We talk to the wonderful New York burlesque dancer Calamity Chang as part of our new series of burlesque interviews.
Calamity Chang Burlesque Interview
Name: Calamity Chang
Burlesque CV: I perform 4-5 times a week in NYC. I have also performed in New Orleans Burlesque Festival 2011, Burlesque Hall of Fame 2011 (Debut category), The Dallas Burlesque Festival 2012. I also travel to nearby cities like Philadelphia and Toronto to perform. I’ve performed with established performers to new performers alike both nationally and internationally.
How/Why did you get into burlesque? I got hooked the first time I saw burlesque. It was at one of NYC’s first burlesque shows by Little Brooklyn & Creamy Stevens called Starshine Burlesque at Rififi’s.
It took me years later though to actually start performing. I took a series of classes at Jo Weldon’s School of Burlesque here in NYC and it just all happened from there. I am also now an instructor as the School of Burlesque. I teach a regular class called Producing Burlesque.
Burlesque highlight: Every time I perform for a loving and enthusiastic audience who gives me that “Nailed it!” feeling is a highlight moment.
Who’s your burlesque icon? Many of my icons are the Chinese performers of the golden age such as Noel Toy, Jadin Wong, Barbara Yung, and many more whose stories are still in a state of cultural amnesia. I surround my vanity table with framed vintage photos of Asian burlesque performers.
Top burlesque tip for non-burlesquers: Know your best features whether that’s your body or face and focus on the best parts and forget all the bad parts. Women are extremely self-critical when it comes to our bodies. I’ve learned to find my best features and learn the magic of “glamorising” to disguise or alter perception of other areas.
Biggest burlesque faux pas? When I first started doing my “Hello Kitty/Asian Hooker” act which has a giant foam head with VERY limited sight, I thought it was weird that no one clapped when I did my boob reveal. Then when I whipped off my head and revealed my face, I realized I had gotten so turned around on the stage inside the head that I did most of the act with my back to the audience. When I told my Mom about this faux pas, she said dryly, “At least you didn’t fall off the stage.”
Tell us about The Asian Burlesque Spectacular. The ABS was a rare-one night only show co-produced by me, Sukki Singapora from Singapore/London, and Thirsty Girl Productions (NYC). Our goal was to create a show featuring all Asian performers doing burlesque acts – classic tributes and neo – as a homage to how their heritage has (or has not) applied to themselves as burlesque performers.
We had an incredible line-up of performers from Hawaii, Indonesia, Texas, Canada and from the UK. All the acts were so different from each other. I was really impressed and moved by the range of emotions I personally felt through the night of performances.
There was a funny comedic act referencing Month Python’s ‘I Like Chinese‘ by Stella Chuuu, a political satire piece on North Korea by Fancy Chance, to a very beautifully poignant piece about the colonisation of Balinese indigenous people through Christianity by Dame Cuchifrita, just to name a few. If I didn’t have to perform I would have cried my makeup off.
On a more personal level, being of Asian descent and working in entertainment is a subject that I am passionate about. I am very lucky and so grateful to have all the opportunities given to me to be a performer AND producer. To be able to create the kind of shows I like and to book varying body sizes and racial backgrounds have given me great freedom of expression.
But I know that is not the reality when applied to a larger macrocosm such as the Hollywood entertainment industry. There is an extremely inspiring and informative document on PBS called Hollywood Chinese that addresses the unfortunately long history of Asian entertainers being slighted for leading roles because production houses don’t think an Asian face will sell tickets.
Will it be coming to the UK? Sukki, Thirsty Girl and myself are working towards that goal! We are already in the talks with venues in London as well as San Francisco.
What’s next for you? I am organising a mini-European tour with Sukki in October. We are both very excited about touring together. We get along famously and I had a great time with her when she was in NYC. We will be touring with our Asian-inspired acts that we did at Asian Burlesque Spectacular, as well as our own signature acts. Our first stop will be at the Queen Calavera in Hamburg, Germany. More to come on our websites.
Nobody knows that burlesque is… Very costly!
Watch and enjoy the lovely Calamity Chang burlesque dancing:
Check out Perle Noire Burlesque Interview and our answer to: what is burlesque?