The Fly Honeys Bring Feisty, Feminist Burlesque to Chicago

​If you like burlesque that's body positive and explicitly feminist: Meet The Fly Honeys. If you like burlesque that's raw, rambunctious and served up with bawdy comedy: Meet the Fly Honeys. If you want serious dance moves, choreographed group numbers and women on electric guitars: Yep, yep and yep.

The Fly Honeys — a socially-conscious behemoth of a burlesque troupe — stage high-energy, vaudevillian cabarets of dance, music, drag, comedy and performance art. There are 30 to 50 fly honeys at any given time (along with an associated troupe of Fly Homies) and they perform three to five times a year around Chicago.

The Fly Honeys were developed with interdisciplinary Chicago performance company The Inconvenience, where dance programming director Erin Kilmurray founded the troupe in 2010. I talked to Morgan McNaught, an actress an artist who became a Fly Honey this year, about the group's mission and vibe.

BUSTLE: How do you describe The Fly Honeys?

MORGAN MCNAUGHT: I guess a group of kick ass ladies? A lot of them are trained professional dancers, or burlesque performers, and then some actors and singers. It's headed by Erin Kilmurry, who is a sick ass dancer and smart lady and babe.

What happens at a Fly Honeys show?

It's like a vaudeville style. There are various acts which change every show, but yeah — they'll be someone singing, Fly Honey dancers, comedians, drag. Oh, and magic! There was a magician named Trickey Old Puss at the last show, and a "reverend," John Butts, who gave this sermon about being sexy and consent. Another performer did a thing about how swag is, like, knowing how your partner likes their coffee, or making the bathroom fucking sparkling because they love it that way.

Do the Fly Honeys have a mission?

It's about just celebrating the skin you are in, and your sexual expression. Creating a safe space, and creating a conversation around sex and self-expression. Celebrating all of the ways that we are all sexy, smart people and being like, hey ... I can wear what I want and it's not an invitation. My body is not an apology, that sort of thing. Being able to take ownership of yourself.

So it's explicitly feminist burlesque?

Oh, for sure! I asked to perform this year because it was like my '90s riot grrrl dreams coming true — just all these kick-ass women with tattoos and weird hair that are all kind and intelligent and good at all these things.

And different body types, too, right? Isn't body positivity kind of part of the idea?

Yeah, for sure. All different body types and it's nice to be like, oh — our bodies, ourselves. Everyone's accepted. There's not a lot of spaces that exist like that, other than, like, a bathhouse or Korean spa.

What made you want to get involved?

I saw one performance, at (Chicago venue) Metro, and everyone was done up in these old school sock-hop sort of dresses and pony tails. You get to dress up in the best clothes — like Tavi Genderson but as an adult, or like Traci Lords in Cry Baby — and have these sick hand claps, but then also do a striptease to a nine-piece band playing a remix by A$AP Rocky. I was like, that's amazing and how can I do it? I asked them that and Mary's like, if you wanna do this, do it. This if for everyone.

How did you feel after doing burlesque in front of people for the first time?

This is super cliche, right? But I felt empowered. To be like, this is my body and I am not apologizing, and to do a kick ass dance to "Big Spender" in high heels and glitter pasties — which ended up falling off — was like ... everything. To be able to put on a persona that already exists in yourself and celebrate your own swag is fucking awesome and freeing. And my girlfriend loved the shit out of it. She was the biggest cheerleader. And everyone complimented her on my boobs.

Anything else you want to say about the Fly Honeys?

That the community makes it. I have never actively consumed so much whiskey, pizza or glitter in my life.

Photos via The Inconvenience and the Fly Honeys Facebook page