This gorgeous lady of burlesque brings showmanship, sexiness, drama and wisdom to every stage she’s on, to the point where she’s actually bested some of Brooklyn’s best drag queens in pageants. And with a name like Qualms Galore, she’s actually quite content these days. Today she shares her story with Thotyssey.
Thotyssey: Qualms, hello! Congrats on your recent MR(S) BK pageant prelim win, first of all! Did you see that coming?
Qualms Galore: No, I did not expect to win at all! I really wanted it, but I was also pretty sure I was the only burlesque performer in a cast of drag artists. You never know if standing out will be to your benefit or detriment in those situations. I guess this time it was a benefit! Honestly, I figured I had a chance at Audience Pick because Bizarre is one of my nightlife homes, but I never thought I’d be Judge’s Choice.
Your routine was gorgeous, but also kind of haunting–set to a Tool song! Is that from your repertoire, or was it kind of different from what you normally do onstage?
Thank you! In a lot of ways this act is similar to everything I do… and completely different. I became known for my stillness and musicality and storytelling early in my career, and it’s been something that I’ve stuck with. This act absolutely has all those qualities. What’s unusual about this number is its depth and sadness. Most of my pieces lift the mood of a room; they have a playful and sometimes comedic tone. Or they’re sexy and enticing, in a way that pulls the audience in. This one is different, because I pull them in almost by pushing them away.
This act is hard for me, because it’s about divorce… and every moment is a true depiction of how I felt in that time of my life. I bring the room there with me, back to that ugly place… and then at the end, we all escape together. I can feel the energy change in the room. It’s amazing!
And as for Tool, my music choices are all over the place. I hear a song and if it speaks to me, I have to do something with it. This act was supposed to be a one-off for an American Metal show two years ago. I had already been booked to kitten, and the producer asked if I’d do a number. At the time, I thought I could only do pretty princess burlesque, but I was up for the challenge. She sent me Tool as a band to check out. This was just months after my separation; I heard “Schism” and it described everything I’d been feeling, and as I listened the act just appeared in my head.
That’s very cathartic! Where do you get your performing costumes… do you design / sew at all?
Ha! Me and sewing machines do not get along. I can hand sew, but that’s no way to make a whole costume! I do all my own embellishing and rhinestoning, but most of my costumes are pieces I bought off the rack and then decorated. Though I do have a couple of custom costumes that were made specifically for me.
Well it’s a pretty gorgeous mix from what I’ve seen! Okay, let’s jump back a bit… where’s your hometown, and what sort of crazy kid were you?
I grew up in the Bronx, and went to school in Manhattan. I don’t think I really was a crazy kid! I had a bad attitude and problems with authority figures, but that’s just being a teenager, right?
Definitely! Were you always a dancer?
I’ve always been creative. I wrote and drew and painted all through high school and college, but I was never passionate about it. And I did theater tech in high school, but that was the extent of my performance-related background. You don’t have to be a dancer to be a burlesque performer, you just have to be entertaining and willing to take your top off!
So how did you discover burlesque?
Burlesque is the first art form that spoke to me. The first show I went to was opening night of the New York Burlesque Festival at Brooklyn Bowl in 2010. I had no idea what to expect, and I fell in love immediately. Festival shows are always long, so I walked in having seen no burlesque and walked out having seen 20 or 30 acts in just a few hours. I was hooked! It was so powerful for me to see people of all shapes, sizes, genders and colors, step on stage and own their sexuality and their bodies.
There’s also a beauty to the vulnerability in burlesque. No matter what the theme of your performance is, you end up naked in a room full of people who are clothed. That’s an act of bravery and defiance, and and it’s inherently political. I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I had to do it. It took me five years to get the courage, but I made it happen.
So you had to work through your own inhibitions about publicly disrobing at first?
At first the idea of getting naked in front of people was scary, but also enticing. When I saw that first show, I was a 21 year-old sorority girl who didn’t know or love her body. I knew taking off your clothes is part of the gig, and I think that’s why it took me five years to get started. I had to do a little mental work. And even then, my debut performance was terrifying.
But the fear subsided, and my confidence grew. It’s insanely therapeutic to perform on a day you hate your body, strip for 100 strangers, and then have them applaud and cheer at the sight of that thing you’re so disgusted by. Then I got used to being in pasties and a g-string on stage, and decided to do my first fully nude performance! I almost passed out!
It’s been just over two years, and I’m totally unfazed by it now. But it’s funny to think about.
How did you come up with your performing name?
My ex named me! We were bickering, and I started to say, “I have no qualms with…” and he interrupted me and said, “Oh, you’ve got qualms galore!” That was years before my debut, but it because like an inside joke with us. Then when it became time to get on stage, I couldn’t resist!
And its funny, at the time, I did have Qualms Galore. I was in an unhappy marriage, with no creative release. Now that I’m past all that and finding positivity and love and light, this name doesn’t suit me. But I can’t imagine being anyone else
Iconic! As far as nightlife performers go, I always thought burlesquers were so interesting because they perform for so many different types of audiences–straight, queer–and in sexual or dramatic or silly contexts, and in so many different types of venues… do you have an ideal situation as far as audience, venue, etc?
