Jake DuPree chats burlesque, binaries and Blanc de Blanc Encore

Jake DuPree for Blanc de Blanc
Image: Supplied

We sat down with the lovely Jake DuPree and delved into the world of Burlesque: from idolising Jessica Rabbit to making their Australian debut with Blanc de Blanc Encore later this year.

After a whirlwind of hedonistic glamour, aerial acrobatics and tongue-in-cheek raunchiness for last year’s Blanc de Blanc Encore, the troupe is back for 2023 – with a couple fresh faces thrown in the mix.

One of these newcomers is Jake DuPree, a nonbinary burlesque performer, fitness instructor and dancer who’s infectious charm has graced both the internet and television screens, even featuring on the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3.

More recently, however, Jake has found themselves navigating slightly more turbulent attention after receiving backlash for multiple viral social media posts of them wearing, representing and celebrating their favourite lingerie brands.

Now, I chat with Jake about how dipping into the world of burlesque has not only helped them find confidence and comfort in their sexuality and gender identity, but also helped them fulfil a greater life purpose – one that they were born for.

Beyond the binary

For Jake, and for many other queer creatives, performance is not only an artform, but a visual language.

Dance allows for an expression of queerness which can be so evocative – both tender and bold. Burlesque, in particular, has roots in blurring the lines and boundaries of fashion, gender and sexual expression.

So, when the entire world screeched to a halt in 2020, Jake found themselves unable to dance professionally, and thus unable to engage this language that they had come to know and love.

This left them, instead, reflecting upon an identity-defining crossroads with one of their best friends, and roommate at the time.

“When I first heard the terminology surrounding non-binarism, and I heard Sam Smith and then Demi Lovato talk about it, I felt, for the first time, there was something out there that was describing me as a person,” Jake tells me.

“2020 gave us a lot of time to sit with ourselves – I mean that’s all we really had, to be honest. And during that time, I thought ‘You know what, I don’t know what life will look like after this, I don’t know if we’ll even come back to the life that we knew’. I felt like I wanted to be as happy as possible and to let myself relieve this weight off my shoulders that I was carrying around in terms of my own identity.

“It definitely was just this moment that was really freeing, because I could finally identify exactly who I was. And that’s something I had struggled with my entire life, trying to figure out what sexuality meant, what my gender identity was – I was just always searching for that and it was nice to be able to finally admit that and come to terms with that myself.”

The pronoun problem

And though many queer people find the initial experience of grappling with their sexuality difficult, coming out as nonbinary to those around you, as Jake explains to me, is an entirely different beast in and of itself.

“It’s hard trying to constantly explain it to people who don’t necessarily understand it in terms of using they/them pronouns.

“There’s this argument that it doesn’t grammatically make sense, but I’m like, ‘Well, language didn’t just come from the earth.

“It’s not the law of nature, someone created it.

“So it’s not set in stone and obviously those rules can change.

“These terms may seem like a fresh idea, but the reality of non-binary people is not new, that goes back centuries throughout so many different cultures.”

Divine feminine

However, Jake’s fascination with the performance of femininity came long before this pandemic-epiphany.

As they explain to me, the seeds of burlesque were sown in their heart from a young age, through their admiration for women both as powerful as they were beautiful.

“Obviously, burlesque is a woman-made artform, and I think the beauty and the glamour and the acceptance of different body types and femininity is what really drew me to it.

“Even as a kid, I was really drawn to any kind of female character in a movie or cartoon that was sort of driven by sexuality and how she used that to kind of get what she wanted – like Catwoman, Jessica Rabbit, Pamela Anderson.

“There was this overt sexuality, but it was like they were in on the joke, a kind of ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ humour.

“And when I found burlesque, it was through Josephine Baker. I was really intrigued by her because she was not only a performer that came from America to Europe and France and Paris and really made a name for herself. She also really helped change and integrate black and white audiences audiences in America.

“So I was always drawn to the rebellious spirits of these women.”

A star is born

But Jake’s first true taste of burlesque, and effectively the moment that flipped a switch inside of them, came when they visited Duane Park – a burlesque supper club in New York City.

“The rhinestones and the bodies and the hair and the makeup were just so mesmerising. And for the first time, I kind of saw myself in an art form. I had been dancing for a long time, mostly doing a lot of musical theatre.

“Obviously I loved the art form and I loved performing but I just never felt fully free or fully excited to do that. So when I found burlesque, I was like ‘That’s it!’”

But of course, burlesque super-stardom doesn’t happen overnight. Jake would go on to move to LA where they would regularly attend Tease, if you Please!, a burlesque show which gathered some of the most elite burlesque dancers, not only in LA, but in the world.

Haus of Dita

Yet, while Jake dreamt of being in the performer’s stilettos each night, life unfortunately had other plans for them.

“I went through a pretty deep depression after a breakup and an opportunity ended that I really loved. I started going to therapy, and explaining to my therapist that I just felt like I was on the floor and unsure of how to get back up. So she encouraged me to do things that scared me or made me nervous.

“Then, one day my friend sent me a flyer for an amateur drag competition at Revolver in West Hollywood, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m doing this’.”

After throwing their top-hat in the ring, Jake took the competition by the horns, showcasing their talents week-by-week over the ten-week competition and leaning more into the androgynous sexiness that has become so signature of their burlesque style to this day.

Jake emerged on the other side of the competition victorious, and two weeks later, the performer found themselves auditioning for the Queen of Burlesque herself – Dita Von Teese.

“The audition for the Dita Von Teese show in LA was full of these huge American burlesque stars. And I came out of nowhere. I just showed up in my lingerie and my heels and did what I do best. And then to also be in front of this person that I had idolised for years, it was just one of those moments where I was like, ‘I’m in the right place at the right time’. I felt like I was touching on something that was inherently mine, and supposed to do.”

Jake would go on to make their official burlesque debut the show, ‘Von Follies’, two nights a week – paying tribute to Dita’s iconic martini glass act.

Skin of satin, nerves of steel

Since then, Jake has gone on to tour with Burlesque troupes internationally, teasing and tantalising audiences across the globe.

“It’s been almost six years now, and to see where this has taken me and all the things I’ve done, it’s just been wild. I don’t know if I fully expected this artform to be the answer to my life, but it really has been that.”

And after six years in the game, Jake has become a bonafide and unflappable professional on the stage.

“I don’t really get that nervous anymore. I feel like a superhero when I’m out there. It’s kind of like this moment where I get to fully live and be present in the moment. I think that’s the most exciting part about it.

“But in saying that, I always feel this pressure to perform as best as I possibly can. I think that’s what drives me. It’s funny, though – in the moment my mind kind of goes blank and my body takes over, which I sort of just allow to happen. And that’s when the magic happens.”

Come witness the magic as Jake DuPree joins the Blanc de Blanc troupe on August 16. Get your tickets now.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Nate Woodall

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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