This is the maxim professed by The Black Veils, and the cabaret troupe definitely practices what they preach. The group recently put on their first performance in more than a year at Harvelle’s in Long Beach, California. I had the opportunity to see them live for a night of enticing revelry!
The dimly lit venue is an ideal spot for taking in a tantalizing show. Harvelle’s is tucked away underground with an interior bathed in crimson. It’s an intimate space and when the performers were in action, things got quite intimate. Dancers, dressed to slay, emerged from rotating red velvet doors on stage, treating patrons to several numbers throughout the evening.
Without a doubt, these ladies are well versed in how to keep an audience’s attention. They delivered variety, from sultry group dance acts to solo singing and hypnotic aerial performances. Upbeat, high-energy music pulsated throughout the room, revving up the crowd and making us all beg for more. The cherry on top was how the entertainers didn’t isolate themselves on stage; they interacted with patrons, shimmying on top of the bar in the back, moving among spectators in the middle of the dancefloor and flirting with onlookers sitting off to the side in the lounge. The temptresses of The Black Veils drew back the curtain on the dark side of seduction and invited everyone present to come along for the ride.
Now, you may be wondering how such a force has come to exist. Candace Small, also known by her stage name Coco Noir, is the founder and ringleader of the ensemble. She’s equipped with an impressive background in the performing arts and is using her expertise to set the stage ablaze. In the following interview, she unveils fascinating details about herself and her entourage.
Q: You are quite the multitalented entertainer! Not only do you do burlesque, but you also sing and do aerial and pole performance. How did you get started in the performing arts?
A: I started at the age of six learning the classics, like ballet and jazz. From there, I got really into it and began competing with my dance studio. In elementary school, I started to play instruments also. I had always loved singing and when I was about 12, decided to try that as well. My dad was musically inclined and, luckily, I got those genes from him. I then made it into the Orange County High School of the Performing Arts, where I danced and sang. I moved on to Chapman University and kept up with the arts still.
After college, I did some desk jobs and had stopped dancing. After a few years, it just felt like I was missing something. I decided to jump back into dance classes. It was rough the first couple months, but it all came back, and I realized…I missed being creative. I’ve always been drawn to music, in all forms. I quit the desk job stuff and got into teaching barre and burlesque classes. From there, I started Lyra (hoop) and pole classes. I was hooked and haven’t looked back! I can’t imagine not having the arts in my life now. I’ve never let it go again.
Q: What’s the story behind your enticing dance troupe The Black Veils? What inspired you to start it and were there any challenges bringing your vision together?
A: I had performed before with a burlesque troupe and really loved the genre. I had decided to move on however and try new things. A friend tapped me to perform with a few other friends for a birthday event. I put together a couple numbers and hit the stage. Right after, the venue approached us to do another show for them. It was actually not something I had set out to do. I’d never ran a troupe before and had no idea how to! We dancers decided to give ourselves a group name and The Black Veils was the top vote. We thought, “Let’s just see where this goes?”
From there, the shows kept happening, and I gained a few more dancers. I was approached by more venues and developed a full show with singing and aerialist. I was then approached by Harvelle’s and once we walked into the venue…we knew we were HOME. We’ve now been there for over six years. As a group, the Veils have been together for over eight. It’s crazy to think how fast it’s all gone by!
The vision took years. It started as a classic burlesque troupe, but over the years we wanted to branch out more and find a true niche for us. Each year, we would revamp our show and try new things, new tricks, new music, new costumes, etc. Right before the pandemic we had just revamped a fresh show. Coming back, we had so many new ideas and decided to revamp once again. I think right now we have really zoned into who we are as a group. I love the place we are in now. The dancers have never been tighter, and we are all working so hard because we are so grateful to once again have this in our lives. Being a part of something like this is like a second family. The dancers have always been each other’s biggest supporters. We never have any real issues; we’ve been very lucky. We all truly love and admire each other.
Q: You’ve assembled a group of striking performers. What do you look for when selecting new members to join the ensemble?
A: Of course dance technique is a must. After that, it’s a vibe. It’s how a dancer carries themselves. One needs to have confidence to be on stage and have themselves exposed, both on the inside and outside. I look for the hunger inside. It’s A LOT of time and work. For us, this is not just a hobby. It takes a serious commitment. I also look for a dancer who wants to push through “the norms.” Someone who is willing to evolve. We like being on the cusp of new things. So I look for someone who is eager to try new and sometimes scary ideas.
Q: It’s captivating how The Black Veils embraces the dark side of seduction. Where do you get ideas when planning new shows and productions?
A: It’s funny because we started out eight years ago being very dark. Over the last few years, we’ve felt the need to change that up. We wanted more, just wasn’t quite sure what that was. Coming off a lockdown fueled that desire even more for us and took our show in a new direction. We wanted a more upbeat, fast paced show that keeps you locked in from start to finish.
Over the years, we also began to notice who our fans were. Initially, it was for both men and women. We get a lot of couples, which we love, but we began to see so many more women in the crowd. On stage we could feel their strength and excitement. They made us want to dance harder, throw down more on stage. We already supported female empowerment, but in the last few years we figured out what that empowerment meant to us as a group. We didn’t just want to inspire other women; we wanted our women fans to be PART of us.
Our show is now more of a celebration of femme and fierceness rather than just focusing on sexy. Sexy can be so many different things, it doesn’t have to be a bare ass. Sometimes it can be the look you give the audience, or the way a dancer swivels their hips when they walk. I’m focusing more now on the subtleties of sexy instead of the obvious. The curves, the attitude, the power and the vulnerability. All of that is what is sexy to us and what we want to put back into this world.
Q: What’s next for The Black Veils and for you as a performer?
A: Next up, we have our Halloween Show on 10/22. Every year we do a separate show that is totally different from our usual show. The dancers are all HUGE fans of Halloween, so we really go for it and are incredibly excited for this year. We’re busy brainstorming ideas and costumes, once again pushing ourselves to top our last Halloween show.
As a director, I’ve been trying new things, like stepping back and letting the dancers take on some of the roles I do. I’ve loved seeing them grow and evolve as individuals. I think having their imprint on our choreography and show is great for the group as a whole. Not only does it help us represent all the lovely types of women out there, but it also keeps us ever-changing.
Next year, we would love to branch out to some other areas in SoCal. Hopefully nail down another venue/residency and show our stuff to some new eyes. It’s a pretty exciting time, coming off a lockdown. We all have a fresh new lease on life and the group. We know how lucky we are to have something like this and be able to share it with others who love it like we do. That’s a feeling beyond words. We are forever grateful.
To find out when Coco Noir and the ladies of The Black Veils will be hitting the stage next, visit the official website. Plus, follow them on social media by clicking the links below:
Get details about future shows and purchase tickets at the Harvelle’s Long Beach official website.