Portrait of the artist: Amelia Bucks, burlesque dancer

The Heartland Bombshells at Iowa City Pride

Mainstage, Downtown Iowa City — Saturday, June 16 at 4 p.m.

Burlesque dancer Amelia Bucks of the Heartland Bombshells. — photo by Zak Neumann

Muscatine native Irene Jara has been a burlesque dancer for just shy of a year, dancing with local burlesque troupe the Heartland Bombshells. While Jara identifies as genderfluid, their burlesque identity, Amelia Bucks, embodies all things feminine.

Jara showed off some of Bucks’ onstage looks in downtown Iowa City, taking them into the daylight for the first time (but leaving her usual long brown wig in her bag; hey, it was a hot day). In between photos, Jara chatted with Little Village about falling in love with burlesque at the 2017 Iowa City Pride Fest, developing their stage persona and their liberating dive into drag king performance.

I wanted a hobby where I could do something I’ve never done before and that’s a little more extreme. I thought, “I could do roller derby!” I can’t do roller derby.

I watched the Heartland Bombshells’ Pride performance last year, and I think it just took me by surprise. I’ve heard of it, definitely, but when I think of burlesque I think of big cities like Chicago, New York and Vegas — I wasn’t thinking about Iowa City!

I just reached out to Auralie [Wilde, Heartland Bombshells leader] and said, “Hey, I want to do that.” And she was like, “OK, come to practice and we’ll see what you can do.” I came up with a persona and got going.

I learned it was a lot of mentally preparing myself. I knew I could dance. But being able to be as vulnerable as I am onstage, naked both physically and emotionally to the audience — I try making sure the nerves don’t get the best of me.

Burlesque dancer Amelia Bucks of the Heartland Bombshells. — photo by Zak Neumann

Amelia Bucks is really bratty, oh my God. I’m not bratty in real life, but Amelia Bucks is a brat, very full of herself, super confident and cocky. I’m the nerdy girl with glasses, but I grew up watching all those teen movies — Mean Girls and stuff — and there’s always [a character] that’s like, “Well, obviously I’m pretty.” And I’m like, I want to be that too!

So that’s what Amelia is: that representation of what I’ve always wanted to be. That confident, really taking-charge person that I don’t feel like I am all the time.

At first, I kind of turned Amelia on and off. And then after a while I noticed I was like, “What would I do if I was Amelia at this moment?” especially when it came to job interviews or going on dates. She’s allowing me to believe in myself as a person. I have to realize I’m the one who controls Amelia, and I’m the one who’s like, “Go up there and do that.” Amelia’s the person you hide behind, but other than that, it’s you.

I don’t really like sparkles normally, but Amelia has a nice sparkly wardrobe that’s a little more out-there with the jewelry, the hair, the make-up and everything and when it comes to how short the dresses or shorts are. Anything that resembles someone who’s too full of herself.

This number [the red dress] I definitely wanted elegant. I wanted it to look like no one could touch her because she looks just too pretty. It’s more of a salsa number, and it’s fun and flirty. This comes off like a robe, so it’s a reveal in itself; people wouldn’t expect it.

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Burlesque dancer Amelia Bucks of the Heartland Bombshells. — photo by Zak Neumann

I wouldn’t say I’m a tomboy, but I’m definitely more androgynous when it comes to my style. Make-up is more of a mask. This is Amelia’s face, very prim and proper and flawless. But mine, I’ll take the make-up off and I’ll have redness and little pimples everywhere and I don’t care.

I’ve made a lot of good friends from Heartland Bombshells. You see each other naked all the time; at some point your boundaries are [gone]. I’m one of the younger ones in the group so I’m more of a little sister, even though I’m very independent.

You learn to be a host at your show. You go around and mingle with the people: “How are you doing? How did you like the show? Is this the first time you’ve been here? So glad you could come.” That’s how you create a little fanbase.

[Stripping], that’s different. Right after I’m done performing I’ll just be up there with my pasties and then I’ll run off stage real fast to put something else on. I had a pastie fall off during a performance before: I was turning around and I was ripping the top layer off and it snagged onto the pastie, and in my head I was like, I’m done. I’m done for. This is it. I had to bring my arm around and cover it, and play it off.

Burlesque dancer Amelia Bucks of the Heartland Bombshells. — photo by Zak Neumann

This year [for Iowa City Pride Fest] I’m bringing my two younger sisters, which is exciting because they’ve never seen me perform before. They’ve seen pictures of me and have ideas of what I do, but because this is a family-friendly event, they can go to it! My younger sister is dealing with a lot of issues with her body — that’s what 14-year-olds go through. I’ve been in that position where I feel like I’m not enough, and I can show her you don’t have to be a standard pretty or something, you can be whoever you are and go onstage, and people will like it.

I’ve performed in drag; that’s a lot of fun. My stage name for that is Jose Cuervo. He’s very endearing. I don’t think people would think he’s sexy and hot but he’s definitely cute.

I did perform for the first annual Iowa City drag king competition, Mr. Iowa City. I got Most Endearing. I’m also part of the group Lesbians of Iowa. They did a drag show and I got runner-up on that one. I’ve met a whole different set of friends who are crazy and fun and energetic.

I’ve always wanted to be a guy! I’ve always wanted to put on a beard and just walk around like you have something between your legs. To do that was so fulfilling. I got to draw a six-pack, I got to be Mr. Suave for a little bit. And that’s a whole different thing than being prim and proper Amelia. She’s one thing and he’s a whole different thing. And having both of them is a good balance to who I am as a person, my identity.