Tête-à-tête with Red Tongued Raven
Red Tongued Raven is a Toronto-based performer and Nudie Nubies Worldwide winner. We talked with her about her journey into burlesque and the role of social media for today’s burlesque artists.
What was your life like before burlesque?
Growing up in Cambridge, England I used to watch the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival every summer. I vividly remember sitting in the front row, on the grass, nestled between my parents and mesmerized by every word and move the actors made. Those were my earliest memories of theatre that sparked my interest in performing.
How did you discover burlesque?
I’d seen a clip of an Instagram Influencer rehearsing a chair dance. Even though it was not a full-fledged performance it still sparked my interest. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and this felt like the right way to do it. At the time I didn’t understand that burlesque often includes performing a striptease down to a g-string and pasties. Eventually I saw my first live burlesque performance at The Round Venue in Toronto. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed that hard before, I was blown away. That was the final push that made me give burlesque classes a try.
I quickly fell in love with burlesque. It challenges me to use a wide range of my skills through incorporating theatre, costuming, makeup, clown, dancing, storytelling, and much more.
Assuming it doesn’t say “Red Tongued Raven” on your birth certificate, where did your name come from?
Ravens are creatures with a human-like intelligence, a sense of playfulness and are often connected to other worlds. I think that suits my onstage presence perfectly.
What are the biggest challenges for a burlesque performer?
Remembering your pasty glue! Just kidding.
Allowing yourself to evolve as an artist whilst staying true to why you started performing and your own unique style.
What (or who) are the biggest champions for a burlesque performer?
Teachers and mentors are hugely important for performers. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive group of teachers. They’ve always encouraged me and loved my approach to burlesque. My friends have also been such great cheerleaders. I talk to my two best friends daily for advice, encouragement, or even just a laugh.
What role, positive and negative, does social media play in the life of a burlesque performer?
During the pandemic social media has allowed me to stay connected to fellow performers. It’s also helped me stay in touch with my on-stage persona. It’s kept me motivated, otherwise I would have felt totally disconnected from the stage.
With all that being said I often find myself shaking my head at things posted online. Not everything is good quality or even remotely entertaining. Social media has become a pressure cooker especially because everyone is stuck inside due to COVID-19. People feel like they have to constantly churn out new content.
I do like to post online quite frequently to keep my following, but recently I’ve taken some time-off. It feels much more authentic to post when I actually have something to say or share, rather than just being like “hey, don’t forget I’m still here.”
I also feel like a line needs to be drawn between online content creation and actual on-stage performing. Sure, there are a few elements that intersect between the two, but I mostly see social media as the antithesis to live performance. One calls for short, flashy and repetitive clips, and the other requires the ability to entertain and hold attention in a longer format. I wonder what older burlesquers who danced for 25 minutes or more think of the performers of today who invest so much time in making 10 second clips.
How have recent changes in rules on social platforms affected burlesque?
There has been a big crackdown on social media with respect to censorship. Because of the stricter rules many burlesque dancers can’t post sexy content. Nine times out of ten it’s going to get taken down. Even the use of certain emojis is policed. Like if I were to use the tongue out emoji (a personal fav) or peach emoji, my post could get flagged.
It’s a bit exhausting to navigate, especially when you’re trying to share something with the intention of it being light-hearted and fun. I’m happy to see performers moving their content to platforms where they have more control, like their own websites.
What was your “big break”?
Being selected to compete in the Imperial Burlesque Canada Competition within my first year of performing was a huge deal to me. I was competing against people who had been doing burlesque for almost ten years, artists from other countries, and even people who had taught me. It felt validating to be included amongst those artists, and it was a turning point in my career.
How can you, and others, “pay it forward” to the newbies that are coming up?
Art forms are destined to die when competitiveness and ego take precedence over elevating the craft and educating others. It’s important for myself and other performers to be kind and forthcoming with information where it can be offered.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
I’m competing against eight other performers from across the globe in Nudie Nubies Worldwide, The Ultimate Reveal. It’s the final show in a series that started in September 2020 and is produced by RedBone and Foxy Tann. Tune in on Tuesday May 18th at 8:00pm CT/ 9:00pm EST to see who wins.
To keep up with Raven, follow her on IG @redtonguedraven and visit her website here redtonguedraven.com