- Words Louis Rabinowitz
Notion meets Scarlett Snow, the creator of the LGBTQ+ performance project, Honey Burlesque, to chat about the queer community, the changing meaning of safe spaces, and true queer inclusion.
Scarlett Snow is no newcomer to the world of burlesque. She first began working in the vibrant queer scene of Orlando, Florida, before heading to the colder climes of New York to take advantage of the Big Apple’s famous nightlife. Snow built up her reputation in queer bars and shows around the city before taking the next step in her career in September 2017 – the founding of her own queer event, Honey Burlesque.
Honey Burlesque had some humble beginnings, but it filled a vital need for a truly inclusive queer safe space for gathering and artistic creation, and soon Snow’s event had evolved into a fully-fledged queer community which now spans both New York and Los Angeles.
Today, Honey Burlesque is a thriving space that has weathered the effects of the COVID pandemic to come out stronger, with a large troupe of queer gals and non-binary folx among its numbers. Snow herself continues to perform independently across the US, balancing her individual art with the true collectivist project of Honey Burlesque.
We caught up with Scarlett to chat all things Honey Burlesque, her artistic drive, and unhesitant attitude towards true inclusion in queer spaces.
What compelled you to move to New York in search of a proper queer nightlife scene?
I probably have the gayest answer to this ever, but my girlfriend (now fiance) of a fresh 2 months at the time is what prompted my move out of Florida and into New York. She lived there and long distance was not my cup of tea, so we did what lesbians do best and Uhualed. However, I will say that I was definitely looking for a change of scenery at the time, but not for “proper” nightlife. The nightlife scene in Florida is actually wonderful and it was a great experience for me, especially for the beginning of my career. And I’ll always be grateful to Florida and those who helped me get to where I am today.
What were your original plans for Honey Burlesque back when it was set up in 2017?
Honey Burlesque was originally just supposed to be a show. I had pitched the owner of a popular lesbian bar in the city on a burlesque brunch show that featured local queer catering and queer dancers that I knew from different areas of NY. The owner asked me to pick a name for the event and after a few flops, I decided on Honey. From there, Honey Burlesque grew from a small sized idea to a troupe of dancers and event production company.
What do you think it means for LGBTQ women/non-binary folx to have a true safe space? Why was that important to you?
I think the term “safe space” has evolved to mean many different things over the years. We hear from our elder generation of queer people that their safe spaces were hidden places that they could live without judgement, even if just for a moment in time. A safe haven, more so. Now – in the US – gay bars/clubs are more accepted, promoted, sponsored by various liquor brands and even seen as tourist attractions in some areas. And while we absolutely have pocket regions where rainbow flags outside of an establishment turn people away, I like to think that we are in a much better space than we were 50 -25 years ago.
Now safe spaces for the queer community in general are fairly easy to find in most major cities. However, they are predominatly marketed towards cis gay men, leaving out queer women and our trans community. With only 15 dedicated lesbian/queer women’s bars left in the US, it’s important to me to help create safe spaces for LGBTQ women so that we don’t see a drought of spaces for a major part of our queer community. Yes, we can grab a drink at a traditional gay boy bar and not feel sexualized for kissing our partners, but there are sometimes other levels of judgement that we face in a male dominant space. It’s much more appealing to go into a venue that is filled with other women and non-binary babes, and be able to live as your full self, unabashedly without someone feeling as though you don’t belong there.
It’s clear you see Honey Burlesque as a space for queer artistic expression. What does queer art mean to you, personally?
Oh man, well – I feel as though queer art is some of the most raw and beautiful. The expression, the passion, the vulnerability – it’s always the full package regardless of the medium or canvas. I can’t fully explain why, but I’ve always felt extremely connected to queer artists, performers, creators.
What was the principle behind the Honey Shop apparel?
The Honey Shop was intended to be a COVID project to help generate revenue for the business while we weren’t able to perform. We started off with some super simple designs and “merch style” concepts. Our first launch was successful, but not what Sam (Honey Burlesque Brand Manager and Director of Photography) had envisioned as the end result. So we took a few months off and reimagined some of our items, hired a new distributor, and set out for artist collaboration.
While we are still not in full service on the Honey Shop, Sam and I have plans to keep it going in 2022. We have a line up of queer collaborators to feature and work with in the upcoming collection, which is really exciting because that’s the ultimate direction that we want it to be in. All Honey apparel should reflect the brand, our team of dancers, and our community – wearable representation not just for Honey, but for everyone who works with us and attends our events.
