Pansy St Battie was your average kid growing up in San Francisco. When she was a teenager, she was diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome or Ehler-Danlos syndrome. She has been using a wheelchair for the past five years. Pansy has also been bitten by the ‘show biz’ bug. She is a model and a burlesque dancer. With the spirit of a rebellious teenager, Pansy did not let her disability define her or her dreams. Her father says that Pansy has always had ‘fire in her belly.’ Melinda Chilton and Shelly Rohe, from ABILITY, had the opportunity to see Pansy St. Battie perform in the ‘Beauty of Burlesque’ show at the Globe Theater in Los Angeles. The show is produced by celebrity burlesque performer, Miss Tosh.
Miss Tosh had this to say about Pansy St. Battie. “Pansy St. Battie is a performer who represents what Beauty of Burlesque stands for. Pansy is an enigma, constantly creating powerful imagery and evocative stage shows that are visually stunning while simultaneously tearing down social stigmas and redefining, visibility & ability on stage. I am so proud to work with Pansy and watch her grow as an artist. Our friendship has made me feel less alone when facing my own challenges with Pseudo-seizures & endometriosis. Pansy is truly inspirational and a total badass!”
After the show Melinda and Shelly had a great chat with Pansy, her father, and her sister. Pansy is a strong, smart, talented and determined young woman. Her fire and commitment to make a space for herself in this world as an artist and a veterinarian, will inspire you.
Melinda Chilton: Your name is Pansy St. Battie?
St. Battie: Yes, yes.
Melinda: Is that your given name?
St. Battie: No.
Melinda: That’s your stage name?
St. Battie: It’s my stage name, yeah.
Melinda: How did you come up with the name?
St. Battie: I don’t really remember entirely what the process was. I was looking for a stage name for pin-up and burlesque. A stage name is a fun thing that a lot of people have, but also because I’m putting myself out on the internet. I don’t want people who are odd to come back and Google me. Luckily most people in the world are nice, but not every single person is.
Melinda: Well, that’s smart.
St. Battie: It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Melinda: You are, just so our readers know, a model and you recently became a burlesque performer?
St. Battie: Yes.
Melinda: Let’s start with your modeling.
St. Battie: I did my first shoot when I was 17, which was a birthday gift to me.
Melinda: How fun!
St. Battie: I wasn’t at all intending to get into modeling. I had some classmates who were studying photography. They started taking pictures of me. I realized I really enjoyed it, so I kept building it up until I had a proper portfolio. I did a lot of cold-calling, emailing clothing brands and makeup brands, and then it just kinda took off.
Melinda: What kind of modeling are you doing?
St. Battie: I mainly do fashion. I still do pinups occasionally.
Melinda: Tell us about performing burlesque.
St. Battie: I wanted to do that for a very long time. I’ve been a big fan of burlesque since I was quite young. Obviously you have to wait until you’re 18. At that point it was also a matter of trying to figure out where I would start. A lot of shows and classes are inaccessible. So, I ended up working with a teacher, who teaches burlesque in San Francisco. I had her come do private lessons at my house. We practiced together. We worked on our first act together and she put me onstage. After that she was kind enough to follow up and put me onstage a few more times.
Melinda: WOW. She sounds like an angel of a teacher. Lets talk about Miss Tosh, who produces “Beauty of Burlesque”. Shelly Rohe and I saw the show last night. We got to see you perform. You are such a showgirl and quite the entertainer. I loved your act. Your wheelchair is totally bejeweled and bedazzled! Did you create your wheelchair for the show?
St. Battie: Since I’ve had a wheelchair, I’ve wanted to bedazzle it. The first wheelchair I had was from a charity organization, so they will return and recycle wheelchairs once you’re done using them. I couldn’t do anything permanent to it. So, I used to put flowers and stuff on that one. I really wanted to have a rhinestone wheelchair. I’m a huge fan of rhinestones and sparkles.
Melinda: Your rhinestones were sparkling from the stage last night, for sure!
St. Battie: I love it and I’ve wanted to do it forever! When I finally got a custom-fit chair, I was like, “I’m going to do this.” The second I got the chair I spray-painted it. I spent three days rhinestoning it. (laughter) I made the cushion covers. I was like, “I did it! I’ve been waiting so long to do it, and I did it!”
Melinda: I love Miss Tosh’s show. She came out on stage last night and explained how the show is all about diversity.
“At Beauty of Burlesque everyone is a STAR in a Galaxy of Glamour. The show is about inclusivity & celebrating the diverse qualities that make everyone unique. As the producer, my mission is to create an authentic and inclusive platform for diverse artists to shine. I put artistic expression first and cast entertainers from around the world that reflect a strong sense of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.”
Melinda: What are the challenges of performing burlesque in a wheelchair?
St. Battie: I think the biggest challenge is finding stages I can get on. Even at the Globe Theater, the stage isn’t necessarily accessible. Miss Tosh and I worked together on figuring out how we would get me onstage. We worked together to find a place for me to get dressed, because the dressing room is downstairs. It takes a producer who is willing to take the time to have those conversations. Not every producer is, of course.
Melinda: Miss Tosh really took the time to help you. This is your second show with her?
St. Battie: Yes. She’s fantastic.
Melinda: Tell us a bit about her.
St. Battie: We became friends a few years back. She followed me on Instagram. I was a huge fan of Miss Tosh, and I was like, “Oh, my God, thank you so much!” We started talking and we found out that we both have pseudo-seizures.
Melinda: What are Pseudo-seizures?
St. Battie: Pseudo-seizures mimic epileptic seizures. The theory is that they’re caused by a miswiring of your brain with stresses. As much as people know about neurology, people don’t know much about neurology. So, this is a working theory. It’s difficult to manage because we don’t know what causes these seizures. I started talking to her about my theories. I talked about how I am figuring out what the triggers are for me and how to avoid those triggers. We bonded over that and the experience of going to doctors and not knowing what’s going on. It can be a struggle.
Melinda: And frustrating....
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