Burlesque is back and bigger than ever — the freshest hoofers under the limelight appear as a part of a new, Ottawa-based group.
“We have strip clubs and regular clubs — I think there needs to be more burlesque,” says performer Taya Séguin, 19.
Rockalily Productions is less than a year old, but the burlesque revival movement has been around for over a decade. Nostalgic for the girlies shows of the 1940s and ’50s, women’s dance teams in Los Angeles and New York found high demand for the shimmy-shimmy. The scene exploded in the mid-’90s, and its echo produced global stars like Dita Von Teese and the Pussycat Dolls in the 21st century.
Rockalily, founded in January 2008, has nine core performers. Although all of the current performers are women, the troupe does not exclude men.
Although Miss Jenn of Breathless is helping the troupe to come up with ideas for skits, the performers are developing and choreographing their own routines.
The troupe’s latest number is an striptease to Peaches’ “Stick it to the Pimp”, with Séguin at the centre of the action. She dresses up as a pimp while the other performers rock their usual uniforms of corsets and garter belts. Then, slowly, beat by beat, they remove her clothes – taking her tall hat, long coat and knobby cane – to reveal that underneath she’s just another ho.
Veronica-Michelle Roy, the troupe’s manager, says she sees her role as that of a facilitator.
“We want it to be less structured and more of a creative outlet for the women,” she says. “I’m not actually choreographing step-by-step and saying ‘This is what you’re doing’. Everybody gets their creative input.”
Séguin says she’s been welcomed by the group.
“I’m the only lesbian of the group and, at first, I thought that that would be a problem,” she says, adding that she feels empowered to be able to dance alongside women of mixed sexual orientations.
“Everyone can just come as one, and I like that idea — that I don’t have to dance in a gay bar, that it’s just all open,” she says.
Ottawa also hosts an annual Heart-On Burlesque, an annual by-women-for-women burlesque show. Roy says although the Ottawa burlesque scene is “very small” that she nevertheless likes it.
“I like that what is around is mostly either lesbian or feminist-based. It’s about the women who are doing it and about the women having fun — not about getting some guy hard.”
Feedback about the troupe has, for the most part, been positive.
“There have been a few people who have been critical, saying that we’re not doing anything new and just exploiting women, but the women who are doing it all want to be here,” says Roy.
Still getting off the ground, Rockalily has rocked audiences at Bank Street’s the New Bayou, which has offered itself as a solid venue for the troupe to perform at. Rockalily is also involved in organizing a burlesque rave to happen on the Quebec side this fall.
Half of the bacon the women bring home from their hammy performances is re-invested into Rockalily, the other half going to local organizations such as the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.
“I think that one of the major things that make us stand out is that we’re not in it for the money or the fame,” says Roy. “We started off with a big group, and what it’s boiled down to is a core group of girls who just want to dance around in their underwear and feel empowered and share the feminine beauty with whoever wants to see it.”