by Larissa Fawkner, Advancement Committee Chair

SLC Arts is kicking off the 2nd annual North Country Arts Festival by hosting an adult-only 21+ Art After Dark fundraising party with headlining act, The Rougettes, an Ottawa Ontario-based Burlesque dance troupe. Formed in 2018 with routines choreographed by Randi Rouge, The Rougettes bring sweetness, sass, and sensation to every stage these gorgeous glitzy gal’s grace. The Rougettes, including Arctic Blondo, Babycakes, Carmel Spysse, Rosa Diamond, and Viva Van Diva, will perform a 90-minute sexy set that is sure to please the audience with acts including Diamonds, Boots, Buttons, and Money.

Burlesque has its origins in the 17th century. The word “Burlesque”, is derived from the Italian word, ‘burlesco’ which stems from ‘burla’ meaning a joke or mockery. Burlesque shows were often described as an ‘extravaganza’ a style of elaborate literary or musical performance containing elements of cabaret, circus, vaudeville, and mime. Victorian era Burlesque was popular in London theaters from the 1830’s – 1890’s. Burlesque actors took well-known plays, opera’s, ballet, and popular music of the time and re-wrote the lyrics for comic effect. Victorian Burlesque style came to NYC in the 1840’s and was popularized in 1868 by Lydia Thompson’s visiting dance troupe, The British Blondes. Shows were performed by an all-female cast and focused on parody. Women actors wore tights that were risqué and considered entirely scandalous when compared to the Victorian fashion of hoop skirts, petticoats, and high necklines. The women would also spoof the crowd by playing men’s roles and performing satirical skits poking fun at patriarchal society. New York Burlesque continued to evolve as elements of minstrel shows were added. Unlike cabaret which was performed in nightclubs, burlesque shows were performed in theaters, music halls, and other venues with separate stages for performances. The show consisted of three parts: first, a series of songs, course humor sketches and monologues by baggy-pants comics; second, the olio, a variety of acts such as acrobats, magicians, and instrumental and vocal soloists; and third, chorus numbers, burlesque, or a play. The finale was a performance by an exotic dancer or a wrestling or boxing match.

In the 1870’s, New York’s first American born Burlesque star, Mabel Santley, became a pioneer of modern Burlesque. Having once been arrested for lifting her skirt during a Can-Can, she is acclaimed for feminizing the genre with her turn in Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels which forever re-shaped the minstrel all-male tradition. In the 1930’s burlesque thrived in the US, but the shows were much naughtier. The art form flourished for almost 100 years before censorship, “clean-up” political policies, and the competition of motion pictures, led to the decline of the craft. By the 1960’s few Burlesque houses remained.

Then, burlesque experienced a revival. In 1979, Sugar Babies opened on Broadway starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, the lavish hit ran 1,200 performances and recreated classic burlesque. Later, in the 1990’s, there was a new wave of burlesque activity. Dixie Lee Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, took over an abandoned goat farm in Helendale California and filled it with burlesque memorabilia collected by retired dancer Jennie Lee thus creating the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. In 1991, Dixie founded the Miss Exotic World pageant to attract visitors and attention to the museum. Then, in 1995, Ami Goodheart’s “Dutch Weismann’s Follies” in New York and Michelle Carr’s Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe in Los Angeles spurred a revival called, “Neo-Burlesque” combining classic “pasties and a G-string” burly-q, swing music, rockabilly, punk rock, tattoos, girl power, lingerie, fetishism, and a healthy dose of humor. In 2000, the Tease-O-Rama Yahoo Group was launched providing the first national forum for modern burlesque performers. In 2005, the Exotic World Museum moved to Las Vegas where it was renamed the “Burlesque Hall of Fame.”

Modern burlesque performers are trained dancing professionals. Just as ballet has its arabesque, assemblé, balancé, brisé, ciseaux, and pas de basque, burlesque has its bevel, bounce, shimmy, grind, goddess legs,  heart drop, side split, and sexy walk. Dancers must become proficient in the steps of their performing art. Along with glamor and flashiness, burlesque is famous for its fashion style which includes corsets, stockings, hats, feathered clothing, and extravagant lush hairdos. Neo-burlesque shows are classier, more exotic, and truly focus on striptease as an art show form. That means the shows are not centered for a typically male audience.

When asked about Burlesque as a dance genre, Dr. Robin L. Collen, SUNY Potsdam Professor of Theatre & Dance and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences said, “the choreographer, Bob Fosse comes to mind when I think about burlesque. As a young dancer he worked in burlesque shows which had a strong impression on him—influencing his potent and articulate choreography with its sexuality and dark humor. In my 20th and 21st Century dance history course, I challenge students to investigate their beliefs about when they consider dance to be art, entertainment, or pornography. This inquiry is a journey into one’s beliefs and biases about the human body, sex, high and low art, humor, and much more. When you watch The Rougettes, you can enjoy this inquiry for yourselves.” The Rougettes, will perform a 90-minute sexy Neo-Burlesque set list that is sure to entertain. Get your tickets today at SLC Arts and support all forms and expressions of art in Northern NY.

Tickets to the Art After Dark party are $25 per person (online) and available on the SLC Arts website https://slcartscouncil.org/events/goldenjubilee and $30 at the door on the evening of the event.