Burlesque without boundaries

Dancers of all genders can participate in the art form

Winnipeg’s burlesque scene has exploded in the two years since the Winnipeg Burlesque Festival had its first summer showcase. Traditionally, the scene has been comprised of mostly women, but it’s since shifted to be more inclusive.

“If you’re compelled in any way to the style of burlesque, don’t think about it. Feel and just try it out,” burlesque dancer Robbie Hudon, who goes by Pharaoh Moans on stage, says. 

Neo-burlesque dance lessons are taught by M. Funk Dance Productions and at VogueFit, which also offers classes in pole dancing and other aerial arts.

A showcase by M. Funk on Feb. 18 included male pole dancers, as well as a bachata couple. Aerial hoop artists often make up part of the cast of a cabaret and serve as a reminder that there are no defined boundaries on what is burlesque and who can partake. 

It is about owning your sexuality and is meant to tease, burlesque dancer Dixie Cups – Carmen Murray off stage – says.

“At the end of the day, the pasties, the underwear stay on,” she says.

The term boylesque – used to refer to male performers – celebrates masculinity with a more gender-friendly twist, she says. Today’s burlesque is about redefining the boundaries of what is sexy, what should be presented on a stage and who makes that call. 

“It is there to provoke thought,” Dixie Cups says. 

Pharaoh Moans says burlesque is a form of art traditionally performed by women. 

“I think (boylesque) allows us to reclaim this art form as our own, feeling liberated from stigma or judgment on what we do,” he says. The term resonates with men who want to try it out but who don’t feel burlesque is for them.

Having a fundamentally masculine title creates a space for people who identify more on that side of the gender spectrum to explore. 

“You share that space with other people, so they can vicariously experience what you are experiencing in that moment when you're feeling creative about your sexuality and creative about your body, regardless of what your gender may be and what your sexuality may be,” Pharaoh Moans says.

One aspect that sets burlesque performers apart from other types of dancers is the omnipresence of stage names. 

“Using a stage name creates a certain anonymity, separating your stage self from your day-to-day self,” Pharaoh Moans says. 

As Dixie Cups puts it, it keeps a separation between her burlesque self and her muggle life. 

A stage name is also a reflection of the performer’s identity in terms of how they present themselves on stage.

To Pharaoh Moans, his name sounds like “pheromones” and has a connection to Egypt, which conveys a sense of being androgynous but also the king of that presentation.

“It is very empowering,” Pharaoh Moans says.

He says having a separate identity on stage may encourage those who don’t feel their day-to-day selves belong in a cabaret.

Dancers are encouraged to sign up for next summer’s showcase, which will be held at The Park Theatre from Aug. 19 to 20.

Published in Volume 71, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 2, 2017)

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