Wednesday 29 March 2017

Missi Plus ~ March's Inspiring Woman is Australian Burlesque Beauty Alyssa Kitt

Alyssa Kitt shot by Ashlee Savins
Hello darlings!

Welcome to my newest blog segment which I'm calling Missi Plus! I've come to realise in the past 12 months that my small corner of the internet is impacting a lot of women in a positive way. I see this in the amazing comments I receive, the emails and messages I get and the general feedback from the supportive community I've found myself a part of. I wanted to be able to share amazing women who have impacted my own journey, either directly or indirectly with my followers, to help spread the inspiration. Women who add to my own life and who will hopefully add to yours as well, hence the plus. 

This has been quite an intimidating thing for me to do. To reach out to women who inspire me to ask to connect with them, to help share their thoughts and opinions on things that I know they are passionate about which are passions I share with them and I was overwhelmed by the sheer response I got!

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While I am no burlesque dancer myself, I have huge admiration for the women out there rocking some amazing performances on the burlesque stages of the world. I can still remember the first time I met this amazing women at a night out. Her presence seemed to almost emulate off her. I could tell she was a strong willed, intelligent woman with a fire burning inside her. I'm talking Australia Burlesque Beauty Alyssa Kitt of course!

I caught up recently with Alyssa to talk about some things we're both passionate about such as personal growth, body positivity, feminism and female empowerment along with some other issues we face in the tech world today such as personal privacy and some absolutely exciting things happening for this amazing woman right now! 

Read on to see what we talked about!

I first found you through your involvement in the Australian Pinup and Burlesque scene as well as when you won your title of Miss Burlesque QLD. I loved your creative flair, incredibly strong stage presence and your captivating energy. Have you always been drawn to the world of Burlesque and what is your favourite aspect of this world of amazing women, sparkly things and enthusiastic crowds?

From a young age, before I even knew what burlesque was, I was curious about things that were representative of female sexuality, and all of these things were taboo, naughty, risqué and behind closed doors. I was always trying to peer into lingerie shops and wanting to try lacy things on. For me, this was what becoming a woman was about – wearing lingerie symbolised that I had grown into my body and was therefore a woman. When I was eighteen I stumbled into the world of burlesque and met a community of women with shared similar interests and visual markers – they wore what they wanted in public and didn’t abide to the conservative rules of dress and behaviour that I had grown up with in country central Queensland.

These prominent visual markers represented confidence in one’s own self, one’s own body and I wanted to grow up to be like these women, I looked up to these women and I still do. You could identify those who did burlesque or pinup by the way they dressed – often in vintage apparel, brightly coloured red-lipstick and were always confident with edge of the risqué. To me, these visual markers – or visual representation of identity connected me even further with the women around me.

My favourite aspect of this world is that we are counter-cultural, we’re loud, we speak our minds, we wear what we want and draw attention to ourselves and celebrate our diverse backgrounds. There are so many supportive people burlesque and I’m grateful for every second I get to spend with them! We’re all constantly learning, evolving, growing and I love being a part of a community of like-minded women.

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I love that you identify as a feminist and adore seeing posts on your Instagram around supporting fellow ladies within the burlesque scene. After all, real queens help fix each other’s crowns in a time of crisis. What are your thoughts on the notion of empowering and lifting women of all backgrounds and walks of life?

As I’ve grown and learnt more, identifying as a feminist has become more and more important to me. I’ve been very lucky to come from a background that encouraged me to seek an education. I’m about a month off graduating my fourth degree with my Master’s in Publishing at the University of Sydney and am reading widely in preparation for my next academic undertaking (cough cough, yes even after ten years of academia I’m signing up for another stint – one that might mean calling me Dr Kitt). I’m inspired by a lot of what I’m reading and my social media is reflective of this desire to further propagate the positivity and empowering notions of self-love, body positivity and inclusion.

