Burlesque dance is catching on in Iowa, and its proponents want to clear up a few things.
“I think sometimes people get a little confused and call it stripping - which it is,” says Danielle Colby, who has organized a Burlesque Iowa Festival
in Davenport this weekend. “But it’s a 200-year-old art form of stripping. We focus more on the art than on the flesh.”
Burlesque, a theatrical performance that often centers around sensual dance, has its modern roots in the cabaret and Vaudeville shows
of the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Today, it is seeing a resurgence of popularity.
Though it often involves scantily clad dancers, proponents in Iowa say it is less about taking off clothes than about self-expression.
“You’re going to see less flesh in a burlesque theater than in a rated R movie,” Colby says. “It’s the confidence, the power, the personality and the message behind it that sets it apart.”
Colby, who you may know from her role on the History Channel show “American Pickers,”
started a Quad Cities performing group, Burlesque Le’Moustache
, about five years ago. She says burlesque is about performers expressing their confidence and making a statement - though what that statement is depends on the performer, she says.
She says she got hooked on burlesque after she went to a show with friends.
“I watched as this easily 300-pound woman got up on stage, wearing a teddy, and belted out ‘Fat Bottom Girl,’ by Queen,” she says. “She was loving every moment of her life and of herself. I looked at this woman and thought, ‘This woman is a sex icon.’”
Colby says the performer didn’t take off any clothes, she simply sang.
“It changed femininity for me,” Colby says. “It changed my concept of beauty and sex appeal.”
Beside the Quad Cities group, a number of other burlesque groups have sprung up around the state, including Sissy’s Sircus
in Cedar Falls, Les Dames Du Burlesque
in Iowa City and the Iowa School of Burlesque
in Des Moines.
Despite its growing popularity, burlesque hasn’t reached full acceptance in Iowa yet, says Cat Cantrill, owner of Vitality Fitness and Dance Studio
, 3135 Wiley Blvd., Suite 108, Cedar Rapids.
Her studio, which opened in August, offers classes in burlesque, as well as lap dance and pole dance, alongside more conventional zumba, jazz and hip hop dance classes.
“A lot of people just don’t know what burlesque is,” she says. “It was difficult writing a business plan and trying to convince a landlord and a bank this was a good business for Cedar Rapids.”
She says some of her class members don’t want anyone to know they’re attending her studio.
Others, however, were eager to talk about why they’ve embraced burlesque.
At a Monday class, five students practiced a dance routine that was far less risque than what can be seen in many music videos. No twerking here - just some flirtatious peeks over the shoulder and a few extended legs.
“Pretend like, Channing Tatum, he’s sitting right there,” Cantrill tells the class. “I want to see you seduce, right?”
Class member Marissa Leibold, of Cedar Rapids, says the class increases her confidence.
“Even the guys at work are like, ‘You’re walking differently,’” she says. “You get in touch with yourself and you realize the beauty you have.”
Cantrill says, for her, that’s what it’s all about.
“It helps these women feel good about their bodies; good about themselves,” she says. “I have women who just had babies, women in their 50s, women who feel like they just need some umph put back into their lives.”
Colby says burlesque has changed from the days when men dominated the audience. Today, she says, you’re more likely to see women watching the shows than single men.
“They’re there because they want to feel empowered. They’re not there because they’re letchy and weird,” she says. “I’m not necessarily dancing for men as much as for other women. Those are the people who will understand why I’m on that stage.”
The Iowa Burlesque Festival will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Adler Theatre, 136 E. Third St., in Davenport. It will feature a host of both local and national performers, including burlesque legend Tempest Storm