"I really went hard on, like, 'we can do a queer show, we're queer performers.' We express that queerness a lot. Like, we don't hide any of it," says Morgon Sedusa, a burlesque performer and founding member of Santa Fe's newest burlesque troupe, House of Fantasia.
Their Valentine's Day show at Desert Dogs in February went down in the books as one of the steamiest shows to ever hit downtown. If you were there, you know what was up—it was almost unbearably packed with a young, hot, queer crowd all loving each other without reserve, freely getting turned on by the dancers and loudly hooting their approval. If you weren't there… betcha wish you were, huh?
The beautiful thing about the emergence of this new radical sexy queer space is that it wasn't at all planned like that.
"There wasn't an inherent queer focus in our initiation, so to speak, but I think because the [burlesque] process so honestly asks of us, like, like, do you, and it turns out our troop is extraordinarily queer," Sedusa explains. "That's what we did. We did us, and we were queer. Even though we didn't have an agenda for it."
The group numbers six core performers, with a range of experience levels and backgrounds and from around the country. What started as a series of workshops evolved into individual dancers' performances at Honeymoon Brewery's monthly New Moon Cabaret, which coalesced into the group now known as House of Fantasia.
"The real glue of our troupe was our Valentine's Day performance," says Dreama Fantasia, headmistress and founding member of House of Fantasia.
Fantasia moved to Santa Fe from the Washington, DC area in early 2019 and noticed a lack of grassroots burlesque, so she started offering classes.
"It was a natural, organic unfolding," she tells SFR. "We all got very close because the second workshop is focused on finding your burlesque self…that is a really intimate, meaningful process oftentimes for people…like your empowered burlesque persona comes through."
This act of persona-creation is fundamental to burlesque, but it's also been useful for the performers in developing their queer identities. Take Morgon Sedusa's character, for example (it's Morg-ON, by the way, not Morgan). "I've imagined her as like the literal modern reincarnation out of Medusa as a trans woman," she says. "The discovery of Morgon runs in parallel with generally my entire gender journey."
She points to the little-known history of Medusa as being a powerful female goddess in other ancient cultures that was appropriated and re-interpreted by the patriarchal Greek culture into a weaponized form of femininity.
"That entire story, it makes way too much sense for me personally, as my trans experience, living in this world and growing up and being told who I am and having to carve that identity out for myself and then receiving that backlash or support or whatever…my entire burlesque character is queer."
Dancer They von Gay, who was a crowd favorite at the Valentine's Day show, shares similar sentiments.
"The feeling of being not queer enough, or feeling like I don't belong, or maybe I'm not valid, when I'm They von Gay, it's just completely not a question," they say. "That character for me is a way to escape my own internalized transphobia and share this love of being a non-binary person with other people and also with myself."
In case you didn't know, these aren't these folks legal names. Stage names play an important role in allowing performers to step into an empowered alter-ego, but they also protect the identities of performers who are being blatantly, publicly sexy in a time when that's still not seen as widely acceptable—another parallel with the queer experience.
"We live in a culture that questions sexuality, represses it, puts it in a box, says it has to work a certain way," Fantasia explains on the use of names in burlesque. "When it comes out that you're this beautiful sensual adult performer, you can face real world repercussions. You can get fired from your job. You can get ostracized from certain groups or simply, people just don't want their family to know. This is a very judged thing and our culture. And so there's a lot of burlesque performers out there who are pretty adamant about their burlesque names being like a secret identity."
While COVID-19 put the brakes on any summer performances, the troupe has high hopes for a Halloween show in October and may begin offering Zoom workshops soon. If you'd like to get involved, you can look for updates on the troupe's website, fantasia.life, or follow the performer's Instagrams at @morgon_sedusa and @dreamafantasia.