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Back to Burlesque

by Taleen Simonian

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Seldom does talk of the local art scene include dance; ever more rarely does it touch upon the revival of the timeless 16th century dance form of burlesque. In recent years, Boston and the North Shore has benefitted from resurgence in the fun ‘n’ flirty striptease form of dance.

Classically, burlesque was rooted in theatrical affairs. It provided an audience with everything that a satire and travesty would, often inducing laughter and building drama. As history progressed, the connotation of the word “burlesque” expanded, incorporating dance while still upholding theatrical aspects. It encapsulated nudity, strip teasing and gaudy costumes while still maintaining satirical themes.

Although burlesque is no longer what it used to be in the sixteenth century, recent times have brought a revival of the art back to venues in Boston and the north shore area. This new form of the classic work, termed “neo-burlesque,” is pioneered by a new generation of artists who are trying to recreate the feeling of classical burlesque while incorporating a modern twist. To achieve this, performers try to keep the roots of burlesque intact, channeling its theatrical and glamorous aspects, while fusing it with contemporary entertainment methods.

In Boston, burlesque has reappeared in the form of neo-burlesque. Ellis Dee, co-founder and artistic director of burlesque group The Betsi Feathers, applauds the way that burlesque performers are embracing modernity in their performances.

“People are breaking away from the traditional instrumental music, classic feather fan dancing, simple choreography and really amping it up for modern times. You see more modern music, comedy, pop culture references,” she said.

Dee noticed the budding revival about a decade ago. Since then, she says it has done nothing but grow. Some other troupes like Black Cat Burlesque, the Lipstick Criminals and the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts have all spurred on the neo-burlesque revival in Massachusetts.

“A lot of troupes have become less compartmentalized with what projects they take on, and I'm seeing more collaborations where people are in multiple troupes at once. This makes for more projects and shows on a constant basis,” Dee said.

To her delight, she noted that at any given month there are at least 5 different burlesque shows that take place in Boston, an indication that the movement has gained momentum.

The resurgence of such a whimsical, colorful art has been a pleasure not only for an audience, but also for performers. Kandi Sprinkles, a member of The Betsi Feathers, says dancing with the troupe has boosted her creativity and confidence.

“Not only is [burlesque] empowering, it has given me more confidence than I have ever had. My creativity has multiplied tenfold,” she said. “The feeling you get being on stage is something I can't even put in to words…It’s almost like I embody the character I'm portraying without even meaning to.”

For Betsi Feathers dancer Dahlia Longlegs, burlesque induces everything from passion to excitement.

“Feeling beaut[iful], sexy [and] unstoppable comes with being a performer. When you hear the crowd cheer and clap, so many emotions can take over. Your adrenaline gets pumping…you can't help but get a little more into that number.”

While the performers feel connected to the art, Boston has served as a prime location to bring life to the once-unknown act. The eclectic, embracing city has been the perfect place for neo-burlesque. People who attend the shows are, according to Dee, from all walks of life.

Burlesque is not bound to one demographic, so a typical crowd will be filled with people of all ages and interests. However, if there is one thing that Dee has noticed, it is that the majority of typical audiences are female.

“More than half, if not 75%, of our audience is [made up of] women! We've really developed a special bond with the people that come to our shows,” Dee said. “They've gotten to know who our characters are and joke around with our personas.”

It can be argued that the reason that so many women are drawn to burlesque is due to the feminist undertones of the act. Themes of sexual liberation, glamour and confidence sprinkle each performance, which can be both enticing and alluring for women.

“Burlesque challenges taboos. One of the taboos of burlesque is the over sexualization of women. Who is responsible for that? The patriarchy. What does burlesque do? Puts the control in our hands of how we want to present our sexuality to the world. We take control of the audience to convey a particular message or story,” Dee said.

Burlesque offers something unique to everyone. For an audience, it provides entertainment and a dose of culture. For performers, it provides a channel of self-expression. Jazz D’moan, co-founder of the Betsi Feathers, emphasized that burlesque goes back to the performers tapping into their characters and themselves.

“You can show who you are and what you love through burlesque, and give the audience a feel for that love and hope it touches someone in the same way it touches your life,” she said.

To learn more about the Betsi Feathers, visit their Facebook page. Their holiday show “The Nightmare Before Stripmas” runs December 29 and 30.

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