Irish women are lapping up burlesque, with its sexy and expressive moves, and now, writes Norma Costello, Ireland is holding a pageant
SIZZLING with style, Ireland’s burlesque pioneers are pushing the boundaries of convention with routines that fire the imagination.
Burlesque might be an old performance art, but it’s recent popularity here is spurred on by popular culture’s embrace of all things satin and sequinned.
Pop princesses such as Beyonce and Rihanna have taken burlesque as a stable for their videos and live performances and it seems Irish women are equally excited.
Azaria Starfire aka Clare Anne Tobin is heading up Ireland’s first burlesque pageant Miss Burlesque Ireland.
Clare feels the time is ripe for an event to showcase the abundance of talent in the country.
“I worked as a professional belly dancer for years and that sort of opened the door into burlesque for me. I was part of a burlesque troupe called the Love Cats and I guess that’s where the whole thing really took off for me,” she said.
Dublin venues like the Sugar Club have championed the Irish burlesque scene, bringing over international acts and providing a platform for our home grown talent. Talent, nurtured in the capital’s burlesque schools where performers learn the art of parody and eroticism.
“This year we’re going to have 11 competitors. The girls are from all over the country and most of them developed their skills here. They come from all backgrounds, pole dancing, belly dancing or fitness,” Clare said.
Lisa Byrne is a leading burlesque performer in Dublin and runs the Irish Burlesque School. The 27-year-old Dublin honed her skills in London’s West End before setting up Ireland’s first burlesque school.
“The demand in Dublin was huge, I think because burlesque is about feeling sexy in your own skin while at the same time keeping fit. It appeals to everyone, from professional dancers to people who’ve never taken a class in their life.”
Lisa has ten years of performance experience, something she now shares with her legions of fans.
“I left Ireland when I was 17 to study dance in London. Burlesque is hundreds of years old, so it’s been really great to have a classical background. It’s all about posture and it even incorporates some classical ballet techniques.”
The performance art started out in Victorian times as parodies of operas, play and ballets. They were quickly picked up in Paris and the US where elements of eroticism were added.
Burlesque routines are famed for their raunchy, creative routines and feature swings, top hats, feather boas and even giant Martini glasses.
Lisa feels it’s the creativity of burlesque that draws people in and it’s all about expressing individuality.
“It’s all about originality. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ look or routine and that’s the great thing about it. The performer is telling a story using props and their body. I believe it’s about finding your femininity and celebrating your body and that’s a personal, unique thing,” she said.
Clare agrees and says Miss Burlesque Ireland competitors will be judged on their creativity and attention to detail.
“There are three categories, classic, neo and unique. Each girl must be familiar with the history of the art form and it’s modern incarnations. I guess what makes a burlesque competition that bit different is our ‘unique’ category where the girls bring all sorts to the floor ... we’ve had hula hooping, fire breathing, belly dancing singing... oh, and a girl dancing on a 10 foot rotating gun! It’s really varied,” she said.
According to Clare — despite it’s erotic overtures — burlesque is more popular with women than men. She feels fashion and burlesque run in tandem, but says you won’t find these ladies in regular high street style.
“If you have never been to a burlesque event in Ireland, go! We have a very unique burlesque culture here and fashion is a huge part of it. The events attract a huge female audience and the fashion is always so exciting. We usually have a ‘best dressed’ prize for an audience member, that’s how seriously people here take their signature looks,” she said.
Even though burlesque has its origins in story telling and vaudeville parody many view it as an act of female empowerment and say it is very different from stripping.
For Lisa it’s all in the name of femininity and celebration. “Burlesque is about holding your head high and finding your inner confidence. Some people say we’re exploiting our bodies but I think it’s the opposite — we’re celebrating them! It’s an empowering thing for women to get into as it’s about building confidence,” she said.
Susan Cox from Cork said she’s tired of the inaccurate stereotyping surrounding Burlesque performances.
“Anyone who says burlesque is just about women taking their clothes off clearly doesn’t get it. A lot of time there’s no nudity in my performances. Contemporary burlesque is about the tease, the illusion of nudity. Nowadays things are becoming more sexualised and I think a lot of it comes from being repressed. Most of the audience at burlesque shows are women so I think it’s a way for a woman to support each other too. There’s nothing more empowering than a woman owning a stage,” she said.
Mum to Ben, 13, and Ryan, 14, Susan said burlesque helped her overcome body image issues.
“I think women enjoy watching another woman own a stage regardless of her body shape. Women are surrounded by one body ideal and it’s led us to all sorts of body image issues. Even though I’m athletic I’m unhappy with my body type..I’d like to have more of an hourglass figure, but getting on stage, and watching performances from women with all different body types is really normalising. It’s also playful and glamorous, something women often crave.”
For promoter Clare Tobin bringing Miss Burlesque to Ireland is hitting on a zeitgeist and Irish women can’t get enough.
“It’s really a labour of love and I wouldn’t host this if it wasn’t for the huge surge in interest in burlesque from Irish women. All our contestants are shining examples of inspiration, style, glamour and heart. Irish women are taking this performance art further and you can see some of Europe’s best burlesque talent right here at home. Something that’s phenomenal when 20 years ago no one would have even heard of burlesque, or if they had they might have banned it,” she said.
nMiss Burlesque Ireland Grand Final takes place at the Button Factory, July 19.
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