Rebel Cupcake was a monthly body-positive queer dance party and cabaret in Brooklyn I produced. It was at a divey club/bar called Sugarland with the triple threat of sound system, lights and a stage and it was all mine one night a month. I think that a performance sets an energetic stage for a specific experience; I wanted to produce empowering acts that made people feel good about being weirdos. I began every night with an hour or so of 90s R&B and Riot Grrrl music for mingling, then had a brief stage show, then cleared the chairs for a dance party. The shows were about 15 minutes but some nights were longer, like the staged reading of the beauty shop scene from Steel Magnolias. I booked burlesque, Bearlesque, butchlesque, drag queens/kings/gender performers, live music, belly dance, poetry (only knock your socks off great poetry, it was a nightclub), fire performance, readings and whatever else I found in the realm of body positive/weirdo positive/queer and fat performance realm.
I used to have to hustle every single month to book a stage kitten. I was always relying on the kindness of last minute serendipity. Somehow I would find someone who willing to wear a cute outfit and be on stage picking up clothes from the previous performers in exchange for drink tickets. Fancy Feast walked into Re/Dress, the vintage plus size and resale clothing boutique I worked at, she said she had taken a burlesque class at the New York School of Burlesque (it’s a real thing) and she volunteered to stage kitten if I ever needed one. It was as though the Goddess heard my plea to get someone consistently available to fill this role and here she was.
After a couple of months and a theme that would work for her (I curated the show themes very thoughtfully) I gave her a slot. She was great, but what was even better was watching her develop as a performer over time. Fancy Feast works really hard and she’s very smart, she thinks things through. She’s always improving. She also has a lot of fun on stage and she owns her body. That, to me, is ultimate sexy right there. It literally doesn’t matter what your body looks like, to me it is how you embody yourself fully that makes you hot on stage.
Fancy has flown to the top since her glitter beginnings at Rebel Cupcake. She’s been Miss Coney Island (which is a big deal in New York City and a perfect title for her) and is well-recognized. And now there’s a documentary about her!!!
If you are interested in hearing a smart woman talk about owning her body, performing erotic dance, selling sex toys, living a very realistic NYC performance-artist life, subverting beauty standards, and finding a place to express yourself while being weird or exaggerated, you should watch this documentary.
Or if you want to be inspired as an artist by another artist’s practice, watch this documentary.
Or if you just want to watch a hot fat woman take her clothes off a lot, watch this documentary.
Maybe a little bit of all of those things? Leon Chase made this amazing one hour film about what it’s like to be a fat burlesque artist and sex educator, but from the very one-of-a-kind perspective of Fancy Feast.
I make a brief appearance as Bevin Branlandingham of Rebel Cupcake (major points for spelling my name correctly, Leon). He chose the exact right photos and video clip for Rebel Cupcake. Me in a “Yes Fats Yes Femmes” glitter tank top of my own creation in a still shot with Fancy Feast, and a video of me recreating a gif of a Glitter Spank I saw on Tumblr. Using Fancy Feast’s ass.
People who feel weird among other folks will identify strongly with Fancy Feast. For her and me being weird is a really beautiful thing. You know, being the swan among the ducks, looking for other swans. It just feels so good to me to watch someone on TV (well, chromecasted from youtube) who is reflecting what I believe about all bodies being valuable. About sex being a normal part of human communication that should not be shamed. That glitter is a really important part of self expression.
Fancy Feast is more than 100% of the time working to advance fat sex, at least by being a fat presence in multiple facets of the sex industry. I felt like it was remarkably appropriate to kick off Fat Sex Week XXL celebrating this incredible documentary. Grab some popcorn and watch it!
It’s been a rough week, I mean really what week isn’t rough? Trump is still president. Life is suffering. Mortality is real. Death is coming for you. Sorry.
But this morning, my inbox held a special gift for me: an email from Leon Chase, who I had never heard of before said email. Boy, am I glad to know who he is now.
