Body and Soul

Special Features   Body and Soul Actress-comic Margaret Cho pioneers a new art form: revolutionary burlesque.
Margaret Cho
Margaret Cho

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Anyone familiar with Margaret Cho's work — as a standup comic, solo performer, author, or fiery political activist — knows that she takes a very dim view of some of our culture's narrow ideals, especially on matters of race, sexuality and body image.

When Cho's first shot at mainstream success — her 1994–95 TV series, "All-American Girl" — was dropped by ABC after just one tempestuous season, she reemerged with a series of raucous one-woman stage performances that focused on, among other things, how she has triumphed over being (in the eyes of the network, for instance) too Asian or not enough; too overweight or too underweight; too this or too that. Through it all, she's learned to celebrate life on her own terms.

And, lately, that has led her to the world of burlesque, which is the focus of her show The Sensuous Woman, which opened recently in New York for a brief run at a theatre appropriately called the Zipper. "We've lost sight of what real bodies look like," says Cho. "Women are very affected by the idea of having to have this perfect, ideal body. As a result, they're not fully coming into their own political power." Cho believes that burlesque, with its celebration of human bodies of all shapes and sizes, is the perfect antidote.

She was introduced to the art form by a popular burlesque dancer named Princess Farhana, who has also been teaching Cho how to belly dance and who is featured in the production. Other performers include burlesque stars Selene Luna and Miss Dirty Martini, as well as emerging transgendered comic Ian Harvie and members of West Hollywood's Gay Mafia Comedy Troupe. Presiding over all is Cho herself. "I'm doing a lot of music and comedy. And I'm dancing a lot," she reports. "I want to do a show like the old variety series from the '70s, like 'Donny and Marie' and 'Sonny and Cher.'" Except that Cho has grander designs for hers. "I'd love to take it all over the world," she declares. "Normally, I perform in English-speaking countries, but I could take this one anywhere. It's very much in the same spirit as The Vagina Monologues, but we're celebrating the whole body."

This piece originally appeared in the October issue of The Insider's Guide, Playbill's new monthly listings and features publication distributed in and around New York City.

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