For centuries women have been pitched in direct competition against one another, so there is no doubt why there is culture of competitiveness between us. As young girls we are taught to act like ladies, dress demurely and speak when we are spoken to. If ascribe to the societal notion of beauty or practice to make yourself more beautiful, then you’ll snag the the most handsome, wealthy man, have beautiful children and live happily ever after, however, if there’s another attractive woman around they could steal all of this away. This competitive cultural construction has bred negativity and exclusion.

We’re taught that if one woman is beautiful, then somehow that makes another woman less beautiful. If one woman is successful then her success detracts from that of your own, as though there are a finite amount of good partners or good jobs out there. This myth is completely inaccurate and is steeped with insecurity and low self-esteem. Well it’s 2017, and this myth is still being fed to us through popular culture and mainstream media. It’s high time that changes. Learning to support our fellow women is something that needs to become everyday practice for us – and just like any other muscle, daily practice will make it strong. 

The only way forward is by promoting positive change, representing and celebrating diversity.

Live at the Australian Burlesque Festival, Photography by 3 Fates Media

One thing I’ve talked about a fair bit online myself is that pinup is a style that can evolve 
with you as you grow as a person. It’s such a personal experience for the individual and I imagine Burlesque in its own way is the same in that regard. We learn new things; we experience new things, we get feedback, which in turn helps us to grow. With these lifestyles being so visually represented in our appearance, this in turn does translate to changes in how we present ourselves. Have you found this yourself in your own journey?

Fashion is our way of expressing ourselves, not just pinup but anything we choose to wear and the way we represent ourselves. Pinup style being set within a certain historic period which means our inspiration is often unchanging. However, just as the fashionable “boyish shape” of the 1920s vamps and flappers grew into the shapelier bodies that became du-jour in the 1930s; as the fabric rations from WWII period were lifted and and sprang the wide circle skirt – we too evolve and find inspiration within the different eras of the past.

Being that we are living in the modern age, we are afforded a great many advantages that were unseen to our foremothers – who’s style of dress was often dependent on national economic stability and industrial production costs of clothing. Things such as the stretch of fabrics shape our appearance as much as having the internet at our fingertips. We can shop online from around the world and have garments delivered to our doorstep.

I’ve been dressing in pinup style for quite some time, so over the years my aesthetic has changed so much. Your body is a canvas for an ever-evolving piece of art that is your body. My own body has changed over ten years, and the silhouettes that I’m drawn to have changed as well. Along with life’s daily challenges – I no longer dedicate an hour a night to wet-setting my super-long hair, but can bust out a pretty great fringe set in a matter of minutes.

Burlesque is, in my opinion, a little bit different from the pinup world – because we are performing artists creating shows and acts, our visual aesthetic is only one facet of what we are presenting to an audience. Although burlesque has stemmed from the past and many of the popular aesthetics are inspired by the golden age of burlesque, we are all in essence neo-burlesque performers and are also inspired by things that are happening now be they fashion trends or socio-political commentary.

Photography by Brent Leideritz
As a body positive advocate, I’ve noticed that when you do decide to make changes to your own aesthetic/body, for whatever reason you choose there can be a back lash or questioning as to if your stance on body positivity is valid. This seems to happen especially on social media platforms such as Instagram. For all the progress that has been made with body positivity in the media, it does tend to lean towards a stagnant view of self love: if you love yourself why do you need to change?

Social media has in and of itself revolutionised life (or perhaps just the way we represent our lives to others). We have evolved into both digital consumers and producers or “prod-users”, we both produce our own content and consume other user-generated content shared on any chosen platform.

Think of your Instagram as a digital archive of your life – similar to the photo albums that previous generations used, they would choose what photos would go in there and which ones didn’t, they would present these albums to friends, family or whoever would stop by for tea. The digital revolution has changed this – our networks have vastly grown, as has our ability to disseminate information through these networks. We are no longer confined to friends physically coming over to visit our living rooms and flipping through our photo albums or seeing our pictures hanging on our mantle-pieces.

