Founded in 2014, S.O.P.H.A.T. has performed across the U.S. and in Indonesia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Canada. “I always wanted to showcase that our weight could not stop us from doing the ‘impossible,’” says Jones-Kariem.
What began as a group of three has now blossomed to 12 passionate performers with a mission of empowering women of all sizes through dance.
“Burlesque is a comical way of telling our fantasies, lives, experiences and wants. It caters to the mother, father, CEO, secretary and painter. It has no discrimination and it embraces differences and individuality. What an exciting way to breathe life! Burlesque is in us all, from looking in the mirror and blowing kisses at yourself to singing and dancing in the shower,” says Jones-Kariem.
The plus-size burlesque group showcases performers from a wide range of dance backgrounds.
“Most dancers were already dancers in different genres … and they either auditioned, took one of my classes or took a class with me. It’s just so fun learning from them, as well and so humbling that they trust me on this journey of learning and loving themselves through the art of dance,” says Jones-Kariem.
Behind the Burlesque
She is no stranger to the body-positive movement. The mother and grandmother of seven originally discovered her passion in 2003 when her cousin, Donell Matthews, asked her to serve as head model and choreographer for his clothing line.
“I always knew I had it, but because of my size, doors kept being slammed. He saw the greatness in me and pushed me to be better,” she shares.
That opportunity led Jones-Kariem to numerous positions in the plus-size industry. From serving on the board of the world- recognized Fuller Woman Network as co-producer for Cassy Jones-McBryde to traveling as brand ambassador for award-winning photographer Jose Pagãn, she has continued to grow her presence in the industry.
“I became the ‘WOW’ factor for a lot of designers because I loved modeling. Therefore, my love for modeling showed up in my walk, my confidence, the way I treated others with respect, the way I rocked whatever was put on me and the fact that I was versatile and creative with choreography,” she says.
Some designers who formed relationships with her also began expanding their lines to incorporate plus-size items.
“They would always say, ‘if no one ever saw you and only heard of you, they would think you were as light as a feather walking. You have the grace, control and poise that we look for,’” she notes.
That said, she did not initially begin her journey with the plus-size industry in mind. “My weight was the last thing on my mind when accomplishing my goals, but it definitely helped pivot me into the directions that have made me successful!”
Defining Body Positivity
To Jones-Kariem, body positivity is about radical acceptance.
“Body positivity, to me, means owning what you have and not focusing on what you don’t have. As I often say, ‘my imperfectly perfect body is my SUPERPOWER!’ Every roll, stretch mark, cellulite indentation and blemish was divinely made and chosen for me.”
She advises those who struggle with body positivity to shift thought processes.
“In a world that hates what it can’t have, embrace what you do have — and what you don’t like. CHANGE. It’s more detrimental to stress over a problem, when creating a solution can also create an opportunity. Embrace what you have because no one else owns it like you!”
How to Get into Burlesque
Are you interested in trying burlesque? Jones-Kariem suggests doing a little research. There may be burlesque studios in your area. In addition, check out conventions.
“Burlesque conventions are always available to learn more and participate in choreographed pieces. YouTube is (also) a wonderful source to learn more.
S.O.P.H.A.T. always instructs burlesque classes and will start auditioning in other states to join this amazing team,” she says.
Editor’s Note: You can reach @LaChina_Joneskariem through her personal IG or @SOPHATBurlesque on Facebook (yes, it’s all one word) and IG or by emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org