Show girl Lady Mabuhay: ‘Burlesque can be self-empowering’

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Dien Magno aka Lady Mabuhay: ‘I don’t do burlesque for anyone but myself.’

Dien Magno aka Lady Mabuhay: ‘I don’t do burlesque for anyone but myself.’

By Cristina DC Pastor

I was tickling Dien Magno, calling her fascination with burlesque a case of Middle Child Syndrome. But the more she spoke, the clearer it became to me that she is a woman on her own, strong-willed, and with women like her, you don’t tell them what to do.

“My mom flipped out,” laughed Dien, 37, when asked if her family is on board this new pursuit. “She just yelled at me.”

She understood the visceral reaction. “My mom only wanted to make sure my reputation is not damaged,” she said in an interview with The FilAm.

Dien – which is actually Jen, short for Jennifer, recast – discovered burlesque dancing about seven years ago when she heard about actress and burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. (Like Dita, Dien is the middle of three sisters.) She read books about its history and developed a liking for the period of 1920s to the 1950s.

“I really like anything from the ‘20s to the ‘50s,” said Dien. “I started to follow it a lot.” In New York, she discovered that burlesque is “alive and well.”

“I started going to some of the shows. I would watch Jo Boobs, Dirty Martini and these really fantastic dancers.”

Dien is a journalist for an international news agency, working as a graphic designer and social media curator. Her co-workers are aware that when she’s not on deadline, lm 1she could be at a club dancing and disrobing.

“They know,” she gave a shrug followed by a laugh.

She signed up with the New York School of Burlesque under Headmistress Jo “Boobs” Weldon. I have read Jo Weldon’s “Burlesque Handbook,” and would see her in the news as an activist fighting for the rights of sex workers. Her street cred speaks of how burlesque is a “celebration of the spirit of women.”

In school, Dien learned how to dance “in such a way as to emphasize your whole sexuality.”

“What you’re doing is you’re revealing something that you’re keeping mysterious. It’s the way that you present it,” she explained.

She debuted her act in May, and did a couple more shows. She has performed at the Slipper Room, a burlesque theater in the Lower East Side, also at the House of Yes event space in Brooklyn where she played a “stage kitten,” or a dancer’s assistant whose task is to pick up the clothes that have been discarded on stage.

Burlesque may be a form of exotic dancing, but Dien is also a dancer of the classical Indian Kathak. As a matter of fact, she came to know Kathak earlier than burlesque, in 2001 as a student at the San Francisco State University. She went on a sabbatical from Kathak for years and picked it up again after she made the move to New York.

“The work ‘Kathak’ is sanskrit for ‘story,’” she explained. “Stories are portrayed through hand gestures. It’s heavy in complex rhythmic footwork. It’s a lot like tap dance.” It also uses layers of elaborate costume.

Born in California, Dien has been living in New York City for almost 11 years. Her parents, who are from Batac, Ilocos Norte, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s.

“First, my father on a professional visa, then he petitioned my mother and older sister. I was the first-born American in my family. I have a younger sister who was also born in the States,” she said. Her father, a retired engineer, runs a water business in California, which her mother manages.

“I speak almost no Tagalog or Ilocano! I can’t even understand Taglish or Ilocanlish,” she continued.

As for ‘Lady Mabuhay,’ she has two reasons for adapting the stage name: “I wanted something not necessarily a nod to my culture but a nod to life, and ‘mabuhay’ means ‘to life.’”

Watch Dien Magno’s interview to learn more about burlesque and Kathak, and how the two disciplines are steeped in controversy. LINK

Teaching the writer burlesque is like teaching a dog new tricks. Photos by Dipika Shrestha

Teaching the writer burlesque is like teaching a dog new tricks. Photos by Dipika Shrestha

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