Leon sent me links to a full film he recently produced, featuring Fancy Feast, a fat and fantastic burlesque performer.
I watched the trailer and immediately started the full film, even though I’m supposed to be “working.” I have 81 emails. It’s worth it.
Fancy Feast is smart, funny, entertaining, and gorgeous. I don’t have anything else to say. You don’t have to pay a penny to watch this outstanding film. Leon did this in his own time, just for fun, because he is a bad ass.
Fancy Feast (original name unknown) is a burlesque performer based in New York, whose acts, according to the Huffington Post, “juggle vulnerability and artifice, beauty and ugliness, humor and gravity, desire and taboo.” The fact that she doesn’t look like your typical burlesque dancer–i.e. skinny–only adds to the radical nature of Fancy’s performances. “When I refer to my body, I totally refer to it as a fat body,” she says in a new hour-long documentary called “Fancy Feast — The Fat Burlesque Performer” [Warning: not safe for work!]. “For me, it is such a politicized word and I use it deliberately.”
In a performance that won her the title Miss Coney Island 2016, Fancy wore a gold sequin gown and recited a poem about her childhood dream–to be a performer–despite societal messages that fat women don’t deserve to be seen or feel sexy. She then pulled a plastic cat food bag out of her vagina, to the crowd’s frenzied applause.
Fancy works at a sex toy store and acts as a sex educator when not performing, but makes about half of her salary from doing burlesque on average three nights a week. According to her website, she’s also a sought-after “femme-cee” for burlesque, comedy shows, and bar mitzvahs. Book her today!
“It’s like that classic horror trope,” the performer known as Fancy Feast told The Huffington Post, “where the kid buys a mask from the creepy costume shop and the mask won’t come off. I’m not portraying somebody else when I’m onstage. That is me.”
Since she was 3 years old, Fancy, like many young kids, was drawn to the spotlight. Her parents, to this day, rehash memories of their daughter leading adults in improvised tour groups around the local aquarium. Also from a young age, Fancy, a conservative, Jewish girl growing up in Washington, D.C., liked to take her clothes off ― a perhaps less common, or at least less commonly-discussed, predilection.
Today, Fancy is a burlesque performer, which means she combines the art of striptease with other modes of vaudevillian entertainment ― comedy, short skits, perhaps a poem or political rant ― all executed with a sparkling, campy gravitas.
“When I really want to get out of conversations with people, I say I do short form experimental feminist performance art,” Fancy joked in the documentary “Fancy Feast ― The Fat Burlesque Performer” by Leon Chase.
“I take my clothes off for money, just not a lot of money,” Fancy told HuffPost, an accomplishment she has worked toward since doodling showgirls in her elementary school notebooks. It’s the distinction of “not a lot,” she believes, which makes mainstream culture more accepting of burlesque than traditional stripping ― which is far more lucrative, and as a result, more reviled. “We’re all selling our bodies, we’re all selling our labor. Saying that stripping is sleazy but burlesque is art is ignorant and offensive.”
The stage name Fancy Feast is derived from the gourmet cat food brand ― a side-eyed wink to the burlesque tradition of sexy cat-inspired names like Kitty and Pussy Cat. As Fancy explains in her documentary, the name is partly a joke ― what is less “fuckable” than globular chunks of sopping fish-meat? But removed from their cat food connotation, the words “fancy” and “feast” conjure an image of luxury, pleasure and abundance ― an extravagant bodily banquet, served hot.
The moniker is mighty appropriate for a performer whose acts juggle vulnerability and artifice, beauty and ugliness, humor and gravity, desire and taboo in her every quixotic movement. Inspired by drag culture, Fancy performs femininity, sexuality and herself, her fabricated presentations soon toppling any distinctions between the carefully choreographed show and the so-called original.
Fancy, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, performs three nights a week on average. During her off time, she moonlights as a sex educator. But it’s her time onstage when Fancy feels like she is most herself, her identity and stage character having fused, “The Mask”-style, into a heightened persona that melds fantasy and reality.