Its true! We have opportunities to connect with so many different kinds of people! My ideal audience is open to experience my art, and the art of my fellow performers. They’re attentive and friendly and happy to be there. It’s so strange when people come to a titty show, and then get mad they saw some titties!
My ideal venue is an intimate one with great site lines, a proper stage and a proper dressing room. We got to request our venue for Mr(s) BK, and I asked for Bizarre because it fits all those qualities! I love being able to see my audience and connect with them individually.
Though, I have done some really big shows and that can be amazing for the opposite reason. I performed with the Dallas Burlesque Festival on the main stage of The House of Blues, and it was crazy! The room holds something like 1200 people. I came out and couldn’t see a single person, but I could hear them… they roared! Then I took my bra off, and the stage shook underneath me. I can’t play like that wasn’t fun!
When did you specifically start mixing it up with the queer Brooklyn nightlife crowd?
I started performing with Switch n’ Play fairly early on. They showcase drag and burlesque side-by-side. This was also around the time I started working the door for The Fuck You Revue at Bizarre. Then I started hanging out there, and got to know the other performers who are also regulars like Lee and Vic and Munroe and MiscAllaneous, who all quickly became part of my queer family.
But I think the ball really got rolling when The Nobodies invited me to compete in the Mx. Nobody Pageant. That was the first time I was the only burly babe in a sea of Queens and Kings. And then I won, and more queer booking opportunities came my way.
How did you enjoy the whole Mx. Nobody pageant experience?
It was so fantastic! I was TERRIFIED!!! I’ve competed quite a bit in the burlesque world, but I had no clue what to expect. I hadn’t met The Nobodies before, but someone had given my name to Ariel Italic as someone who might be good for the competition. I showed up to the preliminary round and fully thought I’d lose. Then I made it to the finale, and again thought I would lose. But then I didn’t, and it was so amazing to me how open everyone was. I was so afraid that people wouldn’t accept me, or think I deserved the title. But it was fine, we’re all friends now!
So, that’s too big pageant wins from a burlesquer in a drag-heavy lineup! Not too shabby! Have you ever tried, or considered, some form of drag yourself?
Absolutely! In my eyes, Qualms is quite draggy. I also have an alter ego named Pam The Natural. She’s absolutely a drag queen. She’s aggressively femme, unapologetic and the loudest bitch in the room without saying a word! She just doesn’t lip sync.
I’ve performed as a king once, that one was way harder for me! His name was Whipple Tickle and the ladies loved him… but I felt so weird trying to be a guy. I think if I do him again, he’ll be much more of a dandy.
That would be an interesting compromise! So the Mr(s) BK finale is next week! Do you know what you’re gonna do yet? Stiff competition so far, Harajuku apparently douched on stage for her prelim win the week before yours!
Oh my god! I couldn’t go to Week One because I was working, but I heard it was a phenomenal show! I’m between two acts right now, but I need to go check out Secret Project Robot and see what I can do in that space.
In the meantime, I see you’ve got some burlesque gigs coming up: two on Friday night starting with Feisty Femmes at Parkside Lounge (8pm), and then with the Wasabassco troupe at City Winery NYC (11pm)! That’s a lot of nudity in one day!
Yeah! Well I won’t be stripping at City Winery, I’m kittening. Normally I don’t do two shows in a night, but it’s been known to happen on occasion! But I love the producers of both shows. Feisty Femmes is a fundraiser! I don’t have necessarily have money to give to causes I care about, but I definitely have time, and try to donate my work anytime I can! And Wasabassco is where my burlesque career started, and has kept it flourishing ever since. I couldn’t imagine turning either show down so I guess I have to do both!
If anyone can do it, it’s you! And Saturday you’ll be back at one of your usual venues, the Slipper Room! Is that, like, the best spot to catch a burlesque show in NYC?
Slipper is definitely a great place to see burlesque and variety. But I don’t want to say where he best burlesque is, I can’t really, it all depends on what you’re into.
Burlesque is happening seven nights a week in all five boroughs, in bars and restaurants and book stores and rooftops, and in people’s basements! it’s everywhere.
Yeah! He’s wonderful! We do a lot with Wasabassco together!
Okay, what else needs to be said here?
I mean, everyone should definitely make it to Metropolitan this Friday [for the final MR(S) BK preliminary round] to see who will be joining me at the Finale!! Other than that, I just want to say thank you, his has been really fun!!!
Yaz same here! Last question…. is there any song that is completely burlesque-proof?
No way! I mean a general rule is, don’t use anything that has hate speech or a super negative message… but even that could be used to make an amazing political act if the performer is smart and can really drive it home.
Have you ever been to Fancy Feast’s show Maim That Tune? The concept is performers dance to the song they hate most. It’s always amazing and hilarious and interesting, because my least favorite song might be your most favorite!
I guess there are no limitations! Except maybe, like, The Golden Girls theme song.
Oh my god. someone could slay that song! Is that “thank you for being a friend?” Because Ariel Italic and Lady Bearica from The Nobodies do that as a duet and it’s fantastic! Burlesque and drag performers are clever AF!
That they are! Thanks, Qualms!