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Burlesque festival celebrates the art of striptease

By Liv Ingram, November 13 2014 —

Burlesque, a theatrical striptease with origins in early 20th-century cabaret, is characterized by elaborate costumes, vintage aesthetics and ladies dressing down to  their panties and pasties — decorative nipple covers often adorned with tassels or sequins.

The art form has found a home in Calgary at the Calgary International Burlesque Festival (CIBF). The inaugural festival runs from Nov. 14–16.

Dev el-Boom, founding member of the Nerdgasm Collective and CIBF secretary, says the festival showcases the diversity of burlesque.

“You’re going to have some comedic numbers, some different performance pieces, high performance and high art, and you’ll have some regular blue-collar type stuff,” el-Boom says. “There are so many different styles and it all falls under the giant umbrella of burlesque.”

Friday night features a cabaret-style show, featuring dancers from Australia, London and Edmonton.

The Saturday Showcase features performances by festival headliner Lola Frost, a distinguished burlesque performer from Vancouver. Bottoms Up Burlesque from Quesnel, B.C., Capitol City Burlesque from Edmonton and many Calgary dancers also perform on Saturday night.

The festival concludes with the Sunday Brunch, featuring breakfast poutine and a showcase of premiere burlesque performers.

Although some people put burlesque in the same category as stripping, Raven Virginia, co-founder of the Garter Girls and CIBF, says not all dancers agree with the label. But regardless of classification, she says the empowering and sex-positive nature of burlesque is undeniable.

“This art form is a way to express yourself artistically and sexually, which are two extremely empowering things. And you get to have permission to do that with the support of a community and an audience,” Virginia says.

Part of what makes burlesque empowering is the celebration of all body types and sizes, not just those who are model-thin. Men can also participate in a growing category called boy-lesque.

Daisy DeVille, a dancer with Burn Betties Burlesque and CIBF co-president, says burlesque is about creating a safe space for self-expression that is not limited to the dancers. Audience members are encouraged to participate by getting dressed up and clap and cheer for the performers.

“It’s hedonistic. You’re given full permission to gawk, stare, cheer, clap, let your jaw drop and be completely brought into it,” DeVille says. “It is entrancing to watch someone on stage who is in full possession of themselves and is feeling completely empowered by what they’re doing.”

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