The nature of social media is that it’s a two-way flow of communication, that has given everyone both a voice and the flip side of that is that we are essentially starting a conversation any time we post something. So instead of your friends coming over to visit you in person, where if you’ve changed they might say, “Oh Alyssa – you’ve cut your hair! It looks swell!” We now have a very crowded living room of people that we might not necessarily invite over all talking at once. These interactions have a very different social convention and don’t necessary follow the same face-to- face etiquette. Everyone commenting at once, in their varying opinions on your change can become overwhelming.

Think of your Instagram account - the more followers or social reach/ circulation/ influence, you have – the more people are crowded into your living room, discussing your new hair-style. Some might not like it but choose to be a supportive friend, some might be jealous of how fabulous you look but choose to respond negatively, others might just be in a shit mood and react accordingly. In the same vein that we can choose to post a picture, we choose to comment on others content, we choose these words and the message conveyed behind text, pictures, gifs, memes or videos. I implore everyone to choose their words wisely when commenting, but also choose who’s words you decide to imbue deep meaning with.

Onto the next part of your question – this statement is super interesting to me, “If you love yourself then why do you need to change.” Because change, personal growth and movement is an inevitable part of life – it’s how you know we are living, breathing humans connected to those social media accounts. Our bodies change and age – we’re not a static piece of art that’s hanging in a gallery.

For any person writing “If you love yourself then why do you need to change” on a post on social media - if you liked the older version, those photos and memories still remain, just scroll down. Know that if we choose to post this digital event into our archive, then that is the way we are representing ourselves, and it’s our own choice – not yours. Bodily autonomy is important, and our own decisions to alter our appearance is never up to anyone else but ourselves.

I also wanted to touch on the issue of privacy as a public figure in both the pinup and burlesque scenes as well. With the world of social media being everywhere, there is a constant expectation with public figures that every aspect of their life must be available for consumption by their readers to be judged and have opinions past on. As a private person myself, I’ve faced criticism for wanting to keep parts of my life off social media, as I don’t feel they need this ‘trial by media’ process applied to them. What are your thoughts around how this is evolving within the world of social media as a public figure yourself?

Ahh, privacy – privacy is a beautiful thing, just because I swan about on stage naked, doesn’t mean I’m happy for my neighbours to peer in through my windows when I’m coming out of the shower – same goes for online interactions on social media. If it’s something that you’ve posted up for public discussion – then great! Otherwise privacy need always been respected. I’m actually a very private person – I select what goes on my social media to accurately represent my brand as a burlesque performer, and align myself with my own world-views. I don’t post much of me going out to dinner with my friends and partner, nor do I post much of working out or doing laundry. We can pick and choose what we choose to post and if there’s something that we don’t want to post, then that’s nobody else’s business. The expectation that it would be otherwise is frankly ludicrous.

Alyssa Kitt shot by Ashlee Savins

In the past few months, its been delightful to watch you join the Sydney Sky Sirens studio to 
start teaching classes there, with your students performing their first night cap recently with great success. How has it impacted you being able to teach new ladies to burlesque and help them grow in their own journey?

Oh thank you! I had been in Sydney for about 16 months when studio owner Katia Schwartz 
approached me to teach for Sky Sirens – and I was constantly touring and not able to commit to weekly classes. When I went into the studio for the first time – it was just such a beautiful space, full of positivity and love and I haven’t looked back. I’m currently teaching a class called Big, Bad, Booty – which is a fun combination of learning basic bump and grind technique, with modern girly/hip hop style choreography to modern music that everyone is pretty familiar with.

While I had taught this as a workshop for years it’s been quite a few years since I’ve taught weekly burlesque classes – most of my teaching had been on a one-on- one basis and working on act/concept development. While it’s been such a delight, it’s been challenging for me as I’ve never thought of myself as a choreographer, and remembering my own dance steps can sometimes be pretty challenging for me. I like to think that I teach a lot more than dance steps, I like to teach the students about intention, the meaning imbued behind movement and often pop in a bit of a history lesson, while introducing them to other amazing burlesque artists work! We have a lot of fun in the studio and it’s such a delight to see the “pussy gang” really come out of their shells at the end of term show!

