It might be the laughs, the lingerie or the ribald and randy audience, but something about burlesque hits the spot for our isolated little corner of the country.
After GO’s (ahem) expose of the rising subculture last week, we wanted to dig a little deeper into what motivates the Portland burlesque performer and gauge how the calls of the crowd fuel and inspire the sexy slinking.
This week, we sat down with the saucy provocateurs in The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue to find out just what gets the cat outta the bag every night.
Where did the idea for the Dirty Dishes come from?
Victoria von: Rosie Rimjob and I had performed burlesque together as The Damsels in Burlesque back in 2006, and were craving a new beginning. Ophelia Heiny had recently moved to Maine and was looking for a troupe to get involved with. Wiley I. Crisis and the ladybeast were searching for a new style of performance. The group began much larger, about 10 women, and eventually solidified as five Dirty Dishes.
You’ve mentioned you aim to provide a “safe space” for both audience and performers. What about burlesque is potentially unsafe?
Victoria von: Burlesque explores and plays with sexuality in ways that haven’t been done before by and for people whose desires, sexualities and gender expressions are not represented in mainstream media and performance. When we say we want to provide a “safe space,” we aim to create an environment that allows people to be themselves, both on the stage and in the audience, a space that is safe for queer or taboo or alternative representations of sexuality. Burlesque has the ability to literally create a space that does not generally exist in the world, for anybody who does not fit the traditional image of what is sexy.
Rosie Rimjob: It’s important for the show to be comfortable for everyone. Sex and anything pertaining to it has the potential to hold a lot of animosity. For anybody new to burlesque, as a performer or audience member, just a hint of unease is enough to keep people away.
How does a Dirty Dishes show ease the burden of self-consciousness?
Victoria von: We work hard to book a diverse lineup of performers for our shows. This means a wide array of differences are represented on the stage, so that audience members can connect to people who look like them or have the same fetishes. So you’ll see different body types, gender expressions and skin colors. And burlesque, by definition, is a mockery, so it allows performers to play with bodies and sex and poke fun at the awkwardness and seriousness often attached to sexual expression and interaction.
What’s the wildest thing that ever happened during a performance?
Victoria von: It’s normal for us to lug strange props around (a toilet, a kiddie pool, cardboard sarcophagi). Onstage, the wildest we’ve gotten is smearing each other with pie and fake blood, respectively. Offstage, backstage, the collective chaos is wild in this fantastical way. Huge wigs, layers of bright makeup, amazingly crafted costumes, glitter everywhere, random props and snacks and bits of performances being rehearsed.
Rosie Rimjob: I think my favorite moments are just before we get on the stage, particularly to do a dance with two strawberry pies and say, “OK, the pie is only going to get on the table and our faces.” Four minutes later, you suddenly realize there is pie in your hair, all over your body, scattered all across the stage, pie everywhere except for our faces and the table. This has also happened with whipped cream.
How do you answer critics who describe what you do as anti-feminist?
Victoria von: This question breaks down to an argument about what feminism is and is not. First, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many feminisms and ways of being feminist; feminism means different things to different people. Not all burlesque performers identify as feminist, and some strongly assert that they are not feminist. For the Dirty Dishes, feminism has influenced how we understand ourselves as sexual beings and how we think about performance, presentation of our bodies and representations of sex, gender and sexuality. Our burlesque is informed by our own particular experiences with feminism, and we understand that our experiences are not the same as those of other feminists.
Why is burlesque important?
Victoria von: Too many reasons to list. Burlesque breaks down boundaries of conventional ideas surrounding sexuality: what is sexy, which types of people and bodies can be sexy, how can they be sexual. Lots of people find the representation of body types to be important, especially with the bombardment of the thin, toned bodies that populate the mainstream media. Burlesque explores sex in a really fun and exciting and glittery way. It’s kind of like a fantasy world come true. You don’t have to grow up to get a 9 to 5 job and get married and have babies and bake chickens. People shouldn’t need a reason to have fun, but sometimes grown-ups do. Burlesque is a reason to play, to make costumes and props, to play dress-up and be silly. And if you’re into it, you can add layers of thought.
How will The Dirty Dishes dream continue to grow?
Victoria von: We put on shows that expand conventional notions of sexuality, and continue to create spaces for all types of sexual and personal expression through burlesque. Fall of 2011, we traverse the country, performing in various arts venues and spreading glittery feminism across the U.S. of A. In three years, we will open up our very own cafe: The Dirty Dish. In five years, we will commandeer an exquisite five-story building into which we will put The Dirty Dish cafe along with a burlesque club with magnificent stage and a real green room, an all-gender strip club, our offices and our penthouse artist collective.
Rosie Rimjob: We will also be coming out with a line of burlesque business wear in 2014.
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.