This is part of a series on New Year’s resolutions to #BeFullyYou. Here, More Cabaret founder Ragen Chastain tells us her story. Tell us yours in the comments below.
I have danced almost all my life.
I grew up in very rural America (more-cattle-than-people rural) which meant that I was enthusiastic but poorly trained. I always loved to dance – I loved the discipline of the technique, I loved moving and using my whole body to tell a story, I loved the physicality of it all. Then in my 20’s I got involved in competitive partner dancing, got an amazing coach (*waves at Rowdy Dufrene*) and got a chance to truly explore my potential as a dancer with a coach who was able to not just celebrate the natural talent I brought to the table, but also push me to go beyond that and see how good I could get if I really worked at it. A few National championships later, I was moving to L.A. I had briefly been a part of a Cabaret troupe in Austin and I knew that I wanted to create my own company in Los Angeles. Cabaret allowed me to choreograph using multiple styles, to showcase fat bodies as overtly sexy and sexual, and allowed us to be welcome in lots of different dance environments More Cabaret was born, and with 8 member at our peak, we danced in various stages of undress in front of crowds of cheering fans at venues across Los Angeles.
Oh, did I mention that I’m fat? Not chunky, not chubby, I’m fat, Fat AF. Fatty McFattsworthe, Fifth Baroness of Chubbington fat. To be clear, I consider fat a neutral term – I’m also brunette AF. The only difference between being fat and being brunette is how society treats me because of my size, which is why being in More Cabaret was such an incredible experience.
The legendary burlesque performer Juicy D. Light once told me that there’s nothing like the feeling of stripping to the sound of thunderous applause. She was right and the applause was amazing. But even if the crowds had boo’d I think I still would have been happy because my fat sisters and I were claiming and owning that space for ourselves.
In a world that suggests that fat people should neither be seen nor heard, every time we took the stage we were saying this: if you don’t want to see this, you’re going to have to turn your head, because we’re not leaving.
More Cabaret is on a long-term (possibly permanent) hiatus as I pursue some other dreams and goals, but I’ll take the lessons I learned about taking up space with me wherever I go. You don’t have to strip down to be empowered – and people who find empowerment through being naked or nearly so aren’t better than those who find empowerment covered from head to toe,. We have to make decisions about our own safety and piece of mind. It’s about our decision of when to take up space that we’ve been told we don’t deserve – whether it’s because of marginalization due to sizeism, racism, ableism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny or a combination thereof. It’s about taking up space gleefully, unapologetically, unyieldingly, and letting people know that they can applaud or they can boo, but either way we’re staying right where we are.