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IZOHNNY Oral History Interview

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IZOHNNY Oral History Interview


IZOHNNY is the Burlesque performing and producing duo of Isaiah Esquire and Johnny Nuriel. Based in Portland, Oregon, IZOHNNY performs together and separately, nationally and internationally. Isaiah Esquire is a native of Portland, Oregon, while Johnny Nuriel grew up in Santa Cruz, California and moved to Portland to attend college in 2007.

Nuriel defines Burlesque as being about the story-telling aspect, which doesn’t necessarily have to result in nudity. Esquire defines Burlesque as an art form that might use removal of or putting on clothes to tell a story.

Esquire has taught dance for seventeen years, including teaching college dance for eight years. Nuriel designs all their costumes. Outside of Burlesque, Nuriel also works with special needs and developmentally diverse people, and works in hospice and as a care provider.

IZOHNNY details the many shows they perform in and produce. Esquire notes that, when he began performing, many show producers weren’t sure of how to categorize his art and often didn’t hire him because his performance style didn’t fit into their mold. IZOHNNY go on to explain how the national and international Burlesque festival experience works.

Esquire and Nuriel talk about being founding members of “The Caravan of Glam.” Founded in 2013, this was an openly queer Drag and Burlesque show that traveled to many politically conservative small towns across nine Western states. As part of “The Caravan of Glam,” Esquire & Nuriel were referred to by America’s Got Talent scouts as one of the Top 10 traveling queer performance duos in the United States.

IZOHNNY next describes the gender dynamics of the Portland Burlesque scene as being female-focused in 2013 and is now more balanced (male, femmes and thems) in 2020. The audience is comprised of a spectrum of people in terms of all genders and all ages.

Nuriel explores what inspires him to create a new performance piece. Esquire explains the difference between being a dancer responding to the music and being a Burlesque or Drag performer who is acting or singing the music. IZOHNNY defines the term cultural appropriation and tells how they deal with it in their productions. Esquire shares his experience with diversity in Burlesque. He cautions against tokenism, where producers give an opportunity to a performer that, perhaps, they aren’t ready for but they get it because they fill a quota.

Nuriel shares how Burlesque helps dealing with one’s body image issues. Burlesque celebrates diverse body sizes, shapes and abilities. Burlesque has given him an opportunity to use his voice as a queer person. Esquire further explains how Burlesque helps shed the shame associated with our bodies by taking back ownership of our body from societal constraints. He celebrates femmes taking up space as a smart, sexy and powerful woman of size in this world. He states Burlesque people are often activists.

Nuriel talks about the challenges facing Burlesque with societal prejudice and wrong assumptions about the art form. He talks about the need to change those perceptions. Esquire notes that the industry is sadly losing the older Burlesque Legends and losing the history that they represent.

Nuriel expresses his wish that the public would see Burlesque as an art form, not only as a vehicle of sex. He views Burlesque as on a par with the ballet, the theatre, and would like the public to see it as such. Esquire would like more people to understand that, as a part of the sex industry, Burlesque has the capacity to heal society around issues of body issues and sexuality.


Isaiah Esquire and Johnny Nuriel


Oregon Burlesque Performers Oral History Collection (OH 49)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


January 2, 2020


Laurie Kurutz


Born Digital Video




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Laurie Kurutz


Isaiah Esquire and Johnny Nuriel


Portland, Oregon

Original Format

Born Digital Video



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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