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Life & Work with Katya Peepin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katya Peepin. 

Hi Katya, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
If someone had told me in my early twenties that 15 years later, I would be running my own burlesque production company, creating a burlesque school, and performing with the circus…well, I actually might have believed you. But I never could have predicted the steps I took to get here. Let’s gloss over growing up on a rural Missouri goat farm and later going to what I like to call, “nerd school,” at the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Computing. It was in university that I really started getting into dance. I took four years of jazz, lyrical, and belly dance through student-led clubs and absolutely fell in love. I continued studying belly dance after university, taking about 6-10 hours of class a week. 

This was about the time that I was introduced to burlesque through a couple of workshops with the illustrious Lola van Ella out of St. Louis, and I was hooked. I felt like after several years of dance, I had found a style that really spoke to me, that flowed freely and naturally from my body. However, at that time I really wasn’t very happy with my life outside of dance. Opportunity knocked and I found myself moving halfway across the world to Seoul, South Korea. 

Best. Decision. Ever. Moving halfway across the world was absolutely liberating. I’d moved to Korea and lived there independently for two and a half years – I could do anything! After I left circumstances landed me back at home in Missouri for a while. I opened an adult dance studio teaching belly dance and jazz and picked up yoga teacher and personal trainer certifications, but after a while, I was just too antsy for small-town life. It was time to get back to the city and really start my dance career. 

Soon after I moved to Denver I got a message from Eva la Feva out of Chicago – a good friend who I’d danced with in and after university. She had a friend who was putting together a circus and was looking for belly dancers in Denver. I auditioned for and joined the Phantom Circus that year. 

At the same time, I was working on getting my start in Denver’s burlesque community, auditioning for and performing in an odd show here and there to start with, and eventually getting booked more and more. Later, I got a position teaching belly dance at a local yoga studio but had trouble getting a consistent attendance. When we switched it to a burlesque class and added a student showcase, it really started to take off and classes started filling up. I was performing and teaching, but I really wanted to get into producing as well. I managed to book a few random shows here and there, but I really wanted to book a monthly spot somewhere. 

And then the pandemic hit. Teaching classes and producing shows moved online for a while, but eventually, the pressure of the pandemic coupled with a separation from my husband was too much for me to handle and Badass Burlesque activity pretty much stopped. For a while, I felt like the only thing that was keeping me sane were my new flexibility workouts and contortion training sessions. So, I tried not to worry about Badass Burlesque, and I trained as often as I could as hard as I could. As we began to emerge from the pandemic it turned out that I had trained enough that I had added another professional skill to my arsenal – contortion. 

Now I’m just working on continuing to build up Badass Burlesque as well as furthering my circus skills. Former student Hemlock LaRue has joined me on the administration side and we are producing new shows with ideas for some big things on the way. Classes are up and running, and we’ve even done a few private events. Obviously, the future of everything is sort of shaky right now, but I am optimistic about where Badass Burlesque is going, and I’m so happy to be working on my art here in a community that I love. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I feel like my struggles with this business are sort of mundane and every day. It takes a great leap of faith and a lot of stress-inducing activities to throw yourself into a small business, especially in art, and there are definitely times you want to break down and say, “I can’t do this.” Things go wrong, communication can break down with venue owners, studio managers, performers. People can let you down, you can make the wrong decision. Disruptions to your personal life can throw a wrench in the works. Stress from your day job can weigh you down as you’re striving to build up to a point where you don’t need your day job anymore. On top of all this, you’re still trying to work on your art. And if it’s just you, like it’s been just me until recently, you’re your own social media manager, booking agent, marketing department, bookkeeper, website designer, etc., etc. All of these things are constant struggles in day-to-day operations, especially when there is really nobody else to pick up the slack. But honestly, it makes it all worth it to be doing what I love and breaking the mold. I’ve just tried to stay dedicated to myself, my dream, and to pushing through and getting the work done. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Although it started as purely a burlesque and belly dance performance company, Badass Burlesque has morphed a bit into offering not only burlesque but circus performance as well. We offer three main services – performance, production, and education. On the performance side, you can hire me to perform for private or public shows in burlesque as well as belly dance, contortion, fire, or stilting. 

We also produce all kinds of different shows, from small private parties to large on-stage shows in burlesque or variety. Basically, if you want some burlesque at your event or venue, we can work together to create the show you want! 

Finally, the School of Badass Burlesque offers a full burlesque curriculum with a four-level program designed to take you from very beginner to being a pro and even learning to teach Badass Burlesque classes and produce your own shows! The first level, Essentials, is designed to be very accessible to anybody, whether they would like to continue on with their burlesque journey and become a regular performer or just take the class for fun as a one-time experience. Once you’ve completed the class there are opportunities to continue performing with Badass Burlesque in our professional shows. 

I started Badass Burlesque because of my love of dance and my desire to live my passion, but I think that I’m most proud of the secondary effects that I didn’t see coming. I’ve had people tell me they feel too shy, too anxious, too old, too fat, too damaged, and they’re looking for a way to connect with themselves again. I’ve had these people tell me that my classes helped inspire them and gave them confidence in themselves. That they feel welcome and safe in my classes. I’ve had performers thank me with such sincerity simply for facilitating a way for them to present their art to an audience. I’ve been thanked for fostering a sense of community. I had no idea when I started the company that it would have this type of effect, and I couldn’t be more grateful for or blown away by the opportunity to be part of something so powerful. 

As for what’s coming, starting in January, we will be producing a regular burlesque show on 4th Fridays at Denver’s Dangerous Theatre, as well as starting a new session of School of Badass Burlesque Essentials classes, and I’m teaching a weekly flexibility class at Circus Collective. I also appear as a contortionist at Temple Nightclub once a month, but my schedule varies so you’ll have to keep an eye on my website or social media to see when that’s happening. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Badass Burlesque soon! 

What matters most to you? Why?
It is so important to me to be true to myself, even when it means going against the grain. It’s not always easy, but it’s always been worth it. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Sean Sidelko
Sheena Lukens
Dave Wood
Anthony Earl
Katya Peepin

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