DISCLAIMER: This article contains images that depict partial nudity.
When it comes to nerd culture or what makes you nerdy, there are many ways to express it and many places to show it. Some of the more common ways one would think of would involve going to conventions, cosplaying, being a video gamer, or having some massive collection of comics or Pop figures.
But to be involved in the culture or to be a “nerd” or “geek” isn’t limited to things that are superficial or maybe stereotypical. There are avenues where nerd culture goes beyond going to conventions and digging through Target looking for a limited edition or exclusive Vinyl Pop. This piece I want to share and fill you in on other places nerd culture lives.
With that said, let’s explore a sexier avenue of nerd culture, Nerdlesque.
As you can probably guess, nerdlesque, the term and art, is a mashup between nerd and burlesque. “It takes elements from classic burlesque, neo classic burlesque, and sideshows, meshes them together in an effort to tell a story about a pop culture character.” Now these aren’t my words, but I will reveal that later.
To give you a visual, think of more revealing cosplays that you would see at typical conventions but instead more elaborate and expressive; obviously more nudity. When you think of a stereotypical nerd, you don’t always associate sexuality or sexual expression. Or if you DO think of sex, you think of someone who is faking it to fool “actual nerds” and playing on a fantasy; usually that falls into the “fake nerd girl” trope.
Similar to versions of cosplay in which the cosplayer makes a character more sexy, nerdlesque allows the performer to take a character or concept that they love and know and make it their own. They infuse their own creative vision, sexuality, and sexual expression into a performance or concept in order to create an intimate experience between them and the audience; especially if you know and love the character that they’re portraying. The choices in music, outfit, and type of dance are made to not only enhance the experience, but to highlight the aesthetic of the character and performer. Nerdlesque allows the performer to show the intersectionality between being a nerd, cosplayer, and a sexual being; it breaks down a stereotype of a nerd/geek and expands it; showing that those who are nerdy or geeky have dimensions to their personality.
Last weekend, or on the 7th of October, I was given the opportunity to see a nerdlesque show, The 8-Bit Revue 2: A Sexy Journey Through Video Game History, and interview the producer: The “Cosplay Cutie Turned Burlesque Beauty” Maki Roll. She gave me insight into the nerdlesque world as a woman, performer, producer, audience member, and as a nerd.
How did you get into nerdlesque?
In 2013; I was a part of a zombie pinup calendar (yes; THAT was a thing). As a part of promoting the calendar, the creator asked everyone involved if they wanted to do a burlesque show. Me; not really knowing what burlesque was outside of Dita Von Tease, agreed. Let’s just say the show wasn’t like Dita Von Tease at all, but it sparked my fire for the art form.
What makes nerdlesque different from traditional burlesque?
The objective of a nerdlesque act is not only to be entertaining, but to be relatable enough so that you connect with the crowd, even if they don’t know who or what you’re portraying. I believe nerdlesque borrows basic elements from classic burlesque, but nerdlesque allows you a bit more freedom in terms of movement and costuming. You can undress the same character in so many different ways and create your own versions of your favorite characters.
How is nerdlesque different or similar to sexy versions of cosplay?
I think the biggest difference would be the construction of the costumes. In cosplay; especially skin baring cosplay, you try your hardest to keep them on because the last thing you want is a wardrobe malfunction in front of an entire con. In nerdlesque; our costumes need to come off in four minutes or less. We have to create shortcuts and costume hacks, and sometimes those don’t translate well off stage.
What stigma or negative response has nerdlesque gotten?
There are those who say that nerdlesque shows are taking over, and are pushing out cabaret/classic styled shows. There has definitely been a surge in nerdlesque productions, however I believe DC is big enough for every production to find their audience.
By doing nerdlesque, has your “nerd card” even been questioned?
Not anymore than it gets questioned just for being a woman. I work around men and comics; and the amount of times I get fact checked to my male counterparts is crazy. I think most people are generally chill about it. They can see the passion that myself and the other performers have for the fandoms they portray.
What is the cosplay community’s response to nerdlesque?
So far; they are still somewhat separated. I think most predominately nerdlesque performers cosplay, and often they introduce their audience to it. There are certain troupes, myself included, who create shows as nightlife event options for popular conventions. I definitely think that the response from the nerdy community as a whole has been positive.
What are some positive reactions/responses to nerdlesque you or anyone has received?
I think the most positive response I’ve gotten was in Barbados. I had been invited to Anime Kon Expo as a guest and featured performer in 2016 and I was so nervous about how the crowd would respond. I was performing in the middle of their after party (which was already extremely lit). I remember being at the curtain as they called my name and hearing the crowd erupt. By the time it stopped, I realized my music was already 15 seconds in and I hadn’t heard it. It was definitely a surreal experience.
Does nerdlesque go hand-in-hand with nerd culture? (Why or why not?)
I think nerdlesque breaks this stigma that nerds are these asexual beings. Some are, and that’s absolutely fine. Many are very sexual in nature and I think nerdlesque is a great creative expression of that sexuality. As a performer; my entire process of creating an act is centered on who the character is. From the music, to the movement and of course, costume; it all has to make sense. Some of the most brilliant nerdlesque acts I’ve seen have been from performers who have taken the source material and read/watched it 3000 times over.
When you produce shows such as 8-Bit Revue, what are your goals or what message do you want to bring across?
I want to create an experience for people who come to my shows. I want them to see performers that represent them, because sexy nerdy-ness comes in many beautiful packages. I want them to leave having had a unique experience unlike anything they’ve ever been to. My personal goals are to make each show bigger and better than before.
What is your response to those who say nerdlesque is “ruining” burlesque or nerd culture stuff?
I say stop policing the things people enjoy. Nerdlesque is a product of two subcultures combining, and it’s only getting more popular.
As you can tell from previous pieces I’ve written, I believe in intersectionality. I believe one can be a nerd, sexual, and still a respectable person at the end of the day. By letting your geekiness/nerdy-ness intersect with your sexuality, you’re not destroying your nerd card or burning your nerd flag. Nerdlesque allows the performer to be sexually creative and expressive while being a dork. Nerdlesque allows the audience to be sexually engaged and geeky while they watch the performance.
It proves that nerd culture is not some isolated subculture filled with stereotypes, but loaded with diversity and different mediums to express fandom.
As a cosplayer, I became more expressive and open when I started cosplaying. My creativity had an outlet to shine and I was able to come out of my shell a little bit more. Things that seem small to other people, like being more comfortable in the skin and body I’m in, I’m able to work through my own fears and learn to embrace what makes me who I am. I believe nerdlesque does the same thing. It allows the performer to embrace various sides of themselves and share that with their audience. To take on stereotypes or stigmas and slowly breaks them down with each performance. It gives those who either on stage or in the audience a chance to explore their sexuality and nerdy-ness in a welcoming environment that is free of judgement. Nerdlesque gives encouragement and support for those, like me, who need to be reminded that nerddom is sexy. Nerds can be sexy without being objectified, disrespected, or treated as “less than.”
As Maki said, nerdlesque is growing in popularity and so is nerd culture as a whole. If nerdlesque is signs of the growth nerd culture is making, I’m excited to see what other avenues nerd culture can explore.
If you’re ever curious or want to see a nerdlesque performance for yourself, and I HIGHLY recommend that you should, follow Maki Roll’s Chop Shop on Facebook for upcoming shows. The next one that I know of is Weeabooties on December 2nd. If the name alone doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what to tell you then.
Sponsors for The 8-Bit Revue were Third Eye Comics, the venue was The Bier Baron Tavern, and Ginger Jameson was responsible for vending the event. Photos in this article were done by AshB Images. Please follow her work.