Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Burlesque features good girls getting naughty

Heart-On Burlesque promises a sexual celebration

PHOTOCAPTION: Feeling awesome in their own skin. The Cuntettes are featured performers at Heart-On Burlesque at the Saw Gallery. Credit: (Christina Riley)

“I feel like there is very little place for women, and even more specifically larger women, to express their sexuality comfortably and on their own terms. To me, burlesque dancing is the perfect opportunity to truly feel awesome in my own skin. Burlesque gives me the opportunity to dress up, dance and show off just how sexy fat can be!”

Blu Velvet describes her feelings on burlesque with giddy anticipation. She’s awaiting Heart-On Burlesque 3, an annual Ottawa event to held at Club Saw March 24.

If you haven’t savoured this event, you’re missing out. A genre of performance art, Burlesque is sexy and liberating. It can take many forms, but all have the common trait of honouring historical burlesques, including cabaret, striptease, gender-play and naughty humour.

Excedera St Louis, who will reveal only her stage name, plans to perform this year and shares her memories from the 2006 Heart-On Burlesque.

“I like to perform in drag. Last year a friend and I did ‘shaky thing’ by Ottawa’s Furnace Face. Of course, we don’t have shaky things, but it was fun to pretend.”

Heart-On Burlesque is organised by Tori Soso – aka Jezebel Hearts – and Shari – aka Tushy Dee-light – both members of an Ottawa-based Burlesque troupe called The Cuntettes. Shari describes the event.

“Our Burlesque shows have been primarily about the art of strip tease with doses of comedy, parody and music. We love how burlesque respects and admires non-traditional female forms in terms of body types, sexuality and gender expression. As an event for all women and members of the trans community comfortable in women’s spaces, we are committed to creating a sexy, raunchy and anti-oppressive event.”

Even the name is significant. Heart-On is a playful pun, acknowledging the harder side to female sexuality, of women getting hard-ons. But unintentionally perhaps, it also leaves an impression of having the best of both worlds, raw sexuality and emotional honesty, wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve.

Heart-On Burlesque is like that. There’s the challenge – the fear of baring all onstage. A lot of emotion and bravery is wrapped up in that. And then there are the acts – which are raunchy and uninhibited. Blu Velvet explains the feelings of being a performer.

“Even if you’ve done it before, it’s always a bit scary to hop on a stage and undress for a crowd; you always wonder if everything will fall into place, or how you’ll be received. I think it’s the good kind of stress, though. As for the rewards, it’s always amazing to hear the cheers and the applause throughout and after a performance. But most importantly, to be able to tell myself that I had the guts to do it is always an awesome thing for me.”

The meaning of burlesque goes much furtherfFor Tori Soso, who says Heart-On Burlesque represents a personal liberation from her past.

“Burlesque is a form of emancipation of my sexuality. As a retired stripper and a survivor of childhood sexual assaults, Heart-On Burlesque is a venue where I can reclaim my sexuality in a safe and empowering atmosphere, while giving back to a community organization that has been a part of my healing. I love the fact that I am a part of a community that supports this. Heart-On Burlesque never fails to be the most liberating night of my year.”

With so much meaning invested in just one night, it’s easy to understand why the organizers are protective of this event. In order to keep performers comfortable, the event is limited to women and transfolk. This focus on safety, together with a carefully chosen venue, makes for a deeply intimate evening.

Club SAW is part of the SAW Gallery, an undisputed Ottawa gem. The Heart-On Burlesque continues to be held there despite the fact that the event sold out the first two years. While a larger venue may be a practical move, the organizers have decided to hold on to the SAW Gallery for at least one more year.

“We are quite in love with the intimacy the venue at Club SAW brings to the event,” Shari explains. “The electricity between performers and the audience is what we cherish about Heart-On. Amateur performers often need that first amazing boost of self-confidence when they set foot on stage; the audience has always come through with this.”

This year’s Heart-On Burlesque doesn’t stop at sexual liberation for performers and audience. The event touches many other lives through the proceeds benefiting The Sexual Assault Support Centre, Agitate Queer Women Of Colour, and also their beloved SAW Gallery.

With this special event only days away, performers are priming their courage and polishing up their acts while audience members are picking out their most indulgent costumes. If you’ve never been, you need to know that tickets sell fast.