This year will be my fourth BurlyCon in a row and it is one of my favorite events of the year! I love the opportunity it offers to meet and learn from incredible performers from all over the globe and connect with new and old friends who remind me of the best aspects of the burlesque community. I always come away from BurlyCon empowered, inspired and invigorated. It is also an event that seeks to promote both self-care and equal representation, which are extremely important to me!
When it comes to accessibility, there have been some wonderful changes made recently that I hope will make performers with disabilities or chronic illnesses feel even more welcome. Even though I can only speak from my experiences with my particular disability, I’ve learned some general guidelines that might help allies and disabilibabes alike this coming year. So…
Are you a disabled or chronically ill performer looking for tips on thriving during the event?
Are you planning on attending or teaching at BurlyCon, consider yourself an ally, and would just love to know how to better support your disabled or chronically ill buddies who will be there?
-Hotel Accessibility Info-
The Hilton Seattle Airport Hotel & Conference Center overall meets ADA code. This means that there are accessible stalls in the public restrooms, many (not all) of the doors have push buttons, elevators and ramps are available to the public, and there are ADA compliant rooms available in the hotel.
NOTE: Previous experience has shown me that many of the push buttons will break and then work and then break again. Feel free to notify hotel staff. They will sometimes manage to fix them!
The hotel rooms are a trek from the location of the classes and events themselves and getting to anything from your room will require traveling through a couple of long carpeted hallways, a covered but *outdoor* walkway, and then going up a ramp that is *a designated smoking area* but is the only way to access the elevators that you need to use to get to the con. You will have to ask potential smokers to step aside as you go up the ramp, go through the parking structure, and then enter the small lobby to the right for the convention center and go up the elevators. (Ideally, it would be great if smoking attendees could use a different nearby location other than this ramp since hefting yourself up a ramp through smoke is hard and some have breathing difficulties that make this a really negative experience. Consider this a public plea!)
-Class Accessibility Info-
New from last year, all classes will be labeled in the guide as accessible or non-accessible and also state whether or not the instructor has prepared modifications in advance!
Attendees: use this information wisely! There are accessible movement class options, which is fantastic, but make sure to schedule other classes without the movement component for when you might be low on spoons. Be honest with yourself about how much labor you’re willing to take on when you see that modifications might be welcomed but not prepared in advance. Remember to do whatever is in your power to be good to your body and mind during classes overall. Stretch whenever you need to stretch, move or be still whenever you need to move or be still regardless of what’s going on in that class at the time, and leave quietly if you need to leave. Do not do something in a class just because an instructor said to and everyone else is doing it. You will have a better time overall if you value self-care in everything you do. If you’re not sure if something you’re doing modifies a movement successfully, ask! That’s what your instructors are there for and you have a right to get as much out of those classes as others.
Instructors: please actually prepare several modifications for each situation in advance if you have said you will! You won’t be able to foresee every possible situation because disability is infinitely varied, and nobody has ever expected you to. Your effort is still essential. If you’re not sure how to modify something, bring your instruction back to the core of the movement. A jump starts deep in the center of the body and can then be expressed through various outward physical movements. Avoid demanding or requiring able movements, even casually (“Walk in circles,” “everyone stand,” “jump when I point to you,” “climb up on the stage”). Either ask students to “move” or “express” a movement however is comfortable for them, or just add “if you’re able.” Leave extra time for questions about modifications wherever possible and remember that it can take some time between asking questions, adjusting, brainstorming as a group, and trial and error to find that perfect new way to express what you’ve done before. You’ll also learn a lot from this process!
-Time to Rest-
I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself recharge time. BurlyCon is hard on everyone. There is something scheduled for every hour of every day and it isn’t healthy to expect yourself to go to all the things! Make sure you schedule time for meals, for rest and recovery, for sleep, and for alone time. Hospitality is a great place to pick up emergency food during the day, although it’s in the hotel section rather than the con section, so at that point it might be easier to just drop by your room. They *do* have gluten- and dairy-free options there, however! Those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have certainly saved me before.
To avoid the long trek back at inopportune times, bring food with you to classes when you leave your room. Make sure it’s food that will keep you at your best physically and mentally.
