Aurora Black calls the burlesque world in New York “a small, but powerful community.” After moving here in 2007, she was quickly recognized for her talents and started performing at iconic venues throughout the city.
She began her training as a ballerina in her native Chicago and continued honing her craft in college. As her career blossomed, she felt compelled to share the art of classical ballet in nightlife and cabaret settings. It was when she took a class at the New York School of Burlesque and was discovered at one of their student showcases that her dream became a reality.
Named the “Prima Ballerina of Burlesque” by Art Review, Black combines classical ballet with burlesque moves to create a truly unique experience for the audience. Her entire solo acts are done on pointe and inspired by choreography from ballets like “Firebird” and “Giselle.” “Informing burlesque and variety audiences about classical ballet is really special for me because it’s something they’re not expecting to see, and in a lot of cases, they may not even go to the ballet,” she said. “It’s really fun to be able to expose them to that.”
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional dancer?I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and definitely always knew that I wanted to be an entertainer. I really loved performing live and tried my hand at a lot of different areas of live performance, but always come back to dance as my first love. I trained at the Ruth Page Conservatory and the Lou Conte Dance Studio, which is part of Hubbard Street in downtown Chicago, all through high school. I went to Smith College, so studied at the Five College Dance consortium there, which means that all the five colleges in that area share their dance department. I always loved ballet, but, in high school, was a little bit discouraged from focusing on it because I started training sort of late. In college, I actually focused a little bit more on modern techniques. I did a lot of choreography. My choreography was in a lot of the student shows. I performed in a lot of the faculty and MFA student shows, so I really grew as an artist there. Right after I graduated from Smith, I moved to New York to start auditioning full time.
How did you get started in burlesque?I was really interested in performing classical ballet in a nightlife setting, and I had already choreographed a few group ballet pieces to pop music that got some attention. I was very intrigued by burlesque as an art form as well after seeing a few shows, and thought it was something I wanted to try. So I enrolled in a class at the New York School of Burlesque. I took spellbinding burlesque with Veronica Varlow, and then performed in a few student showcases at the Parkside Lounge and the Bowery Poetry Club. My first act was a burlesque version of “Arabian Coffee” from “The Nutcracker.” A few producers approached me about being in their shows after seeing me in the school showcases, and eventually I started getting my name out there as a new performer and picking up more bookings. The first producers to book me were Calamity Chang and Runaround Sue, both super amazing women and performers. After doing a few shows with them, everything just grew from there.
Did the blend of ballet and burlesque already exist or did you create that?I definitely don’t think I’m the first person to blend ballet and burlesque. There are a lot of burlesque performers who are really amazing dancers. One of the things I really love about burlesque is the fact that all the performers do come from such varied backgrounds. There are amazing contortionists, aerialists and jugglers, you name it, that manage to work their special skill into their burlesque act. I’ve definitely seen performers that do burlesque on pointe and ballet-inspired burlesque, but I think that currently – I could be wrong because there are a lot of burlesque dancers in the world – I am the only one that does exclusively all her acts on pointe. I do try to blend or do a nod to classical ballet while still incorporating some classic burlesque moves. I’ve learned a lot from other burlesque performers because as a dancer, you sometimes feel that to be entertaining, you have to be constantly moving. From burlesque I really learned the power of stillness when you’re on stage and how an audience can react to that. And different ways that you can draw people’s attention to what you’re doing. It’s really an art form that’s about physical acting and physical communicating with the audience.
How do you describe your style of dance?My particular style of burlesque is inspired by a lot of classical ballet roles and performances. For instance, I have an act where I perform the entire “Firebird” variation. I always try and incorporate classical ballet routines or roles that people might recognize along with traditional burlesque moves. And sometimes I do try and take classical ballet choreography and turn it on its head and make it funny and entertaining. Like for instance, for Halloween I have a zombie act where I perform a lot of the choreography from “Giselle,” but as a zombie.
What is the New York Burlesque Festival? Explain the Golden Pastie Award you won there. It’s an annual festival that happens every September. It’s over four days and they book performers from New York, the entire US and around the world. So it’s really an opportunity to see acts that you wouldn’t normally see in New York. The Golden Pastie Awards are fun and silly awards that are given out every year at the festival. And the festival participants actually come up with the categories. For instance, this year, one of the awards was Claw Queen, for the performer with the best nails. There was the Smooth Criminal award for the performer you’d most likely commit a crime with. I won the Flash Dancer award last year for the dancer with the fanciest footwork. The awards are lighthearted, but it’s really nice to be recognized by the community for my work.
To learn more about Aurora, visit www.aurora-black.com