Meet Fancy Feast: Jewish Burlesque Dancer

“I love Fancy Feast” is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, yet here we are. In this case, I’m referring to the 29-year-old burlesque dancer, crowned Miss Coney Island 2016, who regularly performs in Brooklyn. Raised in a traditional Jewish home outside of Washington DC, her act plays off classic Vaudevillian and striptease tropes while also making one very important statement: Fat people can be sexy, too. Check out the short video below, then read on for a Q&A with Fancy Feast where we talk bat mitzvahs, parents’ expectations, and the perfect bagel.

Just how “Jewy” did you grow up? 

I grew up in a religious and household, so we observed kashrut, attended synagogue every Shabbat, and I went to religious school in the Conservative movement. I was the first woman in my family to have a bat mitzvah.

Did your bat mitzvah have a theme?

My bat mitzvah did not have a theme. I didn’t want to have one in the first place because I was questioning my faith at that time. The party was at my house and there was a ton of food, and I spent most of my time downstairs in the basement watching Daria.

fancy feast burlesque
Photo by David Byrd

What was your family’s reaction to you getting into burlesque?

They were positive and supportive, if a bit skeptical that I would be able to pull it off. They have always encouraged my artistic pursuits and self-expression. To be honest, getting my first tattoo was way more of an adjustment for them than me performing. My mom comes to some of my shows and my father bought me my first pair of feather fans. I feel very lucky to have parents that I can be myself around.

What was the experience like performing burlesque for the first time?

My first gig was nerve-wracking. I never took classes or anything, I just saw a lot of shows and put a routine together to the best of my ability. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive, and I had friends in the audience supporting me, so it definitely got me hooked.

Performing takes a huge level confidence — is that something that comes easy to you or something you struggle with?

Ah, the C word. I do not struggle with self-confidence. I wasted too much time in my early adolescence feeling bad about myself, or worrying about what other people thought of me. Once I stopped basing my self worth on others’ appraisal of me, I freed up a lot of time and energy to pursue creative work, make friends, and do whatever I wanted. I am hard on myself in terms of my art-making; I always want to push myself creatively and do things the way they happen in my head, so I am my biggest critic in that regard. But confidence is not the issue, not ever, not ever again.

Why is it important to you to own the word “fat”?

Describing myself as fat and then not immediately dissolving into self-hating foam is an indictment of a culture that demands apology and explanation for non-normative bodies. “Fat” is used as a scary word in our society. By using it in a descriptive and cavalier way, it questions the automatic assumption of shame that is used to punish people for not making their bodies smaller at all costs. It’s also short hand, and in my mind the most accurate word to use for my body size and shape. Being fat isn’t scary, so the word fat isn’t scary either.

fancy feast performing
Live performance photo from Bizarre Bushwick

What’s your favorite part of yourself? Least favorite?

My favorite part of myself is my creative drive. My least favorite part is my ego, when overly inflated or bruised. Two sides of the same coin.

If you meant physically, I like everything about myself, even the things I don’t like so much, if that makes sense.

Who are the women you most admire?

fancy feast burlesque
Photo by Adrian Buckmaster

How long do you have for this question? Okay, let’s go. I need to start with my mother and my grandmothers, who created a blueprint for me, a map of compassion, strength, and connectedness. I come from a line of badasses. All of my female friends, all of them, for spinning the straw of trauma into the gold of their lives. It’s amazing to watch them grow and rise into their power. The Legends of Burlesque and then my mentors and heroes in the field for paving the road I dance on. Fat women everywhere. Angela Davis, Hypatia of Alexandria, and every witch who was burned or drowned for living on the fringe of society. Women in male-coded industries, like women in film and women in strength sports. Trans women. Women of color. Women who are visible on the internet. Sex workers. Labor organizers. Judith, Vashti, and Lilith.

Describe your perfect bagel.

Freshly baked, with a good chew and salinity to the dough. A hint of barley malt. Made with New York tap water.

Describe your perfect first date. 

It’s a cop out to say same as the bagel question, right? A good date could be literally anything as long as it’s with the right person. My best first date was one where we got dumplings, walked around Kim’s Video, saw the worst (really, the very worst) open mic in all of Manhattan, and stood on a subway platform hoping the train would never come so we could keep talking forever.  It was an ordinary, extraordinary thing.

I know you didn’t ask for my worst first date, but I would say one where you have to try on a bunch of cold wet swimsuits and then watch the Lars von Trier catalog.

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