Performing Arts
Photo by Rook Hawkins
Photo by Rook Hawkins

Spotlight: Femme Noire

by / Oct. 18, 2017 8am EST

On Saturday, October 21, burlesque dancer Ebony Jones of the dance troupe Femme Noire will perform in collaboration with musican Curtis Lovell at Squeaky Wheel’s annual Halloween-themed fundraiser, Peep Show. This year’s theme is “Scary-oke” and you can read more about it in our events setion on page ____. This week we spoke to Jones about her five-piece dance troupe Femme Noire—dancers MaDamn Noire, Vivi L’Amour Noire, Cocoa Noire, Lady Noire and Satine Noire—and what burlesque means to her as an art.

Tell me a little about Curtis Lovell, who you’ll be collaborting with at Peep Show.
Curtis makes all of her own music with her loop pedal and her voice. Curtis performed at Dreamland last year in November and I saw her and was completely blown away. Then through our community of mutual friends we met again at another one of her gigs. We hung out and we’ve been trying to work on collaborations ever since.

Tell me about the origin of Femme Noire
Femme Noire turned a year old in April. I had just gotten back from Florida and I really liked burlesque and I really loved to dance but I wasn’t being being fulfilled in that, so I decided to embark on trying to start my own dance company. I held auditions and we formed the group. We’ve performed at the Leopard Lounge and Infringement Festival. We’ve been on the move.

What is the philosophy behind the group?
Femme Noire is for one about empowering women to be proud and be happy with who they are and what they do, no matter what that is or no matter what they look like. But also, Femme Noire comes from being a black woman in burlesque and how a lot of the times you’re put in the shadows or you feel like you’re put in the shadows and I wanted to make sure that black women and women of color were at equal billing, at the forefront, and seen as beautiful and whole.

How do you achieve these goals through burlesque?
Burlesque is an expression of the freedom in feeling beautiful and being whole to me because when you’re taking off your clothes you’re in complete control of every article of clothing. The audience is waiting for you to make your next movement. It’s definitely empowering.

How did you get into burlesque?

I joined a local troupe in Buffalo about four years ago. I danced with them for three or four years. It was a good experience. A friend of mine was like “Hey you really like dance and you really like expressing yourself. Have you ever tried burlesque? It’s really gaudy and yada yada.” I Googled burlesque troupes in Buffalo and emailed two and one got back to me, so I joined that one. It’s been my whole life since.

When you begin choreographing a new piece, where do you start?
I usually start with music. I find a piece of music that I really like and I’ll listen to it a bunch. Ideas come through my head but you don’t know if they’re going to work until they’re on an actual human body, so my creative process usually happens live at practice. We experiment with movements and space and all of those things. There’s usually three or four drafts in rehearsal before I get to the finished product.

Are there certain genres of music that lend themselves to choreographing burlesque?
Jazz for sure. Jazz and burlesque are like married; that one is standard. But I have been trying to push those boundaries and to go for more like hip hop approach or a more acoustic sound. I’ve been trying to go for different sounds besides the standard. I’ve been trying to experiment with more lyrical burlesque, which tends to go with music that’s heavily lyrical.

What are the challenges and rewards of having a dance troupe?
The challenges are being a leader and having four women who also have their own lives and ideas at any given time underneath you. Time management and making sure you’re not ever wasting someone’s time or feeling like you’re wasting someone’s time. And also just keeping it all together. The reward is seeing my work presented; seeing my choreography on stage and seeing people enjoy that and enjoying it myself. Also, the reward of working with four talented women who like what we do. That is a huge reward for me.