The Halifax Burlesque Explosion

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Coloured lights hang from a low ceiling. From behind a bright pink umbrella, the

cherry-haired Kay Liscious dances on the small red stage. She reaching out from her plastic

covering and with a smile drops a zebra stripe bikini top to the floor.

The audience cheers as she continues to tease and shimmy in her equally pink rubber rain

boots. Moving her umbrella downwards the crowd is treated to the final reveal.

Two sparkling, sun-glass wearing, cartoon suns. Their smiles beam at the audience.

It’s Friday night at Gottengen Street’s Menz Bar, and the Velvet Rope Boylesque is

putting on a show with a few special appearances from other Halifax burlesque performers.

The night is hosted by drag queen Rouge Fatale, the group’s co-founder, who manages to

change in and out of multiple dresses and wigs at seemingly light speeds.

No two acts are ever the same. One moment Moncton singer, Amy Stone is belting out a

cover of Adel’s “Rumour Has It,” the next, performer, The Frenchman, is stripping to a projected

series of Seth Rogan pictures in his act “Fat Boys Are Hot.”

As Fatale and another queen, Kimberly Diamondz, lip sync along to a country song –

with such lyrics as “He died upon the cross, let me get my point across. My hymen belongs to

Jesus” – the audience knows they’re seeing something special tonight.

This event is just one of a few taking place each year in Halifax. The city now boasts a

total of three regularly appearing performance groups: Rockabilly Riot, the Pink Velvet

Burlesque and the all-male, the Velvet Rope Boylesque.

“Halifax Burlesque scene has heart,” say traveling performer and former Halifax resident,

Mena Von Fleisch from her current home in Nevada.

“When I first started being on stage it was thrilling to a fault. I felt myself so charged

with excitement that I would rush through my song just eating up every moment”

Fully embracing both traditional and “neo burlesque” styles, the tightknit community

entertains crowds through a combination of humour, performance art and overt sexuality.

Performances have included 1930’s glamour acts, spoken word poetry and even the

occasional piece of political satire.

Rejecting misconceptions of their performances as glorified stripping, the artists work

hard to live up to burlesque’s original meaning, “to mock,” and challenge traditional forms of

entertainment. Everything from belly dancing to contortionism is featured on stage.

Recent years have seen numerous maritime acts traveling to the Toronto International

Burlesque Festival and more accomplished performers are setting their sights on Las Vegas and

the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

The burlesque revival is a worldwide phenomenon and credited to of begun in the early

1990’s though Halifax wouldn’t begin to see its residents shaking it on stage till almost a decade

later.

Enthralled by the idea of old style, vintage entertainment, a small group of performers

and artists banded together to create the Halifax Burlesque Society in 2003. A non-profit

enterprise all money made by the HBS went to various charities. Every decision made was voted

upon at scheduled meetings.

Open to any wanting to participate, the group attracted more than just people interested in

peeling off a few layers of clothing.

“If you were interested in making props or costumes or participating in any way you

could just show up to one of these meetings,” says former member Annie Valentina.

“It wasn’t a troupe. It was more of a community organization.

“Lots of art school kids.”

Valentina, 30, began performing in 2004 shortly after earning a degree in theatre.

Adopting the stage name Ruby Raunch only minutes before her first performance, she is

currently a working actor and continues to pursue burlesque. Most recently featured in Thom

Fitzgerald’s production Pluto’s Playthings during the annual Sex Festival; she bore it all as the

temptress Tatiana.

In 2005 the HBS would fall apart.

Cadence Macmichael, 29, another former Burlesque Society member and current

proprietor of Blowers Street’s Pretty Thing Boutique, returned from performing on Toronto

stages with fresh ideas on how she felt a troupe should be run.

Borrowing the title of Sarah Water’s novel “Tipping the Velvet” she christened the group

The Pink Velvet Burlesque and after six years is Halifax’s longest running burlesque troupe.

“I wanted it to be a solid group of performers who worked together on an ongoing basis

who could develop themselves as performers and as a group”

Rejecting the previous non-profit and democratic structure of its predecessor,

Macmichael runs what she calls a benevolent dictatorship. Paying her performers each an equal

share of ticket prices, she maintains strict control of her creation as producer.

“It’s not the free-for-all that the HBS was.”

Not content with merely one project she also hold seminars teaching beginners burlesque

basics and is co-founder of the Velvet Rope Boylesque. A group celebrating its third anniversary

this summer with an annual show marking the beginning of Halifax’s Gay Pride week.

While Halifax’s scene doesn’t garnish as much international attention as larger cities,

more and more touring acts are starting to take notice of the east coast, including reigning

“Queen of Burlesque” Roxi D’Lite.

“I think we’re very DIY and not so much into the high pageantry you see in a lot of other

cities,” says Macmichael.

“Our performers are pretty solid, they are humble, and don’t rely as heavily on pretty

costumes alone to get by. There’s a certain naive charm about maritime burlesque performers that

is unspoiled and unjaded.”

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