You’ve been posting a lot recently about your latest project, The Australian Burlesque Journal in association with the Australian Burlesque Museum. What made you want to start this project and what is the eventual aim with it?

The Australian Burlesque Museum was founded a few years ago by Bella de Jac and a few other founding members, but I only recently came on board as their curator for research. With an academic background and training as both a historian and a journalist I thought what better combination than to help teach other burlesquers how to form research projects and get into the archives. Currently, a lot of burlesque history is American-centric, and very little is widely known in the burly community about Australia’s very own vaudeville and stripper-history. I’m currently forming some research groups around different locations in Australia and getting them started on different projects. There are also a number of people doing independent research in Australia that I have approached to have contribute their work. All of this will go into what will eventually be the Australian Burlesque Journal, which will run as a not-for- profit archive of photographs, research articles and interviews. We have an amazing team of volunteers on ABM but we will never turn down an extra set of skilled hands.

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And finally, it’s just been announced that you have been invited to compete in Miss Exotic World, Queen of Burlesque Competition at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas this year! A big congratulations gorgeous lady! How does it feel knowing you’re off to shake your booty in the most prestigious burlesque event in the world? What about the upcoming experience has you most excited?

Thank you so much. Having just found out this week means that it's still sinking in, so please bear with me, every time I think about how much this means to me again I start tearing up. To perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekender in Las Vegas is the highest level of achievement for any burlesque performer and to say that it is an honour is an understatement. The Burlesque Hall of Fame is a nonprofit museum in Las Vegas that is dedicated to preserving, sharing and celebrating the history of burlesque. The BHoF weekend of shows, including the Miss Exotic World competition is their biggest fundraising event on their calendar. 

Burlesque has an incredibly rich history, however, as is the case with much female history, the history of striptease still lacks a great amount of legitimacy or respect from the wider academic historical community. Having an archival space solely dedicated to preserving documents, photographs, costumes as a vault for future researchers to research the history of striptease is hugely important. Today we have a globally thriving burlesque community that grew out of the neo-burlesque revival in the late 80s and 90s. We are but a spot on the timeline of trailblazing women who paved the way for us to be able to celebrate our naked bodies in front of audiences – they battled censorship laws, being jailed for public indecency and acts of lewdness, not to mention being looked down on by much of society.

To be accepted to compete for the title of Miss Exotic world, reigning Queen of Burlesque is without a doubt the pinnacle of my career to date. There has been less than a handful of Australians to compete for Queen, including Imogen Kelly who was crown reigning Queen of Burlesque in 2012. It is a rigorous application process, with applications coming in from all the best performers around the world.  I had applied a number of times before I was accepted to compete in the best debut category in 2015. This is my first time competing for Queen of Burlesque but I don’t even feel as though I’ll be competing against those up on that massive stage on June the 3rd – we’re all there to support the museum and spread the word about how important it is to preserve our stripping history.

To shake my booty for an audience of the living legends of burlesque and a packed casino theatre is not just an honour but an incredible privilege and one that means just so much to me. I think about all the people who have graced that stage and they are my idols, the rockstars, the bad girls and the trailblazers. This event is a pilgrimage for every burlesque performer in the world and just to be there, let alone perform. We are the glitterati and when you look around at the audience of industry superstars dressed to the nines in provocative gowns – you know you’ve found your people.

If you’d like to become a member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame or donate to the museum you can do so through their website:

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A massive thank you to the fabulous Alyssa for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions! I hope you've all enjoyed this blog as much as I did working with this amazing woman. 

If you've loved reading this article and want to support Alyssa you can find her in the following places!

twitter: @alyssakitt
Instagram: @missalyssakitt

I hope you've all loved this new segment and I'm excited to be bringing you another inspiring lady in the month of April!

Til next time lovelies!

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