Changing The Social Narrative Through Politically-Charged Burlesque

Changing The Social Narrative Through

Politically-Charged Burlesque

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Although burlesque may seem like unexpected vehicle for making a statement on social issues, Earlecia Richelle believes the art of dance is an empowering way to convey powerful, unexpected messages to an audience.

“I like unconventional ways to tell a story,” says Richelle, the Beverage Director and Cultural Curator at NYLO Hotel in NYC. “For me, it’s not through writing a book or an essay. Instead, I want to tell stories through bartending and through the art of burlesque. I like taking these issues that have a lot of depth to them and apply them to arenas that are very social. You go to burlesque show, you think you are seeing skin, and that it will be sexy. You’re not thinking you’re going to get a history lesson. You think you are just going to have a good time.”

Richelle, who began her career in editorial, said she always knew she wanted to work in New York City in the creative arts. In her third year at college, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in magazines.

Earlecia’s Solange & Sage Cocktail Recipe

1.5 oz Ketel One
.75 oz Sage Simple Syrup (1:1)
.25 oz Suze
.50 oz Lemon Juice
2 Whole Blackberries
1-2 drops Preserved Lemon Brine

​Directions:​
Muddle blackberries in a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the contents and shake with pellet ice. Dump contents in rocks glass. Top with pellet ice. Garnish with a burnt sage leaf and edible gold glitter.

Once in the city, Richelle got an internship at Essence Magazine, despite no longer being a full time student (a no-no at the time). According to Richelle, she kept up the clever ruse so that she could eventually follow her dreams of storytelling through unique mediums.

They kept asking me for my papers and I kept saying ‘I’ll get them,’” laughs Richelle. “I just stretched it out until I couldn’t anymore and then I made an excuse why I had to leave.”

Thanks to her shifty maneuver, Richelle says her internship  helped open many doors for her. Richelle next went on to work at Sephora, where she worked in the beauty editing department, helping them build out their blog. From there, she began an editing role at Henri Bendel, and while she enjoyed experiencing the New York City world of beauty and fashion, Richelle felt something was missing.

“What I really wanted to be was a stylist and an editor and I wasn’t having that much success in the magazine side,” said Richelle, who soon joined forces with an accessories designer, becoming a stylist assistant. “I was styling music videos and editorial shoots. I was still in and out of school trying to finish my degree, but I had all this passion [that had still been untapped].”

After attempting to launch her own online magazine, while concurrently moonlighting as as a cocktail waitress, Richelle said she was feeling a lack of creativity. She decided to
“check out a burlesque show” called Brown Girls Burlesque, and suddenly, Richelle says the world opened up for her.

“When I tell you it was a moment that changed my life, it was” says Richelle, who is of Panamanian and African descent. “I was like ‘Yes! I can finally tell the stories I have been trying to tell through burlesque. This is totally the platform. Looking back I understand that I’m very much a storyteller of my ancestor’s stories; that is who I am. I wanted to tell stories of people who looked like me; I wanted to talk about the things that represented me and where I came from, which being told in mainstream media. Women of color are so fly and our culture is so rich , why don’t I see that [reflected in the media]?. I didn’t understand it.” 

These days Richelle is focused on telling stories that have to do with relevant issues including race, culture, and even global warming through burlesque and mixology. In one of Richelle’s burlesque acts called Toxic Bee (which is danced to Britney Spears’ Toxic), she plays a bee in love with a sunflower. In the skit, eventually the love, like climate change, poisons the dance, culminating in a dramatic fashion.

“In other countries, say, Latin American cultures, daughters are raised to be accepting of their female forms, says Richelle, making the point that by embracing Burlesque, she is able to rise against the American tendency to have self hate. “They dance, they own their body, and they learn that from a young age. For me burlesque takes me to that original place if I had been born in Panama or Africa, and I had felt very disengaged from that.”

In her newest role at NYLO, Richelle is still telling stories. Now, a maestro of mixology, the outspoken beauty spends her time creating meaningful cocktails like Strange Fruit, meant as a a reflection in America’s gruesome relationship with the hanging tree; Roses and Ash, a smokey rose sour inspired by Van Gough’s painting Roses which he created right before leaving the Saint-Remy asylum; and Viva La Loba- playing homage to my most adored book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves”

“I want to continue creating high concept cocktails that create a craft cocktail experience fused with culture and unique engagement,” says Richelle.

The Quick 10

1.What app do you most use?

Lyft.

2.What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Check my emails.

3.Name a business mogul you admire.

Dita Von Teese.

4.What product do you wish you had invented?

Red Lipstick.

5.What is your spirit animal?

Maxine Waters.

6.What is your life motto?

Keep creating, no matter what.. “you can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou

7.Name your favorite work day snack.

I forget to eat most days at work.

8.What’s something that’s always in  your bag?

Lipstick, wine key, and business cards.

9.What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

Lesotho, southern Africa.

10.Desert Island. Three things, go.
Gin & tonic, avocados, and some kind of hat.

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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