A naked woman sprayed glitter into her hair, teasing it with her other hand, in a tiny changing room backstage at Low Spirits Bar & Stage. She strutted onstage to a track by Slim Shady, wearing a vest and suit pants, and stripped down to a thong and pasties, all the while playing with pink daggers and a noose. And according to burlesque performer Vivian MirAnn, self-confidence and body image are the last things on performers’ minds.
“I think we all go through our fat days and our thin days. It is live theater, so you have to be really confident to roll with it,” MirAnn said. “It becomes less of a body issue and more comfortable with, if something gets hung up, can I find the string to my mask? Can I get my corset off? When you go through the paces of taking off clothing, you kind of forget to think ‘Does my stomach look good? Are my thighs fat?’”
MirAnn was the founder, director and executive director of this year’s Son of the Creepshow Peepshow, a burlesque show held once a year at Low Spirits. Performers of all shapes and sizes flocked from Georgia, Colorado and Tennessee to show Albuquerque how they move their hips, jiggle their junk and dance their asses off.
Performer Helen Wheels said she saw an ad for burlesque ladies’ nights in her local newspaper, and although it took her a while to be comfortable with her body, she said it wasn’t long before she was a full-fledged performer.
“I wanted something to do that was just for me, and have a lot of fun,” she said. “Because I’m a bigger girl, I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but some of the best performers in the country are our bigger girls, and it is so much fun. It took me a while to get there, it really did, but just the support and the reaction is really what brings it to me and makes me feel more comfortable and more empowered.”
Heather “Marquix Coquette” Wilkinson said burlesque was a natural transition from dance, which she did when she was younger.
“It just came naturally; I’m okay being naked, I like to dance, I like people cheering for me, I like being the center of attention, so it just worked out for me,” Wilkinson said. “I don’t do my hair, I don’t do makeup normally during the day, and I have so much fun; it’s like getting to be a different person.”
Wheels was a guest performer from Colorado Springs, and the Peepshow also featured the burlesque troupe Tease ‘n Tassels, of which MirAnn is a member. Tease ‘n Tassels is currently on a tour across the United States, and will barely make enough money to cover the travel costs. MirAnn, an Albuquerque native, said the burlesque community was wary when Tease ‘n Tassels formed, because its members thought audiences would get bored with more frequent shows.
“We were told that Albuquerque’s too poor, too working class, and they wouldn’t support it,” she said. “But burlesque actually historically belongs to the working class. We knew if we could get the word out there that these performances were happening and not gear them to be a highbrow theater kind of thing, that we would appeal to the masses.”
MirAnn works as a tattoo artist, and because the burlesque business isn’t lucrative, she said most performers make their own costumes. MirAnn has more than 230 sewing patterns for vintage dresses, bras, slips and leggings, and she said she raids thrift stores for material. Even when something is brand new, she said it often has to be modified for easy removal.
“It has to be cut or modified so that it can come off easily,” she said. “Underwear is usually very heavily modified. It’s a lot of rhinestoning, a lot of sequins, a lot of fringe, a lot of embellishments. It’s very rare that something comes off the rack and winds up onstage unchanged.”
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MirAnn said burlesque differs from stripping and pornography because there’s a theatrical element to the shows. The strips often tell a story, and the audience doesn’t have as much interaction with the dancers: it’s literally a peep show.
“We try and behave like ladies and do well onstage, and not be raunchy and not be like a strip, what people would expect from TD’s,” she said. “They (the audience) know it’s not prostitution, it’s not grabby-grabby. I think it’s a little more reverent, people treat it a little more respectfully.”