Negative feedback could have caused Ainsley Burrows to give up. The poet and founder of The Sweet Spot Burlesque was touring around the U.S. and Europe in 2003 and working on his third poetry album. It was at that time that Burrows decided the album should be about only love and sensuality. But when the album was released, the response wasn’t good.
“So I doubled down and produced an event that was all about love and erotica. Our first show was in 2006 and that event eventually became The Sweet Spot,” he shared.
The groundbreaking troupe is challenging norms and redefining the landscape of entertainment. The Sweet Spot Burlesque stands out not just for its mesmerizing performances but for breaking barriers as an all-Black cast.
Breaking the Mold: A Journey to The Sweet Spot
Laurielle Noel joined Burrows as a founder in 2012. Growing up in a religious and sheltered environment, Noel’s journey led her to witness the struggles around sexual identity. The Sweet Spot became a platform for her to help others heal by sharing her own journey.
The mission: to promote healthy attitudes about sexuality and erotica while providing a safe space for sexual expression through the arts.
Defying Stereotypes, Embracing Eroticism
Sweet Spot Burlesque goes beyond entertaining, it challenges stereotypes surrounding Black performers in burlesque. Burrows and Noel emphasize the importance of embracing the erotic nature of strip tease, countering the notion that Black dancers expressing sensuality are viewed as crass or classless.
“Another important part of our show is how we interact with the audience,” Burrows shared. “This is an immersive show and each touch point is created specifically to empower the audience member; to make them feel special with a sense of belonging in a space that validates their sexual expression whether they are conservative or living out loud.”
Promoting Mental and Sexual Health Awareness
The Sweet Spot’s unique focus extends beyond performances; it promotes mental and sexual health awareness. They make sure to not directly talk about certain topics because it comes of “preachy” but will make subtle hints to prioritizing your health.
“For example, we put condoms on the seats prior to doors opening, and new audience members are always surprised to find condoms on the seats,” Noel explained. “We don’t do anything with the condoms during the show, they are simply there to say ‘Hey, let’s normalize condom usage; there is no need to feel uneasy or ashamed at the sight of condoms on every chair.’”
They also emphasize enthusiastic consent and incorporate it into performances by asking audience members who want to participate to express their consent backstage as well as on stage. By subtly addressing these topics, the troupe aims to contribute to important conversations within the audience.
Positive Differences in Communities
Beyond the stage, The Sweet Spot has left a lasting impact on the community it has built. Notably, the two collaborated with Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.
“In 2018 Dr. Crear-Perry moved to Washington D.C. with her family and started an organization called the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC). NBEC’s mission is to create ‘transnational solutions that optimize Black maternal, infant, sexual, and reproductive wellbeing. We shift systems and culture through training, research, technical assistance, policy, advocacy, and community-centered collaboration,'” Burrows shared.
Dr. Crear-Perry was so moved by the work The Sweet Spot does that NBEC sponsored The Sweet Spot for an entire year. By sponsoring the troupe, important conversations around Black women’s sexual and reproductive health were ignited. The Sweet Spot became a catalyst for cultural shifts, aligning with organizations like NBEC to transform minds, hearts, and spirits.
Eighteen years into its journey, Sweet Spot Burlesque has grown from NYC to over 25 cities. It became the first encounter with burlesque for many. Burrows and Noel take pride in inspiring Black individuals to enter the industry, breaking barriers and encouraging freedom of expression.