The dark side of burlesque
If you don’t know anything about burlesque – then honestly, where have you been? Never fear, we’re here to show you the dark side of this glamorous hobby.
What is burlesque?
The weird aunt of stripping and cabaret, the tradition of burlesque goes back to Victorian Britain, where it was immediately much more puritanical than today. While we’re talking right now about burlesque as performance, its origins as satire in literature and music predate these shows by hundreds of years! Nowadays, burlesque can’t be defined by any one thing. Most people will think of stripping when they think of burlesque – and while that’s not wrong, it’s not always true. Neo-burlesque, as it’s known today, is a celebration of the individual, their beauty and strength; whether clothes come off or not, it’s as much a celebration of sexuality and a challenge to gender as its close friend, drag.
Why is burlesque perfect for goths?
Goth burlesque is epitomised by the incredible Dita Von Teese, who marries her love of vintage glamour with more modern gothic looks, but that’s by no means the end of the story. Burlesque is a strange sisterhood. Much like the world of modern art, it’s a highly personalised art form, focussed on embracing your passions and expressing those to the audience. I talked with burlesque artists from around the world who have performed gothic acts, with influences from gothic music, horror films, literature and more.
How would you describe your act?
Mary Lee Morbid: I identify as the schizophrenic love child of a mortician and a ballet dancer which sums up my performances pretty well. I make macabre situations seem normal and sometimes even humourous and I’m always looking to shock my audience.
Jynx Monster: Creepy sexy! I love to creep people out with what I do, if I make audience members scream during my acts I take it as a win.
Eden Lost: It's glamorous, a little frightening, seductive, and totally campy!
Amore Rocks: I wanted to do something to a powerful track but have the feel of Akasha’s seductive dance in Queen of The Damned before she rips out the other vampires heart… So this is a bit of a play on mixing up metal with some classic bump and grind.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Mary Lee Morbid: I prefer basing my personas on classical literature and the insanity in my own brain.
Leia La Voix: I look to other dancers whom I admire in my local community as well as classic dancers, actresses, musicians, and more…I take inspiration from Theda Bara, Siouxsie Sioux, Bettie Page, and even Death from The Sandman comics!
Amore Rocks: Inspiration can be found in a song, a film, an outfit, anywhere!
How do you go about putting your act together?
Mary Lee Morbid: I ask myself why is this character doing these actions? What was she doing before this moment happened? Where is she going after? Why does she like blood, guts, body parts, spiders so much? Then I figure out how to make it really weird and scary.
Jynx Monster: I tend to start with the song I'm going to use and as I listen I write down the props and style I'll go for. From there I just start piecing it together move by move until I have it completed.
Eden Lost: I always try to create a strong story to tell.
What kind of audience usually come to your shows?
Mary Lee Morbid: Mostly young adults, people that are part of alternative subcultures and people looking for something different
Eden Lost: Our audiences are usually super creative! They come dressed to the nines and are great to perform for because they are enthusiastic and vocal about it!
Dancerella Heat: I've danced for different crowds. Very kinky. Vanilla kinky. Even nerdy and children!]
Do you make any of your outfits or props?
Mary Lee Morbid: Through making the costume I get a lot more time to think about the act that it’s for so I feel I can be closer to the character I am building.
Jynx Monster: I make most of my outfits, I just love getting creative. I've only made one prop so far but It's my favourite piece to use now. My ten blade machete bed!
Eden Lost: Yes! More often than not i put together my costumes and props from scratch.
Leia La Voix: I am a total rhinestoning fiend!
Amore Rocks: Yes I make pretty much everything myself now. Or I buy in the bases and then change them, make them more interesting and my own… My shimmy belt for my Heavy Metal Mistress act is always changing depending on how big my bum gets or if I fancy extra tassels.
Dancerella Heat: Yes to both. Outfits usually are created from something I buy at a thrift store I'll convert it.to fit the act.
How do you use goth influences and/or crafts in your own life? (it's okay if you don't!)
Mary Lee Morbid: Through the clothing I wear mostly, but that varies greatly as well, I can go from frumpy to glamourous to girly to goth to escaped carny in the same week! My house is a weird mix of circus tent and mausoleum, it’s painted with mosaics in all the colors of the rainbow and I have a large and still growing collection of taxidermy.
Jynx Monster: I'm less goth then I was when I was a teenager but the culture still influences my life. My house has quite a large skull collection including zebra, deer, bird, human and some skull candles. Some of my favourite films are The Crow and The Nightmare Before Christmas(I watch it every christmas eve). And if you took a peek in my craft box you'll see it's all dark colours.
Eden Lost: I've been about of the gothic culture since I was a teenager, so I think it just flows naturally from me by now.
Leia La Voix: I generally ascribe to the goth aesthetic in one way or another when it comes to my personal style. I consider myself a hippiegoth/romantigoth on weekends and a corpgoth at my 9-5 during the week.
Amore Rocks: Being born in the late eighties my first experience of music was a lot of the floaty goth music. Hammer Horror films have had a big impact on my artwork and style too so I settle around the horror punk influences. Goth just slips out in my work, it’s never intentional.
Dancerella Heat: I am a lover of chains studs and leather. And.pearls!
If you produce or organise goth events, what do you look for in an act?
Mary Lee Morbid: I produce the Morbid Fascination Show, it’s a monthly dark alternative burlesque and freak show cabaret where I can give a place to all the other horror aficionados that don’t fit in with the traditional glamourous burlesque scene. I will book anyone who does quality work with horror, gore, fetish and freak show culture.
Leia La Vox: I recently produced "Darkly Beloved: A Night of Old School Goth Burlesque", which featured performances from the 1980's darkwave/goth era. There were several wonderful acts paying tribute to such musical acts as Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets, Nina Hagen, and Sixousie and the Banshees.
Thank you very much to the beautiful and talented burlesque artists! You can find out more about all of them on their social media.
Leia La Voix: Nerdlesque performer, sometime drag king and fetish artist.