“The character is me — just amped up a bit,” Fancy told HuffPost. “My values onstage reflect my values in real life. Once you get to know Fancy Feast, I always say, you don’t have to know the ‘me’ that goes to the gym or drinks a smoothie. The wishes and dreams of myself in my day-to-day life play out onstage. That’s who I am.”
In the performance that won her the Miss Coney Island 2016 burlesque beauty pageant title, Fancy ― donning a floor-length gold, sequin gown and feather headdress ― recited a poem that discussed her childhood dreams, tainted by the societal dictate that fat women don’t deserve to feel sexy or be seen. “I stood behind this very curtain and curtailed tears of joy for younger me who thought she’d never see a stage because she did not deserve eyes to look at her,” she said.
After the poem, Fancy slid out of her evening gown to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Firework” ― well, the first line, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”, remixed and replayed over and over again. Fancy then shimmied and strutted in a handmade bikini made from plastic cat food bags, becoming what she called a “trash queen.” The act ended when Fancy, clad only in plastic bag pasties, pulled a plastic bag out of her vagina and put it atop her head, to the audience’s wild applause.
“When my mom saw me perform for the first time, she said, ‘to be honest, you have always danced this way,’” Fancy said. “When I was a little girl and I had my Discman, I would listen to different songs and imagine a different image or movie for each one. Everything was very visual to me when I listened to music and I still feel that way.”
Some of Fancy’s acts stem from events that occurred in her life, or conversations she’s had with other performers. Often, an idea will originate as a preposterous passing whim that she then feels an odd compulsion to follow through to completion. Additionally, every year Fancy forces herself to do one thing she’s afraid of onstage. This year, for instance, she challenged herself to do a classic striptease, devoid of the comedic and narrative elements that normally characterize her routines.
Fancy pushes beyond her comfort zone not only in terms of what she performs, but where. She hosts a monthly showcase in Bushwick called the “Fuck You Revue”, but makes sure to venture beyond the Brooklyn art scene for crowds that may never have encountered burlesque ― or nude, fat bodies ― before.
“When I started performing, I made sure I was in a safe place to do that,” Fancy explained. “The first audiences I performed for were in the queer nightlife scene. It felt really wonderful, but I also felt like I was preaching to the choir. I thought, these people know me, they agree with my values, is this really what my goals are as a performer? I want to perform for people who have never seen burlesque before, who have never seen a fat person on stage. I need to get that message out to those people.”
Regardless of where she’s stripping down, Fancy still gets nervous before going onstage. In part, she attributes the persistent butterflies to the burden she bears as one of the few fat women in her line of work. “I do feel the need to do well as a sort of ambassadorship on the behalf of fat girls everywhere,” she says in Leon’s documentary. “Which is a joy and a piece of shit burden.”
In the film, Fancy discusses her use of the word “fat”, a term she finds still catches her fans and critics off guard. “I use it deliberately, because I know it is a shock to the system for many members of a culture where, for a woman, there is nothing worse you can be than fat,” she said. Although she doesn’t consciously choreograph numbers around themes like body positivity or representation, the ideas end up wheedling their way into her audience’s brains and loins alike.
However, for Fancy, the magic of burlesque rests not just on sexual arousal or a debriefing on the beauty of all bodies. “For me, when it’s done right, burlesque is an art form that creates a dialogue between the performer and the audience,” she said.
“The audience and the performer ultimately are not separate; there is an opportunity, then, to experience joy in community,” she added. “My fear is not being able to make that happen. I think of the transformation that goes on in a striptease as a metaphor. There’s armor coming off successively in stages. I’m revealing my body but I’m also revealing something else. There is a vulnerability in someone seeing you, seeing something beyond your body.”
There is plenty to unpack in Fancy’s hypnotic performances, which employ humor and arousal to help audiences shed their preconceptions as she peels off each layer of clothing. Countering the assumption that nudity is something authentic and true, while makeup is bound up with the fabricated and pretend, Fancy reveals how our masks are just as authentic as our flesh.