"Princess of Pulchritude" isn't the most melodious title a lady could give herself. But the Shanghai Pearl, a Taiwanese-American burlesque dancer and teacher, is a witty one. She lives in a state of permanent put-togetherness, arriving at Blue C Sushi—by bus—in a full skirt and crinoline. In conversation, she's polite but unreserved. While explaining her style of ethnically repurposed burlesque, Shanghai insists she'll never do a straight tea-ceremony act: "If I did, I'd probably hump the teapot and I don't know... squeeze a couple sugar cubes out of my pussy."
Shanghai moved from Taiwan when she was 3, grew up in Arizona, and became curious about burlesque after seeing Dita Von Teese perform in 2002. After hitching a ride to Seattle with a friend whose moving truck was paid for by Boeing, Shanghai (then Jenny Ku) started frequenting shows and wondering why she wasn't seeing any women of color. By 2006, she'd graduated from the Academy of Burlesque and was booked for a handful of gigs.
Her apartment at the downtown Tashiro Kaplan Artists Lofts is like a dressing room turned inside out: costume racks bursting with fanciful undergarments; a large sewing table scattered with pasties-in-process, feathers, and hot-glue guns; jewel-encrusted brassieres; half-bedazzled heels. People at a nearby bus stop across the street might glimpse Shanghai suspended from the roof of her balcony, practicing aerial work over an overstuffed settee. But Shanghai wasn't always this free to spread out—at her former building, she was served 10-day notices for "failure to keep her apartment neat and tidy." The building manager, in for routine pest control, cited feathers on the floor as a fire hazard. Not possible, says the eternally thrifty Shanghai Pearl. "There were no feathers on the floor; that's not going to happen. Those feathers are expensive."
The Shanghai Pearl performs regularly at El Gaucho and the Pink Door.