The Exquisite Perle Noire
The buxom burlesque star celebrates her body and her heritage.
Impassioned by quick-paced drums, Perle Noire is a flurry of windmill arms and lively steps, her body adorned by a beaded loincloth and sparkling pasties. At the final drumbeat, she drops to her knees, her arms thrown back in abandon. The audience responds with a standing ovation.
As patriarchal society continues its war against the female body, the burlesque superstar says, “As an artist, it’s my privilege to ruffle a few feathers while raising awareness regarding body empowerment and owning your sexuality.” Noire, who is “attracted to people from both Mars and Venus,” was crowned Most Dazzling Dancer at the 2012 Miss Exotic World Pageant and is ranked fifth in a worldwide burlesque line up.
“When you see a woman onstage, topless, fearless and unapologetic, it ignites something deep within.” Says Noire’s whose journey towards sexual empowerment started with dance, particularly the neo-burlesque movement, which embraces all body types. She recounts her first experience at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which hosts a reunion for queens of past decades and features performers of all sizes and ages: “I watched beautiful women in their 50s, 60s and 70s strutting their stuff with an air of confidence, power, elegance and mastery. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I decided that I had the right to love myself, my body, and to ignore the negative sounds of society.”
While she admits to shyness—“my heart is always pounding before I go onstage”—Noire is a free spirit when it comes to nudity. She doesn’t blush when losing a pastie; instead, if the crowd hoots enough, she might peel off the remaining sticker and dance in celebration. As she travels the world, spreading her sassiness, Noire has noted divergent attitudes towards nudity. “In my experience, Americans tend to be the most prudish and squeamish about nudity. A few years ago, I was invited to join the Teatro Circo Price circus in Milan. The show was packed every night with married couples, sassy, refined women and, to my surprise, families. In America, you have to be over 18 to see a burlesque show, but in other parts of the world, nudity is considered natural and artistic instead of lewd and lascivious.”
Noires unique beauty is equally mesmerizing both on an off stage. Her appeal is not only in her curves, but also in her arresting gaze and vibrant energy. “Self-confidence is always in season. It’s the most important accessory for a woman to flaunt.” Still, she says that she gets turned down for jobs for not having “the right look.” The demand for conventional beauty has driven some dancers to surgery, including skin-lightening operations. While not opposed to body modification in general, Noire prefers make-up, vintage jewelry and to wow audiences with a “grandiose vision of ‘exotic’ culture and beauty.” She proves that carving your own path can lead to major success. Last year, she was the first American burlesque queen to headline in Tokyo.
“It’s important for me to showcase [the beauty of] African culture…because I’m proud of my heritage, and I’m honored to pay respect and tribute to the queens who paved the way for me.” Noire’s act “La Baker” celebrates Josephine Baker, while the more recent “Exotique Mystere” glamorizes Oshun, an African goddess. Noire says it’s her “mission to change the prototype of burlesque,” which has often played up racist tropes. “Too many producers present ‘exotic’ dance acts in their shows in a primitive manner without the authentic extravaganza power. One particular producer asked me to take advantage of my authentic exotic look and create a Voodoo act. I was on board until I saw the costume sketch. Instead of flaunting a traditional, exaggerated, ornate burlesque costume, the producer wanted me to appear on stage like a savage. I looked at the sketch and refused to portray a savage. When I’m on stage, I’m not only representing myself, but the men and woman of the stage who knocked down doors so I can walk through with grace.”
Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina blew through the midst of Noire’s career, crushing her house. She says that her New Orleans neighborhood “looked like a scene from a macabre version of The Wizard of Oz. Houses were literally in the middle of the street.” Though distraught, Noire worked past her heartbreak, taking time away to reflect and prepare her return to the stage. Since Hurricane Katrina, she’s performed in Tokyo, Rome, Milan, Sydney and New Zealand, and is now touring with the Strip Strip Hooray! show alongside the renowned Dita Von Teese. “Hurricane Katrina was devastating, but I chose to fight instead of flight. In the end, I became a beautiful lotus flower.” (perlenoireburlesque.biz)