Diary of a Dandy Minion: Prologue — Hurricane Butterflies #TaylorMacMelb

In October I will be part of Melbourne Festival’s production of Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music, as a Dandy Minion and Burlesque Dancer. I’ll be chronicling my journey before, during, and after the show, so follow along!

| Chapter 1: Drowning in Sewing >>

Photo by Teddy Wolff for Howlround

It’s been about two months or so since I received the email welcoming me into Melbourne Festival’s Taylor Mac extravaganza and I still don’t know how I got here.

Mapping the path of lucky and unlucky breaks, continents and career paths, coincidences and chances that led up to that email is like trying to map the paths between butterflies and hurricanes.

Let’s work backwards:

The post on my Facebook wall from Barbara, games-writing friend and appreciator of the fine male erotic, alerting me to a still-quite-mysterious callout for Dandy Minions, Burlesque Dancers, and other fun roles.

The callout posted a few days after my return to burlesque in Australia, at a fundraiser hosted by Mama Alto — herself a one-woman swarm of art and magic and community for local queers, artists, and people of colour.

Mama Alto’s living legend introduced to me by Sebastian, a lifelong acolyte of the Spirit of Dandy, netted as my Dandy Minion by Proxy since he will not be in town/country/continent/hemisphere during the show proper.

Mama Alto and Sebastian, doing what they both do best

Mama Alto actually being introduced to me in person by Lain, who treated me to see her mix of ethereal jazz talent and pointed political commentary, in her typical audience of half old white money and half radical queermos on comps.

That show giving me the confidence and trust that she would be a safe harbour for me to try burlesque again, after the Category 5 natural disaster that was my earlier burlesque career in Australia, shunned by the community writ large for being too much of a Social Justice Warrior.

My reputation as the Social Justice Warrior of burlesque set from my public debut at a Brisbane cabaret competition, a somber reflection on the clash between my sexuality and my cultural upbringing, a reverse strip into an outfit of Muslim significance.

Lullaby v2.0, the revamped version of my first ever burlesque piece

That first performance only made possible thanks to Asha, who’s known me since my days as an overexcitable teenage fangirl, who bought me return airfare to Brisbane from Malaysia so I could make it to the competition for one weekend in the middle of a long-planned family holiday.

Asha first knowing about me from a request I made to the music TV request show she cohosted, asking for some Savage Garden to soothe my disappointed teenage self — leading to a very whirlwind friendship between fan and celebrity before calming down as soul sisters.

Savage Garden — in particular, Darren Hayes — forming the soundtrack to my life, inspiring me to express myself through story and music and performance, giving me reason to stay alive during rough times growing up (and reason to move to Brisbane).

Rough times growing up including the lack of opportunity or space to perform — the humanities are for ‘stupid people’ and everyone with a brain should just do Science, also why would anyone let a chubby darker-skinned Lain-Lain/Other kid do anything?

Pent-up frustration at never getting to learn gymnastics and embarassment at not knowing how to tumble prompting beginner classes at Vulcana Women’s Circus, a very supportive space even for someone as uncoordinated as me.

Vulcana Women’s Circus taking a chance on my pitch for their festival development program, expressing my frustrations at the growing racism I faced in the burlesque scene; that show giving me the confidence to call myself a performance artist.

Mid-rehearsal for the Vulcana performance at Island Vibe, photo by Jen Dainer

That confidence and frustration both combine with heartbreak to spur me to spend a magical summer in San Francisco, bringing me fairy godparents and opportunities that celebrated rather than villified me and so many people who wanted me to return.

The desire to return leading to me getting a student visa and a Masters degree mostly so I could spend 3 years rather than 3 months veering away from burlesque into dance-theater for mental health and femme power spoken word and making fun of people making fun of my accent.

Visa problems leading to 9 months too long with family that don’t understand that we get along much better when we’re not in the same town/country/continent/hemisphere and a country that never stopped not wanting me so I should leave again.

My desire to leave a place I thought I left already sparking suggestions for Sydney — but a family fight takes that option away — ‘hey why not come to Melbourne, it’s artsy, you’re like it’ — ok sure why not.

Melbourne leading me to reconnect with Sebastian, who I’d known since my early Brisbane performance days and who’d offered to mail me hair dye while in Malaysia and who becomes one of my best friends and fairy godbrother.

Melbourne connecting me to the thriving games community thanks to an introduction from Dina to Liam who then introduces me to almost everyone else and gets me tickets to the conferences where I meet Barbara in person finally and Lain for the first time.

Sebastian and Lain leading me to Mama Alto who adopts me into her Haus or Wisma and her ever-growing swarm of queers, artists, and people of colour — and who eventually joins me as a Dandy Burlesquer.

The performance possibly inspiring Barbara to send me the callout which leads to an application form where I write about my rollercoaster burlesque story and wonder what my special skills could possibly be.

The acceptance email arriving while in the bathroom just before a Circus Oz show, messaging Sebastian the good news: turns out I’ll run into him later that evening, and soon get him to join me behind the scenes because he should still be part of the show somehow.

The show I wish I could bring Asha to, repaying the debt from that airfare all those years ago, after she swooned over the Amazing Grace trailer video and the photos of my Dandy Minion costume progress.

One of those Dandy Minion costumes being a recreation of an outfit by Darren Hayes, a long-held dream manifested in part by Sebastian’s Fairy Godbrother powers — ah, but that’s a story for later.

This story doesn’t include so many other butterfly swarms and weather patterns: friends and exes, web magazines and community theater, adapted poems and adapted burlesque numbers. Maybe even some whose flutters and winds I have yet to acknowledge or notice.

What kind of hurricane will Taylor Mac unleash onto my life? What other butterflies from elsewhere in my life will join in? And what will happen later, once the stage is struck down and the costumes are hung up and the glitter fades? (Just kidding, the glitter never fades.)

Join me in the following weeks and we’ll find out together.

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