I'm a dancer!
Nothing says “Happy Birthday, America!” like choreographed dance routines and nipple tassels.
And thanks to Austin’s booming burlesque dance community, there will be no shortage of either this July.
Three of the four burlesque shows crackling to life this month involve a patriotic red white and blue theme, a cheeky tribute to the variety shows put on for the soldiers by the U.S.O. in the 1940s.
“It heralds back to those old ‘support our troops’ shows where acts like The Andrews Sisters did their song and dance numbers,” says Black Widow Burlesque member Sailor Cherry. “We just take it to a more naughty level than they did.”
At the beginning of the month, the Bat City Bombshells put on the “Pastries for Patriots!” Show at The Red Shed. In one evening, these lovely young ladies raised $500.00 to donate to the U.S.O.
Coming up on July 15, the Jigglewatts present their red, white and blue “Sparks Fly!” show at the 29th Street Ballroom. The Ballroom is a change in venue for them, but one that matches their intimate style and plush costuming.
“We’ve got more of a martini-drinking, older crowd that remembers burlesque back in its heyday,” says Jigglewatt Goldie Candela. “The younger crowds are really getting into it too, which makes a very cool vibe for every show.”
“It’s a great space for us because of the capacity and the large stage,” reveals Black Widows’ Ginger Snaps. “We get a really vocal crowd, mostly younger, who come to laugh and participate and have a good time.”
Each of these troupes represents a unique style of “burly-q” dancing ranging from the traditional to the more comedic and absurd.
The Jigglewatts are Austin’s strictly classical style burlesque troupe. As trained dancers, they incorporate a lot more technique to their solo and group routines. Without a doubt, these cleverly named ladies bring the class as well as the ass.
“I’ve got 10 years of dance training, tap and jazz and ballet,” says Goldie. “Now I’m just doing it with less clothes on!”
The ladies of Black Widow Burlesque represent a range of body types and styles ranging from classical to neo-classical comedy burlesque, so there’s a tantalizing tidbit for every taste. But on July 22, all of it will honor the brave spirit and love of boobies that constitutes America.
Corresponding with this influx of patriotic dancing is the return of a former Austin burlesque institution, Ms. Venus Velvet, to the great state that raised her.
Venus Velvet was a founding member of the notorious Austin troupe Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Texas Burlesque in 2002.
“It was important for us that we carry the state’s name and attitude through and through,” says Venus. “And I feel I will always do that no matter where I live or perform.”
Venus is also the producer of the ladies-dancing show The Venus Velvet Variety Hour, which features ladies from all the burlesque troops in town.
Venus relocated to the Los Angeles area in 2010 to pursue her clothed and unclothed dreams. And while the names and faces have changed since that time, Austin’s love of lovely ladies good-heartedly taking their clothes off on stage has remained.
Therefore, Venus returns to Austin to recreate The Venus Velvet Variety Hour on July 16. The veteran dancing lady recruited some of her best burly-q gal pals for this special occasion, and she promises to get a rise out of Austinites of all persuasions.
“I always knew I would return to Austin to perform. This is the city that shaped my approach to burlesque, and I have made so many friends and collaborators in the scene that a return was definitely in the cards,” says Venus.
Joining Venus on the Momo’s stage for a courtroom-themed night of lawless dancing called “The People’s Burlesque” are her co-producer and partner-in-crime Prissy Dixie, Smalls McCoy of Big Star Burlesque, Ginger from Black Widow and Goldie of the Jigglewatts. Members of Kitty Kitty Bang Bang will also be in attendance.
“Things have changed so much in the last five years since Venus was here,” says Goldie, who makes her return to the stage after a year-long hiatus. “But’s important to have veteran dancers around to connect everyone to the history of the artform.”
The Variety Hour is an excellent example of how communal and encouraging the Burlesque community is in central Texas, cross-promoting and featuring one another in their shows as special guest artists.
“There’s no competition between any of the groups,” says Goldie. “Everyone’s committed to keeping the community going.”
To that end, each of the troupes is always looking to add new members. Dance training is of course a plus, but not a necessity. Oh, and the willingness to disrobe in front of an audience…
“I never thought I could do this,” recalls Black Widow’s Miss Fahrenheit (formerly named Ra-Ra Roxette). “I originally went into it thinking I would be an emcee because of my comedy training. But once I got there, I just committed to it fully. Now it’s the most liberating thing I do in life.”
Both groups agree that female audience members admit to feeling inspired and having a lot more fun than their male counterparts at shows. They enjoy the shows’ emphasis on abolishing shame and inhibition.
“It’s all about owning your body and loving it, no matter your flaws or insecurities,” says Goldie, “There’s a sense of freedom that comes with that fourth wall.”
This theme of freedom rings clearly in each of the women’s stories for what got them started in the dancing arena and why they can’t leave burlesque behind.
“The best piece of advice I ever received was: Leave it all out on the stage,” recalls Venus. “There is no better feeling than to walk off stage exhausted but with the full knowledge you gave it your all.”
“Burlesque helped me feel like a woman for the first time,” shares Miss Fahrenheit. “Before this, I rarely if ever wore makeup and never did my hair. Now I’m two steps away from a drag queen.”
“We’re the women drag queens want to be!” declares Ginger quite proudly.
Looking around the house or in the closet of a burlesque dancer, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between these two factions. Both involve a lot of sequins, boas and glitter.
Drag is the gay man’s version of exaggerated female perfection. Burlesque is the straight woman’s version of exaggerated female perfection. Bottom line: ladies are getting the credit and the celebration they deserve.
“I hear people condemning us, comparing it to stripping. But it’s not like stripping at all,” argues Cherry. “Stripping’s a job. Burlesque is an artform. We never emphasize anything raunchy.”
“Plus, strippers make so much more money than we do!” laughs the Widows’ Betty Blue.
If you’re interested in trying out burlesque, the Widows suggest putting a number together and submitting a video on their website. Otherwise, introduce yourself at one of their upcoming shows.
There’s nowhere better to try it, says Venus. “Shows I have performed in Austin always seem more about having fun backstage, onstage and with the great audiences. Austin audiences really seem to get what burlesque is about.”
“We’re always looking for new members to grow the community,” says Goldie. “The Jigglewatts have been around for five years. It’ll be great to see how the Austin scene will look in another five, even ten years.”
With a mix of veterans like Venus Velvet and new faces like the Bat City Bombshells, Austin burlesque is sure to be around for a good long while.
To that, we say: God bless America.