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Natalia Neuhaus, Burlesque Mon Amour (2022)
Natalia Neuhaus, Burlesque Mon Amour (2022)Photography Natalia Neuhaus

Intimate portraits of NYC’s underground burlesque community

Natalia Neuhaus’s Burlesque Mon Amour documents the diverse performers embracing this liberating art form

“The allure of burlesque is its message of acceptance,” explains New York-based photographer Natalia Neuhaus. “It’s a judgment-free zone, it provides a safe space where you are able to explore your sensuality through dance and teaches you that sensuality cannot be defined by age, a specific type of body, or gender. Everything we learned growing up about sex appeal and who it should belong to is challenged by every act. The media and the advertising industry continue to idealise a specific type of body and glamorise white cis straight people but burlesque is the counterculture to this dominant fallacy.”

Having been brought up in what she describes as a “conservative Latin household” with a devoutly religious mother and a father who “talked about women as if they were objects”, burlesque offered the promise of liberation from the legacy of Catholic guilt she’d suffered from. Neuhaus first encountered the artform in 2019 when she attended the New York School of Burlesque’s graduation show at Coney Island. “It was love at first sight,” she recalls, responding to the medium’s “message of empowerment” and the artform’s exploration of sensuality through performance. 

Since then, she’s become immersed in the underground world of the city’s burlesque scene, taking portraits of performers in a photo series entitled Burlesque Mon Amour. In a conversation over email, Neuhaus tells Dazed, “This is the story of my community and family… a body of work that started as a documentary project and transformed into a collection of moments with those who became friends.”

“The media and the advertising industry continue to idealise a specific type of body... but burlesque is the counterculture to this dominant fallacy” – Natalia Neuhaus

The images reflect a relationship of trust that evidently exists between the photographer and the performers. After capturing their shows, she would ask to photograph them at home, away from the stage. The images in Burlesque Mon Amour seem to document quiet, off-stage moments of reflection or preparation. “I would ask them if I could photograph them at home getting ready. I think that’s when I truly got to know everyone I’ve photographed in this community – in this intimate space where we shared stories from our past… how this past led us to burlesque but, more specifically, to this queer free-spirited bubble and, to many of us, a chosen family.”

The allure and romance of New York is, in part, the febrile mix of subcultures the city accommodates. “The diversity of NYC is the result of the minorities who inhabit this chaotic city,” Neuhaus says. “Within this minority exists a sexual minority of LGBTQ and non-binary humans who also inhabit this burlesque community. It’s the only community where being straight is a true oddity.” Neuhaus describes the irresistible appeal of burlesque. “I don’t think anyone knew what they were getting into when they started performing or took their first class and suddenly they all fell in love with this art form and its unique group of artists.”

Ultimately, Burlesque Mon Amour is testimony to the sphere of New York burlesque that celebrates multiplicity. “I'm talking about the shows where there is a diversity of bodies, representation of BIPOC performers, and the LGBTQ community,” she says. “They are artists through and through. They live their lives being honest with themselves and with who they are. This truthfulness to oneself translates on stage into every act they create.”

Take a look at the gallery above for a glimpse of Natalie Neuhaus’ Burlesque Mon Amour.