Baltimore native Jacqueline Boxx has created quite a wave in the world of burlesque. She is shattering stereotypes in a commonly misrepresented art form, and pushing the boundaries of burlesque. “I must have been six years old when I started dancing, and I’ve done all different kinds of dance,” says Jacqueline. “I just loved to dance my whole life.”
Now, she is a burlesque dancer, performer, and teacher of burlesque. But what sets her apart from other burlesque acts? Jacqueline is a disabled burlesque star, and performs while seated.
Jacqueline’s mobility started decreasing when she was a student, and worsened after she finished university and moved to Tucson, Arizona. This was exacerbated by a broken leg, and things went from bad to worse. “I had to stop doing everything dance related while we hunted for an answer. We finally found a doctor who was able to diagnose me with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.”
A heartbreaking diagnosis
Her life came to a standstill when her doctors advised her to stop dancing for good. One fateful day, she went with a friend to see a performance of a burlesque troupe in Tucson. They had a sign-up area for people that were interested in being mentored by the burlesque troupe. Although she was still nervous about the strict advice that her doctors had given her, her friend encouraged her to continue pursuing her dreams, telling Jacqueline, “If you sign up you’re gonna find a way to do it, and I believe that you can figure out a way.”
Through the help of the mentorship, she was able to develop an act that could be performed while seated. Jacqueline was initially hesitant to use mobility aids, and remembers thinking, “that could never be for me, that’s for other people.” Eventually, she gave in, and bought her very own wheelchair. “My mentors were the ones who convinced me that a wheelchair could be a really positive thing,and that it would help me have a more fulfilling and active life,” she says. ” I was spending all of my time hiding inside, not being able to spend time with friends or go do anything because it was too difficult. So, I got my first wheelchair as a result of that workshop.”
Sit down, be humble
Jacqueline made her first wheelchair into a throne, by spray painting it gold and making tufted cushions for it. “I created an act around my first wheelchair and how it made me feel because it was so positive,” she says. “I got to spend time with my friends and stop hurting myself and I was taking care of my body for the first time. It was like me coming into a seat of power, and it changed my life for the better. Ever since then I was like, ‘I can still be a performer, I can even still be a dancer, even if I’m not putting weight on my legs. That’s not required in order to dance’.”
Many years later, Jacqueline will soon perform her first international show ever in Iceland. “One of the issues with performing locally to me is that it’s very inaccessible. Baltimore’s a very old city, which means that a lot of performance venues are in very, very old buildings, so they don’t have elevators, everything has lots of stairs, so I have a lot of trouble finding places that I can physically perform in.”
Iceland and burlesque
Iceland is the perfect choice for her first international performance and first international burlesque classes because of her special connection to the country, having been here twice previously. Jacqueline’s honeymoon was in Iceland, and she and her husband renewed their vows at a ceremony in Hellnar. “There’s something about the landscape of Iceland that is so deeply meaningful to me,” she says. “It’s this feeling of extremes. Like you have these vast flat areas, ridiculously tall mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, and this beautiful gray sky with black mountain peaks, and black sand against it.”
Margrét Erla Maack, a pioneer of the Icelandic burlesque and cabaret scene, saw that Jacqueline was in Iceland through social media and asked her to perform and teach in Iceland, thus connecting her to the local scene.
Subversiveness of burlesque
Burlesque is not just a hobby for Jacqueline. It’s much more than that. “It’s important to me because it’s a way for people who have felt marginalised or disenfranchised to speak on their own terms, to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it,” she explains.
The stage of burlesque has also become a site of social justice. “People are using it as an art form to do difficult things and say difficult things, and one of the most difficult things I think is for women to love themselves and how they look. That’s just not socially acceptable,” she says. For women, burlesque has an incredible relatability, and a powerful message that resonates. “Being on a stage and saying, ‘I love how I look, and I love who I am’ is one of the most subversive things a woman can do.”