One of Honey Burlesque’s key principles is inclusivity. What do you think that looks like in a queer environment?
Inclusivity is vital. Within any Honey Burlesque events, we make sure that no one feels unwanted or not welcome. While we are a troupe + event company that caters to LGBTQ women and hosts LGBTQ women’s centered events, we do not turn away guests at the door. Our rule is that as long as you are respectful, you are welcome. I will say that our events are primarily attended by women and non-binary peeps, but we a small following of gay and straight men that politely observe our shows without any issues.
We also have a zero tolerance for transphobia. This has unfortunately been a prominent issue specifically in the lesbian community, where transwomen will be turned away or left feeling unwelcome in lesbian spaces. Honey Burlesque events and shows are open to all women and we will not tolerate discrimation towards our trans community. Period.
How do you balance the individual artistic expression you pursue with the collectivism that Honey Burlesque embodies?
My individual expression has influenced the way that Honey Burlesque is shaped, but Honey is much more than just me. Honey is my dancers, and their vibrant personalities and uniquely crafted performances. How they feel comfortable moving, how they express themselves, how they feel beautiful, sexy, powerful. Honey is Sam – our brand manager and director of photography. How she captures the Honeys, the brand, the events, the apparel. Her artistic eye and level of talent has pushed us into a direction that I never would have known to be possible. Honey is our community, our audience, and their roars of support for us as we take the stage night after night. Without them, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.
Yes, I have an influence, of course – Honey Burlesque is my baby. You’ll see parts of me; my rawness, humor, and drive in her seams, but the fabric of Honey Burlesque is the collective of artists and audience members alike that keep her alive and beaming.
Honey Burlesque is based primarily in New York and LA, two cities with really vibrant queer scenes. What do you think the barriers are in establishing that same community in less diverse spaces?
Acceptance. We are fortunate to have our headquarters in two extremely diverse places, with booming queer nightlife – and ultimately, we are very accepted in our home bases. From an audience perspective, but also a venue perspective as well. I can imagine that trying to host in smaller areas / less accepting regions would be difficult because you truly never know how someone may react to you pitching them on an exclusivly LGBTQ event. Having grown up in North Carolina, the thought of approaching a venue on a queer women’s burlesque event gives me MAJOR anxiety. I respect the hell out of the LGBTQ promoters, event producers, and performers that are able to push past those barriers and put on incredible shows.
How do you think lockdown has affected the queer community you’re building with Honey Burlesque? Have you been able to take any bright spots from it?
I definitely feel that the queer community was hit hard by COVID. For many, going out in the queer scene is a nice little escape from the heteronormative lifestyle that surrounds us. We meet our friends, our love interests, our passionate-makeout-partner-for-a-full-Robyn-song at the gay bar. On top of an already scary and uncertain time, having those connections stripped was tough. We opened back up during Pride (June 2021) – and while most of our community has made their way back into our events, there’s still a good portion of people who still just aren’t ready.
As far as bright spots go, I felt a collective shift of energy at Honey events after we reopened. Our staff, the audience, the Honeys, and myself – it was just different, and in a nice way. Maybe it’s an appreciation for something that was gone for so long? Or maybe a long rest was needed for some people, and now they are truly reinvigorated and ready. For me, I’m a bit of both. I was experiencing a slight burnout right before the pandemic hit, and not being able to perform or produce for a year and half really put things into perspective for me. I’m grateful, happy, and feeling connected to my craft.
What’s next for Honey Burlesque?
2022 is gonna be big! In addition to our monthly event, Hot Honey, and our residency with The Stonewall Inn in NY, we’ve already signed onto two new contracts for New York shows and are moving into more large event production with Hot Rabbit NYC (our partner with Hot Honey). Our LA location will be officially launched this coming year, which has been a PROCESS but it will be sooo worth it. The Honey Shop is reopening with a new collection of special edition items as well as new artist collaborations. Plus much more!
What lessons have you learned in your years as a queer community builder and artist so far?
To always remain humble and continue to listen + learn. The queer community is ever-evolving and we must move with it.
Where’s your happy place?
That depends! If I’m wanting a quiet day to myself – definitely at home, playing video games, and snacking. If I’m wanting to feel in touch with my body – ballet or contemporary class. If I’m wanting to feel my entire soul – on stage.