STOCKINGS, SUSPENDERS, lavish lingerie, suggestive dances, and lashings of sauce, burlesque is no longer about women performing for men, today it is about women performing for women, and artists and audience celebrating the diversity of female forms.
All the above will be on display at the first Galway Burlesque Festival which runs from Friday September 18 to Sunday 20, featuring a host of Irish and international performers taking part in shows, competitions, and workshops in the city.
The origins of the Galway Burlesque Festival lie in The Dirty Circus burlesque and cabaret, the brainchild of Mayo's Tommy Walsh. Established three years ago, it runs four to five times a year in Galway, as well as regular outings to Mayo and Sligo, becoming a well established, enormously popular, event. Ironically, for something associated with scantily clad ladies, it was the dressing up, rather than the stripping off, that inspired Tommy.
"I used to go up to the burlesque shows in the Sugar Club in Dublin and I loved the style, the decadence, the atmosphere of it," Tommy tells me during our Wednesday afternoon interview, "but most of all I just loved the sense of people getting dressed up, I mean really dressed up, and glamorous, that they were really going out for the night. I love the style, glamour, and opulence of burlesque, the 'I'm going out to a special place and I'm making a special effort for it'."
The Dirty Circus has provided a platform, not only for burlesque performers in the west, but also for comedians, vocalists, dancers, and songwriters, some of whom make their stage debuts at the event. "I've seen a little community developing, of audience and performers all chatting with each other," says Tommy. "It's become a vehicle for people to get out of their room and either come and watch or get up on stage and perform. People often say to me, I'd love to have a go at that.' Shir was one of those, and I said 'You're in'. "
Shir is of course Galway burlesque performer Shir Madness, recently crowned Miss Burlesque Dublin, after coming second in the Miss Burlesque Ireland competition. She is known for her Hula-Hoop act and self-designed lingerie, and is a major emerging talents in the scene. Her involvement in burlesque competitions in Ireland and Britain, as well as Tommy's impresario skills, eventually led to the pair joining forces to create the Galway Burlesque Festival. "I went to a lot of burlesque festivals in Ireland and abroad I asked Tommy, 'Do you think we should?'" says Shir. "After Belfast Burlesque Festival late last year we met up and started planning it." Tommy adds: "It was an easy move after all the festivals we had seen. It was a natural progression."
'And appearing tonight are...'
The Galway Burlesque Festival, which Tommy and Shir are co-producing, will feature a host of national and international performers, such as Calamity Sparks, Flaming Jade, Kerri Katastrophe, Harley Sparks, Nuala Rude, and the La Folie Deshabille troup (Ireland ); Lou Leigh Blue, called "the B-Move Merkinj Queen of burlesque", Little Madame, described as "the Higgs Boson of burlesque", magician Loretta Von Dini, and Lolly Lady Rouge (Britain ); Celeste de Moriae (Germany ); Cyr C Delicieuse (France ); Maxi Milieu (the US ); Miss Knock Out Noire and Fifi Von Tassels (Norway ); Tina Joy (Austraila ); Ms Turkish Delight (Turkey ), and many others.
Although burlesque's origins and original forms are complex and many, it has become synonymous with the French and British music halls of the late 19th century, the German cabarets of the Weimar Republic era, and female performers who mixed dance, comedy, and strip-tease, often for mostly male audiences. However with the revival of burlesque in the 1990s, the form has undergone a major change, with performers now playing to mostly female audiences, and burlesque becoming a celebration of women's body shapes and types - a riposte to socially constructed, and media and beauty industry driven 'norms' of how women are supposed to look.
"The women who come to the burlesque shows like seeing different body types celebrated and seeing a different idea of femininity and beauty," says Shir. "It is empowering to step away from the tanned, thin, size eight ideal women are expected to conform to. And I get that, as that's what I thought when I first saw Les Hot Culottes perform, there were so many body types and different forms of beauty, so different to what we are told we should aspire to look like, so I do find it empowering.
"I'm also OK with the word 'stripper'. It's wrong to try to disassociate stripping from burlesque. The burlesque we have now comes from the strip-tease acts of the 1930s and 1940s. After that they separated out into the two forms. The main difference is that stripping is about sexual gratification, whereas burlesque, although that is part of it too, involves an awful lot more and appeals to a different, wider, audience."
However it's not only girls who "wanna have fun", as there will be male performers as well, such as Ireland's Fabio Ego Deflato, who mixes mime, comedy, and ironic-stripping to hilarious effect; and Briton Lou Safire, who mixes vaudeville and dance. "There is a place in burlesque for male performers, but there are so few of them," says Shir (pictured below ). "We'd love to get more guys involved. People also think burlesque is about curves, but there is a place for other body shapes as well. It's important to have all ends of the spectrum. It's never a question of what size you are. That never comes into it."
Shows and workshops
The main events of the festival will be The Rising Star Of The West (Róisín Dubh, Friday 18, 8pm ), featuring performances by emerging Irish and international burlesque talent; The Twisted Star Of The West (Róisín Dubh, Friday 18, 10.30pm ), where audiences can expect the weird and wild, including nails, robots, scissors, mythological creatures, and wrestling; and The Star Of The West (The Loft @ Seven, Saturday 19, 9pm ), billed as "a night of glamour and glitter where sultry beauties battle for the title of Star Of The West".
"There will also be Dr Sketchy's life drawing/cabaret classes," says Shir, "and a market featuring local artists, craftspeople, among the items on sale will be nipple pasties as well as costumes. It's about encouraging local craftspeople."
Workshops will be a major part of the festival, with lessons on making nipple pasties, tweaking, hula-hooping, veil dancing, movement, and make-up, taking place in the Rowing Club, Woodquay; the Róisín Dubh, and Arus na nGael.
"The festival is to expand the burlesque scene in Ireland and it will be important for the Burlesque community in Galway," says Shir. "We get asked a lot for classic Burlesque but there are not a lot of outlets for it in Ireland and we hope the workshops fill that niche. The point of the festival is to have workshops to expand the knowledge and practice of burlesque and also for people in the scene - performers, audiences, and those interested in getting involved - to be able to get together."
Tommy adds: "There is a burlesque community in Galway that goes to The Dirty Circus and Dr Sketchy's, but the Galway Burlesque Festival is a chance to broaden the community and for people to see how great it is. You think 'Wow! That was great! What's up next?' You don't think 'Did I leave the immersion on? Did I put the cat out?' and that's a rarity."
Full details on all shows, workshops, and tickets to the Galway Burlesque Festival is through http://galwayburlesquefestival.com.