NOTE: There are always many group trips to Trader Joe’s planned through the FB group, so latch onto one of those if you have dietary restrictions and want to stock up at the beginning of the weekend. You can request a fridge for your room from the hotel.
Throughout the weekend, please DRINK WATER. If you need quiet space and your room isn’t an option or you can’t make it all the way back, the Library is nearby the classrooms and is always a quiet space where you can curl up and read or meditate or be alone. There has also been a “chill tent” set up in one of the hallways beside the classrooms in past years filled with pillows and blankets and that’s a great place to force yourself to take a rest and recharge.
I want to make sure you took away the most important message from all of that so I’m going to write it again: TAKE. TIME. TO. TAKE. CARE. OF. YOURSELF.
Yes, that might mean missing a class you’d planned on taking or not hitting up a party. Those things are not worth it. You do not need that party. You need to be at your grounded, centered best. This goes for every attendee of BurlyCon but I want to stress how especially essential it is for disabled and chronically ill attendees. You’re right that it isn’t fair that we need more down time than others and therefore we miss out on things. The things that we are at will become the things that matter. My favorite moments at BurlyCon are often conversations that I have during “down time.”
-Pack for Success-
This is just a quick reminder to make room in that suitcase for any and all self-care items that might make this a better experience for you!
I bring an arsenal with me of arnica, essential oils, oil diffuser, heating pads, cold packs, Icy Hot, braces, TENS unit, and extra emergency *excess* medication. Like, way more than you think you need. Make sure to also pack a big enough daily bag that you can bring some of these things with you when you leave your room (in addition to those snacks). Use something right away when you start to need it! Do something good for your body and mind every chance you get.
Finally, it can be very, very tricky to ask for, accept, or *refuse* help when you have a disability or chronic illness. BurlyCon is a space that welcomes and encourages your self-advocacy. That includes realizing that you can’t make it down that long carpeted hallway by yourself, stopping, and asking the next attendee who passes if they would mind giving you some aid. That includes telling someone who takes hold of your mobility aid to help you that you don’t want them doing that without your consent. That includes responding to “how are you doing” with “actually, I’m having a pain/panic attack and am not okay, can you help guide me to a safe space.” Allies, be prepared for a possible response like any of these and know that you could be a key part of making BurlyCon a possibility for us.
NOTE: In the past, BurlyCon has provided “BurlyCon Commissioners” whose entire job is to “support anyone who needs a little care and a listening ear.” Official information about how to contact them will likely be available on-site and in advance.
I have also had a lot of positive experiences with simply speaking to any BurlyCon staff member I see if I’m having an accessibility problem. For example, my wheelchair once fell apart the moment I arrived at my first class one year. Staff members helped to find me tools and assistance to fix it during that class as well as emotional support as I flipped out over my mobility device malfunctioning.
Actual Final Note: some of the most meaningful connections I’ve made at BurlyCon have been with other performers with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Come to the caucus. Share your frustrations and your joys. Make important and brave space for one another. Allies, welcome and encourage our stories as part of the narrative in classes and panels. We will build stronger and better burlesque by working together to make it accessible.
About Jacqueline Boxx
In 2017, Jacqueline Boxx became the first performer to ever compete in a wheelchair for a title at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. Her mobility aids are as enticing as her activism, and she packs an aesthetic and emotional punch, whether she’s bringing classic, nerdlesque, or neo-burlesque to the stage. Her background before disability involved trapeze, circus, hooping, cabaret, theater, bellydance, swing dance, ballet, and numerous other kinds of performance art, including touring with The Dresden Dolls as part of their Brigade. Her mobility decreased gradually and these performance outlets lessened as well, until she burst back onto the stage in 2015 with a renewed feeling of partnership with her disabled body. She has performed in burlesque festivals in Las Vegas, Boston, Albuquerque, Colorado, and New York City, and has won burlesque legend Gabriella Maze’s “Personal Pick” award at The Great Burlesque Exposition, and 2nd Runner Up at the 2017 Golden Legend Champion Challenge, as well as The “Glitoris” Judge’s Choice award at Alterna-TEASE. Jacqueline has also taught workshops and lectured on panels about mindful movement across the country.
Her acts are all related in some way to her experiences with chronic pain and limited mobility, and she strives to bring attention through glamour and spectacle to disability. She is: Miss Disa-burly-TEASE!