Full-figured burlesque dancer D.D. DuPree muses on self-love and female empowerment

For D.D. DuPree, the art of burlesque is more than shedding clothes in front of an audience – it’s stripping away fear and learning to feel comfortable in her own skin, flaws and all.

When she isn’t exuding sensuality on the Vaudezilla stage, she is Draenna Jackson – wife, freelance video editor, receptionist and full-time graduate student, studying Human-Computer Interaction at DePaul. She spoke to me about the transformative power of performing and believing in herself regardless of naysayers.

Burlesque dancer D.D. DuPree, whose husband came up with her stage name as a cheeky nod to her curvaceous figure. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/DuPree.DD
Burlesque dancer D.D. DuPree, whose husband came up with her stage name as a cheeky nod to her curvaceous figure./Photo: https://www.facebook.com/DuPree.DD

SadéTell me about the Vaudezilla Burlesque Troupe and how you got involved with it.

D.D. – They were looking for what they call vixens [stagehands]. They dress us up as cigarette girls in a corset and fluffy skirt and we are scenery at the show…I “vixened” with them for two years and the owner of the troupe, Red Hot Annie, asked if I would like to take advanced classes for free because they were putting together a JV squad.

Sadé Before Red Hot Annie came to you about taking free classes, had you done any training for burlesque dancing?

D.D. – I never did any dance training. I did a lot of theater training when I was young.

Sadé What kind of skills do you need to be a burlesque dancer?

D.D. – Well, having some rhythm helps (laughs). I think having a lot of confidence in yourself, your stage presence and the effect you can have on an audience…I think that’s what makes all the performers really something special.


SadéAre there only full-figured women in the troupe, or is it open to all sizes and shapes?

D.D. – It’s open to all sizes, all shapes, all sexes…we have two “boylesque” members of the troupe; they’re male dancers who are both incredible.

SadéWhen you Google “beautiful women,” the majority of the results show thin, white women. Is it difficult to be a full-figured woman of color in entertainment in a society that still seems to prefer the western ideal of beauty?

D.D. – No. I feel like any woman of color has to come to terms with the fact that she’s not blond and blue-eyed at a really young age, or she’s not going to be happy with herself…I perform for the people who don’t care what color I am.

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“SHIFT” – A New Media exhibit by Luftwerk at the Chicago Cultural Center

This is "Spectrum," the second installation in the three-part work "Shift," by Luftwerk./Photo credit: Sadé Carpenter
“Spectrum,” the second installation in the three-part New Media exhibit “Shift,” by Luftwerk./Photo: Sadé Carpenter

A myriad of colors and sound collide in “Shift,” the compelling media exhibit now on display at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Created by Luftwerk, collaboration between artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero (both School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni), the intriguing exhibit features three separate installations that stimulate visitors’ senses while encouraging interaction with the piece.

Upon entrance into the first room “Spectrum,” viewers face a wall featuring a mosaic of 529 different colors, each blending and shifting to form new tones and hues. Though the colors are bright and fresh, the darkness of the remaining space and fluid color transitions provide a tranquil ambience. The panel may remind some of a painter’s palette or beautiful stained glass in a church.

Participation is central in the next area, “Synthesis,” where shadows are cast in different colors depending on where the exhibit-goer stands on a large white rectangle covering the floor. Subtle bell tones – courtesy of sound artist Owen Clayton Condon – are almost unnoticeable initially, but once heard, are reminiscent of a sweet lullaby.

“Threshold,” the final component in “Shift,” jolts the viewer out of the peacefulness of the previous installations, stripping the piece of color in its sharp display of black and white lines. This room also serves as contrast to the softer, more muted color in “Synthesis.” Two mirrors are angled together between two walls, forming a prism. The lines travel across the wall, producing shapes until suddenly they flat line, perhaps signaling the end of the experience.

SAIC Alumni Profile, Luftwerk: Sean Gallero & Petra Bachmaier (BFA 1999) from SAIC on Vimeo.

Location: Chicago Rooms Gallery, (2nd Floor North) – Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St. Chicago, IL 60602

Exhibition date: open now through January 5th

Exhibition hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10am-7pm, Fri. – Sun., 10am-6pm

Closed holidays

Admission: FREE