. I would never have gotten to this point without burlesque.

You've told me you had two different experiences in burlesque, performing before and after you were using a wheelchair. Do you mind talking about that here?

I spent my whole life being hypermobile, which fed directly into being a lifelong dancer. I have been performing dance in some sense since elementary school and have almost never in my life not been studying some kind of dance. I love to dance. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, tribal fusion bellydance and ATS, modern, Indian classical dance, swing dancing, and ballroom. When I first started creating burlesque acts, I was teaching bellydance and used a lot of my training to influence my choreography. However, I’d also always been dealing with strange physical conditions. My joints would hurt much more than they should for someone my age, my knees bent backwards when I tried to go en pointe (which led to the end of my ballet journey), my shoulders kept dislocating over and over, and I had ribs that would snap and pop loudly when I isolated my chest. Specifically, my knees were hurting more and more after every dance session and I was spending hours with ice on them trying to bring down the inflammation that never seemed to dissipate. I didn’t want to imagine not dancing anymore, though. It was in the middle of this push to keep dancing that I was learning burlesque, so even though I had some struggles, I performed and presented as able-bodied for three years while in college.

My last year of college, I was hit by a car while walking across the street and one of my legs was broken in multiple places. The healing process ended up taking much longer than it should have and that’s when we started really hunting for answers. I never returned to dancing the way I used to after that, although I tried to get back into it in spurts but kept hurting myself worse and worse. Still not healed, a doctor tried surgery on my other leg. I didn’t heal from that either and now it was impossible for me to think about dancing on my legs with how much pain and strain both of my knees were under. Through testing and hunting and intense pressure on my doctors, we finally realized that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) like my mother and I wouldn’t be healing. My doctor told me I should not dance on my legs anymore because I wouldn’t heal from further damage I’d do.

I lived in Tucson at that time and spent awhile still trying to fight this idea and doing some damage in the process. My good friend Rambo Rose noticed how drawn I was to a local burlesque troupe and that they were hosting a mentorship series. She convinced me to sign up even though I wasn’t using mobility aids yet and had been directly told not to dance on my legs. “You’ll find a way,” she said. It wasn’t until halfway through the workshop that someone asked me why I wasn’t considering mobility aids for movement. The following weekend I swallowed my internalized ablism and used a wheelchair to go out with friends and family for the first time. I could move without wanting to cry and stay out as long as I wanted to. I could exist without the presence of so much pain, fear, and discomfort. I decided to start thinking about using that wheelchair more longterm and bringing it on stage.

I had to relearn everything is what it felt like. Nothing I used to do on stage worked anymore. I couldn’t dance like a bellydancer or like a ballerina and I couldn’t even dance like the other beginners in the workshop with me. It was being back at absolute square one after being a dancer my whole life. At least it felt that way at the time. I now recognize that so much of what I’ve learned is still in my movement style. It was a huge learning process and it’s one that I’m not ever going to finish, figuring out how to move “like me” while being a disabled chair user. It feels incredible when I can tell it’s working, though.

You performed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Can you talk about that number and how you found it was received?

My “Microaggressions” number was created while I still lived in Tucson, AZ. I was part of a hugely helpful Facebook group with other disabled and chronically ill people where we could get support and bitch about our experiences. There was a lot of us telling the people who hurt our friends to fuck off. I thought about how so many of these people didn’t realize they were hurting us. They would say things without thinking and it would feel like a piece of us had just been carved off and they were totally unaware. That’s pretty close to the definition of a microaggression.

As just one quick example, I have been asked over and over, “How did you break yourself?” People think it’s a cute or funny way to ask about what they assume is a temporary injury because they’ve seen me before not using a wheelchair or they just see me as young and “healthy looking” and therefore are waiting for me to explain about my skiing accident or something. That question hurts because it equates disability with “being broken,” which is horrifically ablist. It hurts because it puts the blame on the disabled person for being disabled. It hurts because it carries those assumptions about what disabled people are supposed to look like.

It also hurts because we’re expected to be polite and smile in response to these people and not tell them to fuck off no matter how much we’re in pain. Because they didn’t mean to hurt us. I started to fantasize about an act where I could symbolically tell every single one of these people who hurt me and my friends this way to fuck off in one big gesture and finally get that off my chest. That developed into the projected words on the screen behind me, which are all taken with permission directly from the people in that group or from my experiences, and the Cake song “Nugget,” which has the chorus, “shut the fuck up.” While I originally thought of being aggressively unappealing visually throughout the act, I ended up deciding to capitalize on the dissonance of a burlesque performer who is usually seen as there for the audience’s consumption still being visually appealing while essentially yelling at them for their shitty phrasing. I also came to see that the way people were torn between looking at me and looking at the words as highly connected to my experience having to smile on the outside while screaming on the inside in response to those words. It’s an experience in cognitive dissonance. As far as how it was received, I was so pleasantly surprised. I’ve gotten to connect with so many other disabled and chronically ill people who have had experiences like mine and who felt connected to my need to flip off their microaggressors.

View this performance on Vimeo:

You produced a workshop and student showcase. Where all have you been teaching? Will you be doing more workshops that conclude in showcases?

I’ve been overjoyed to be teaching my personal two-part series for about three or four years now called, “The Mind: Dance for Mobility Restrictions” and “The Movement: Floor/Chair for Mobility Restrictions.” I still teach those as requested all over. Now myself, Cherie Nuit and Nona Narcisse are teaching “Essential Tease: A Transformative Burlesque Workshop Series” in Baltimore, MD, which is where I’m from. That first series and showcase were so very rewarding. We’re happy to announce we’ve been invited back to Creative Alliance to teach a second series and plan to begin teaching those classes in late July.

What's upcoming for you? What are you most excited for?

I’m so excited to continue my journey of producing accessible shows in Baltimore and traveling to perform around the world. Being a headliner for the Vienna Boylesque Festival which is coming up at the end of the month is such an honor and that is a huge exciting thing on the horizon right now. I’m also beginning to mentor burlesque students with disabilities and chronic conditions through online one-on-one sessions. It’s really putting into action my overall goal of increasing the visibility of disabled bodies on burlesque stages.

Photo c. Stereovision

You told me a great detail about why you wear zebra print, will you tell these readers about that?

Medical students are supposedly told while in training, "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras." That's because doctors are supposed to assume that the most common reason for the symptoms is the cause. The simplest explanations and most common conditions are usually to blame. The problem is that sometimes the hoofbeats are zebras. EDS is a rare genetic condition with deceptively common symptoms like joint pain or fatigue. That's why, worldwide, patients with EDS call themselves zebras with pride to bring awareness to our community. You can learn more at

Anything else you want readers to know?

I love to meet new people and I love to travel! If you’d be interested in me performing and teaching in your area, please get in touch.
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If you're in Vienna late May 2019, you can catch Jacqueline headlining the 6th annual Vienna Boylesque Festival!


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