By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
Nolan “Matt Finish” Kubota is a short, well-built, flamboyant man from northwestern California. His journey to Tucson has led him all over the world.
His roles at Pima Community College include director of productions for dance. He teaches advanced ballet and jazz, and runs the student dance ensemble.
On top of all that, he juggles one more responsibility: burlesque dancing.
“I’m amazing. I’ve been doing this forever and I’m not stopping any time soon,” Kubota said.
Burlesque began as a parody of plays in the 1830s, but evolved in the early 1900s into its current art form.
A JOURNEY BEGINS
After graduating from high school in 2002, Kubota wanted to apply to the University of Arizona graduate school for dance. After he was denied admission because he needed two years of professional experience, he went to New York to get that experience.
“I had no connections, no job, nobody in the city,” Kubota said. “I was there for four days before I got a job.”
The lucky break came from a comedic all-male parody en travesti ballet company called Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, or “Trocks” for short.
Kubota called Trocks and asked if they had any upcoming auditions. After grilling Kubota with questions, the company asked him to show up at City Center the next day for auditions to replace a previous dancer.
“So I went in and it was a small audition, there were four guys,” Kubota said. “The first two boys were cut after barre.”
Only one dancer stood in Kubota’s way.
“We were polar opposites,” Kubota said. “I was very short and very thin. He was this big, hairy guy.”
Kubota felt sure his opponent had the advantage, noting the judge “was talking to him a whole lot more than he was talking to me.”
Though Kubota was less popular, he earned the job because his competitor had to leave the audition due to previous commitments.
Just like that, Kubota signed a contract with the Trocks on the night of his 21st birthday, Sept. 20.
“I have that amazing fairytale story, moving to New York and signing with a world-famous company,” he said.
Kubota traveled the world with the Trocks for three years, performing in Australia, New Zealand, France, Portugal, Japan, Turkey, Wales, Greece, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Canada.
While in the U.S. on tour, Kubota approached the UA graduate school of dance’s chairman and gave him tickets to see him perform. Soon after, he was invited to enroll in the UA program.
After he graduated in 2011, Kubota applied to Pima Community College and immediately began teaching. While teaching, he has inspired students to be more confident with themselves.
“Matt’s made me more comfortable with saying I don’t like something,” sophomore dancer Catina Corella said.
Shortly after, he found his new passion.
At first, Kubota didn’t want to be a part of the burlesque scene.
“The first time I went to a show, I didn’t want to go at all,” he said. “I knew it was ladies taking their clothes off, and I was like, ‘ew, tits.’” After a friend bought him a non-refundable $20 ticket, however, Kubota dragged himself to the show.
“Five minutes into the show I was hooked,” he said. “I leaned over to her and told her, ‘We’re going to do this.’”
Post-show information had details about a burlesque class, and Kubota enrolled.
In his first session, Kubota and his peers were given a task: Come up with a performer name.
“I wanted a pun for my name,” he said. “When it comes to my photographs, I’ve always preferred a matte finish.”
Part of the process involved research to see if anyone else has ever used the name. Kubota learned no other burlesque performer went by his proposed name.
“There was an Australian rock band called Matt Finish,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think anyone will get us confused.’”
With his name settled, Kubota started dancing with Black Cherry Burlesque in 2012. He also created his own show, Don’t Blink Burlesque, and performed at a bar called Mint.
“We performed there for almost a year before we got our spot at The Hut,” he said. “We were a weekly there for a year, then we switched to a monthly.”
Switching to a monthly show allowed Kubota more time to gather his audience and fill his roster of performers.
That’s when his burlesque career began to take off.
At first Kubota stayed true to his ballet roots when he danced. After his second act, he decided he needed to be more open artistically.
“That’s what I love about it. It’s very freeing artistically,” he said. “I like that I can be dirty and raunchy on stage.”
Kubota is always excited to meet new dancers who want to be a part of that community, and will help them jump right in.