For Black History Month I have decided, thanks to a brilliant idea pitched by Jhani Miller, to run a series of interviews and posts from self-identifying black individuals. From polers, to burlesque artists, to contortionists and photographers, there is a huge wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be gleaned from these oft overlooked individuals. The aim of this project is to give a platform to these voices in a world that so often elevates the voices of white individuals over those of equally talented, amazing, successful people of colour. I hope you all enjoy.
Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Eden Lost brings a heavy dose of rock n roll attitude to their sexy burlesque performance. Be prepared for lots of flirty fun and just the right amount of sultry sleaze! Their special skills include burlesque, pole and go go dancing. Not only that, their skills extend to hair, makeup, and costuming, as well as prop making and set design. Their experience spans print, film, burlesque, dance, and the catwalk.
Peach: Hey Eden, so how did you first get into performing? Were you always a performer? What attracted you to it?
Eden: You can definitely say I’ve always been a performer. I did drill team, cheer, and threatre as a student. I worked in divey strip bars before doing burlesque. One of my colleagues is a burlesque performer who would practice routines at one of the bars I worked at. I was transfixed and fascinated by their style of performance. In my mind, burlesque was feathers and headpieces and rhinestones. What I was seeing instead was a rock n roll aesthetic combined with the tease of burlesque. I knew then I had to try it.
P: As a black individual, did you have any particular preconceptions about burlesque or pole before you started?
E: Being black doesn’t really have much to do with it, but I did have a particular image of burlesque in my mind before I started. I always pictured classic and neo classic burlesque since I didn’t have much exposure to other styles. As for pole, I was surprised to find there were many different styles and a thriving pole industry.
P: How have things changed in the pole and burlesque industries since you started? How do you think the emergence of social media has impacted these industries?
E: I feel the popularity of pole and burlesque, and the emergence and wide reach of social media are a double edged sword.
The benefits of social media allow performers and admirers to connect in ways that are meaningful and help keep the art alive in ways they never could before. I think it generates interest in local burlesque shows, gives performers a chance to showcase their work, and gives producers a way to find and connect with new performers. One positive effect social media has is giving a space for underrepresented performers to connect. I’ve been able to find other black burlesque performers and join in amazing discussions I wouldn’t have been able to have otherwise.
The damaging effect of social media I feel is a pressure to be perfect. Online you only see the things that are chosen to post and not the build up to those moments. I really wish that people didn’t feel the need to be perfect before starting pole or burlesque. The most important thing is that you start! That is always my answer when I’m asked how to get into performing. Just do it. It won’t be perfect, but that is what practice is for.
Given the amount of content that is also so easily available online, there is a push to separate ourselves from the others to stand out. Algorithms on pretty much every platform reward consistency and penalize inactivity. So the result is performers having a pressure to put out more and more content. I’ve personally taken a break from posting on instagram because I’d rather spend time working on my acts and my technique than trying to win over new followers.
P: I totally feel I don’t update my Instagram enough, so that makes me feel a lot better! How have you found people’s attitudes towards pole and burlesque differ?
E: I’ve found that there is still a belief among some performers that burlesque is not sex work. And unfortunately there is a bit of whorephobic hierarchy perpetuated by some. You see this in the not a stripper hashtags and misinformative videos claiming that pole dance originated from Chinese pole. On the flip side of that, I’ve been able to find (through social media) many other socially aware performers and that’s been amazing!
P: When you perform do people expect a certain style or stereotype of you as a POC?
E: I’ve found that this is much more of a problem in pole than burlesque. Especially in strip clubs. When I worked in Vegas, it was harder for me to dance to rock or because I was expected to be “urban” and have an image that was stereotypical.
It took me a while before I felt comfortable dancing without a wig or weave and wore my mohawk on stage. It was liberating when I did.
Back in Los Angeles, I was able to carve out my niche and attract a certain type of customer by being myself. Burlesque has been awesome in that my mohawk and alternative style is accepted with open arms!
