With a glitz Hollywood musical starring pop tart Christina Aguliera and the legendary Cher, burlesque is back with a vengeance! Well, I suppose it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that burlesque is back, since it’s been around in one form or another since the late 19th century, in smoky cabaret halls and dimly lit back alley bars.
Burlesque shows were brought to America from England way back in the 1860s. Since then, the form has assimilated vaudeville, comedy, cabaret and striptease to become the dominant type of “follies” entertainment, lampooning every facet of society while titillating its audience with the once-forbidden near nudity it became famous for.
A burlesque act can take many forms. There’s the voluptuous dancer in fishnets that can hypnotize you with her nipple tassels, the leggy blonde with the voluminous ostrich feather fans and barely there pasties, but then there’s also melodrama, dance and even stand up comedy. I was lucky enough to get my first taste of burlesque performance in October with Montreal’s grotesque burlesque troupe, Glam Gam.
Glam Gam was founded one year ago by newfies Michael McCarthy and Sarah Murphy and Montrealer Julie Paquet. As they put it, “We all knew we loved to perform, but we were not satisfied with existing platforms, so we made our own. We categorize ourselves as ‘burlesque’, because this is the genre that best describes what we do. However, we also struggle with the term since the general population’s point of reference is now a Hollywood high-budget film that shares the same name yet has nothing to do with what we’re about.”
Burlesque is about more than just taking it off the delight is in the tease. But it’s also about living in a world where you get to make the rules.
One of the main reasons I find burlesque so appealing, other than delight in the sheer pleasure of exhibitionism, is that it allows us to reclaim images of sexuality and shape them however we choose. We are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images, from the moment we leave our houses and glance upon the giant ads in the metro to the moment when we turn off our TVs at night.
Instead of allowing ourselves to be objectified on someone else’s terms, we get to stand up there and demonstrate our own personal definition of what’s sexy. In keeping with this aesthetic, Glam Gam welcomes performers of varying genders, shapes, sizes, colours and sexual orientations. After all, it wouldn’t be a burlesque show without a little drag!
You never know quite what to expect at a Glam Gam show. At Halloween, people were witness to such diverse acts as yours truly dressed up like a pregnant green alien birthing then devouring her newborn child onstage to a hilarious send-up of Disney characters from our youth, to a hauntingly beautiful photo collage in a cemetery followed by a dance with Death that, spoiler alert, didn’t end so well. In between, there was something for everyone tits, ass, penis and, I’m proud to admit I was one of the first to flaunt the female form, full frontal. One thing’s for certain, everyone always leaves with a smile on their face.
To celebrate their one year anniversary, Glam Gam is putting on a Christmas-themed burlesque show called Tits the Season 2â€¦ Be Naughtier, at one of the city’s oldest venues, the storied Café Cleopatra. Situated at the corner of St. Laurent and Ste-Catherine, this hundred year old landmark stands in the former red light district. Gentrification is threatening the demolition of this venerable performance space, so catch it while you can.
As Glam Gam put it, “We always put on our shows at Café CléopÃ¢tre because they have been so good to us and allow us to express ourselves in a way that no other venue will. We consider this venue our home as it has allowed burlesque to flourish in Montreal for 35 years (in a building that has hosted this and other alternative art forms for over 100 years) and embraces our spin on it. We find the city’s plans to demolish our home devastating! From the beginning we have aimed to break down barriers of what is considered sexy and we also want to entertain everyone. Many events are targeted to one specific audience, but we’d like to think we have something for everyone and love bringing people together! We are an entertainment utopia, wherein all shapes, sizes, genders and sexualities are represented on stage and in the crowd.
Expect the unexpected – this ain’t your grandma’s burlesque! If you leave a Glam Gam show dry and frowning, then we didn’t do our job properly. Bring on the mess and bring on the titties!!
If you want to check out pics from the last show, take a look at these!