A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“Natanya is my real name. When I walked into my first real job interview a few years ago—I work for a market research firm—I told them, ‘I am naked on the Internet.’ They think it’s kind of hilarious. When I’m at my day job, I’m just Natanya, and then in the evening, I’m occasionally naughty.
“I started doing burlesque back in 2003, when there wasn’t much of a scene in Chicago. There were only a couple of shows running. The prospect of somebody who was a trained actor who also didn’t mind taking her clothes off was a fairly appealing prospect to the few producers who were around at the time. Now I’m with the Kiss Kiss Cabaret.
“Nine years in, pretty much all of my nerves are just gone. The first time doing it was like jumping out of an airplane. You think, ‘What series of decisions has led me to this moment?’
“Once I performed at the Metro, before a Dresden Dolls show. It was the biggest audience I’d ever been in front of. I got on stage, and there was no music. I see the promoter working her way through the crowd to the stage, and she looks up at me and says, ‘Your CD is blank. Do you think if we played the music from the girl that went before you, you could just make something up?’ I said, ‘Well, I suppose so.’ I had to make it up, and I did. That was less like jumping out of an airplane than like jumping out of an airplane riding a shark diving into a shot glass of Jell-O.
“We all know how every number is gonna end: with pasties and panties. Mostly I make my own pasties; they’re supereasy. You can make them out of stiff cloth, or you can make them from craft foam that you find at Jo-Ann’s or Hobby Lobby.
“The really fun thing about going to Jo-Ann Fabric is, you ask them to cut you three yards of fringe and some little pieces of fabric, and they always ask, ‘What kind of project are you doing?’ And then you have that moment of decision. Do I say I’m working on a pageant? I usually just tell them I’m making pasties, and they’re usually delighted by it.
“As for keeping ’em on, there’s spirit gum, there’s liquid latex, or there’s double-sided fashion tape. People who have particularly heavy pasties use medical adhesive, and I have never been that hard-core. Tape is so much easier.
“But sometimes you heat up when you’re dancing, and the tape will fail, and you lose a pasty. Nobody wants to do that. Especially for bar shows, you have to keep ’em on, because of liquor laws. Having had in my time the odd pasty malfunction, it’s funny how titillating—so to speak—that can be to the audience, to have those last two square inches revealed. I mean, they go nuts.”