P: I initially assumed it would have been the other way around, but that totally makes sense. There is definitely a general trend towards erasing POC who are into gothic, rock and other alternative sub-cultures, so you can see how that would translate into something like pole, where so often polers who are black are predominantly associated with the style of American strip clubs such as King of Diamonds.
How do you deal with this type of racial stereotyping? Is playing with those part of your creative process at all, or does it not really feature for you when you are conceptualising a performance?
E: Initially, when I started performing I wanted to do a cheeky and humorous take on neo burlesque, while paying homage to to my favorite singers like Big Maybelle and Nina Simone. I found myself feeling like I was holding back while doing this. I definitely love that era and the glamour, but it isn’t exactly what I represent artistically. I will still occasionally do performances like this, but I’ve found that my current style reflects my character much better.
Recently I’ve been putting together acts that are campy and a bit sleazy. I live for b horror movies, rock n roll bravado, and dive bars. My role models are Grace Jones for her fierceness, Bettie Page for her sensuality, and Prince for literally everything. I feel that the direction I’ve taken in my performances now reflect me much better. For example, in my act “She Came from Above” I depict a lesbian alien vampire who crash lands on Earth in search of her next prey. I like to do performances that have a strong backstory and give the audience a spectacle.
I know that my race will surprise some people when they see me, but the content I create reflects my personality in such a way that fits me naturally.
P: I am actually in love with that performance concept, being a huge horror movie fan myself. What advice would you give to a POC looking to get into performing?
E: I would say as I always do: go out there and do it! If you’re not already attending shows, start going to local shows. Introduce yourself to the producers and volunteer as a stage kitten or backstage hand. Get a feel for the scene and if you mesh well with them.
Be consistent and practice. When you are developing your style, stay true to yourself and don’t hold back. Don’t worry about what will have mass appeal because that honestly doesn’t matter. What matters is finding your niche and your tribe. What matters is creating art you are proud of and means something to you.
In addition to your local scene you should reach out to other POC performers. There are networks and groups on facebook and other social media. These spaces are great because it gives us a place to vent, celebrate, and support each other.
P: You’ve mentioned to me before about ‘hustle culture’ – it seems quite common now to see instagrams littered with #grind and #hustlehard as everyone tries to outdo each other on how hard they can work. To me it feels like another symptom of toxic capitalism trying to make people think they haven’t succeeded only because they are ‘too lazy’. What are your thoughts?
E: High end.
I definitely agree that hustle culture can be toxic and even counter intuitive.
I think that being consistent and a hard worker are great traits and essential to success- however, I also think that capitalism has fooled us as a society into thinking that our self worth is tied to how much money we make.
Unlearning this has been one of the challenges I’ve faced as a new entrepreneur. It’s especially harmful now as many performers are working for lower fees and feeling pressure to put out more and more content for free online. It’s unfortunate that our culture gaslights people into thinking their lack of monetary success means they are lazy or not grinding enough.
Actually, there is much competition for dwindling spots- producers are facing problems finding venues, sponsors, and having adequate budgets to pay higher fees. In addition there is stiff competition for paid gigs.
P: How do you think this ‘hustle culture’ impacts new performers?
E: I think hustle culture puts the focus on the wrong aspect of the hustle. The hustle and grind should always be on perfecting your craft and improving yourself. There will be a lot of rejection and trial and error throughout any performance career. No one should tie their self worth as a person or as a performer into how much money they make, how many followers they have, or how “high end” their persona is.
P: Thanks so much for speaking with me for this interview. Do you have a favourite quote or any final words you would like to give to the readers?
E: Thanks for featuring me, and my favorite quote is…
‘Learn as if you would live forever, live as if you would die tomorrow.’
Thank you Eden for your unique insight as a performer spanning both pole and burlesque! If you want to check out more of their work you can find them here…