Change Agent

OD Kimani found a platform for personal expression, empowerment, and social change in the world of neo-burlesque.

I’m an international burlesque performer, and I am beyond humbled to have a platform to creatively express and affect change in our ever-changing society. I strive to move audiences when I perform and enjoy being able to truly share and create on stage. I have always had a love for the performing arts, including 20 years as an actor and time spent studying theatre at Edgewood College in Madison.

I was first drawn to performing because of the amazing people and community that it promoted. When I was younger, I was diagnosed with ADD and had a lot of difficulties in school (including being kicked out of preschool), and performing was a true outlet for me. It helped me to be able to focus my energy in a positive way, and to feel like I finally was part of something bigger and affecting those around me. Meeting so many people who inspired me along the way continues to make me feel lucky every day for the beauty that is sharing something I’ve created with a live audience.

I have always enjoyed entertaining an audience, and I truly appreciated my time in theatre. My time in that discipline was very rewarding, but I always wanted another avenue to express myself in the creative arts. Because of this, I began to explore the world of dance a bit more, and I had the honor of joining Chez Bouché, a comedic and provocative cabaret troupe. Touring the U.S. with this group was an opportunity that I was so truly thankful to experience. I learned a lot about my abilities and found a whole new love for the way dance can move an audience. I went back to doing theatre and just never felt like I was satisfied. I knew I loved performing, but I also knew I wanted to do more and empower others. Shortly thereafter, my best friend Mercury Stardust-Deville introduced me to the world of burlesque, and I fell in love with performing all over again.

I have only been burlesque dancing for about a year and half, but there is no better feeling than seeing a picture in my head come to fruition on a stage. In this wonderful art form, I am able to express my true self. I feel like I can bare my soul and give everything I have every single time I perform.

Once I started doing burlesque, everything else in my life seemed to fall into place. I have never felt more at home than I do in the burlesque community. I am lucky to have had so many before me pave the way for the amazing opportunities I have today. It may have taken me a little while, but I finally found my niche and I couldn’t be happier.

While burlesque is a perfect fit for me, it is important to mention that I am a guest in this community as a male performer. Burlesque was created by and for women as a means to be able to express themselves and not feel that they had to conform to society’s rules about their bodies. I am a guest here, and I am so beyond grateful.

I have had a lot of success recently and it has really boosted my confidence. Life has not always been the easiest on me as a performer of color, and I am so thankful to have found a safe place where I finally feel fully accepted and loved. I recently performed in Switzerland at the Geneva Burlesque Festival and recently won the Judges’ Choice Award at the Great Burlesque Expo in Boston. Last year I had the opportunity to represent Wisconsin nationally as the 2016 WI Burlypicks Master of Amazement. I will be attending two festivals in Canada, and competing for titles at the Hebden Bridge Festival in the UK as well as at the Hollywood Burlesque Festival in May.

As I reflect on my journey, I am truly humbled by the highlights of my short career in burlesque so far. I have found my home in an art form that helps to empower performers and audience members alike, hopefully affecting change in people’s lives. I have never felt freer, and I could not be happier. I will be forever grateful for the way burlesque has changed me and soothed my soul. I now fully accept myself as a black man in this community, and that is priceless.

(supplementary photography by Jonathan Popp)