“Creating an act takes a long time: you research, you piece it together, you find the right music, you choreograph it to tell a particular story and to take a journey as well; and factor in that you are using the energy of the audience to connect and keep them captivated. Some are super serious with meaning and really go into the artform, and then you have other people who are doing it because they just want to dance.”
Burlesque goes a lot deeper than many give it credit for.
The artform, originating in Italian theatre, was often used as a comedic interlude in shows – but has evolved over the centuries to now sell out shows of its own. Townsville burlesque in particular has seen rapid growth in audience and performer numbers in recent years: so much so that Burlesque Idol – a national competition usually confined to capital cities – will hold a heat in Townsville for the first time this March.
Townsville local and Burlesque Idol entrant Willow Noire said the introduction of a North Queensland heat was firm acknowledgment that Australia is recognising the emerging talent from regional areas too.
“2019 will be the first time that a heat has been run in Townsville. The girls up here in North Queensland find it really difficult to go down South to compete, because the costs of flights and everything on top of making and transporting costumes can all be quite difficult,” Willow said.
“It gives the local girls a chance to really showcase what they’ve got and is a really good opportunity for us to get noticed within the wider burlesque community within Australia.”
While burlesque troupes have called Townsville home for some time, the opening of a dedicated burlesque studio, The VaVoom Room, and regular performances at local venues has seen the art gain a strong reputation among locals and touring acts.
“As well as regular performances by each of our VaVoom Room classes, we hold about four major local showcases each year,” Willow said.
“During these bigger showcases we bring in other performers from Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane, and all over the country, and getting that sort of recognition from those performers is spreading the word that we do have a very good burlesque community here and it’s growing.
“There’s actually only two dedicated burlesque schools in Australia: Maison Burlesque in Melbourne, and VaVoom Room here in Townsville. There are other schools and academies in Australia that offer burlesque alongside other dance styles. There’s also troupes around the country that might not have a studio to work from, but they still meet up or train under instructors.
“Before VaVoom Room opened a studio, we were working out of gyms and the Sovereign Hotel when it was still open. Now though, to have a central home is really great for us to come together and have our own space.”
Willow will join four other locals and four Mackay entrants in the Townsville Burlesque Idol heat.
“The winner from each heat then goes to compete in the finale. And the winner from the finale will be named Miss Burlesque Idol Australia.
“My act is called Opium Den. It’s actually one of my most popular pieces. I have performed it a few times now and it shows a darker side of burlesque. It’s not as comical, jovial or fun … it’s very sensual and dark, and is about taking the audience on a journey of what is essentially addiction.
“The great thing about the piece is that it doesn’t have to specifically be about drugs or anything, it’s about any sort of addiction, like an addiction to people. It’s about that journey where you start to fall in love, you go through a high, and then you need it more and more because you can’t let it go and then you’re in its grips.”
For burlesque performers, the onstage persona is everything. Willow Noire will be competing against personalities such as Gertie Mae, Miss Billie Beau, Miss Olive Delight, and Valentina Rose.
“Choosing your burlesque name can be a big deal because it’s something you’re then stuck with once you’ve chosen it. You also want it to represent the style of Burlesque you perform. Gertie Mae is wonderful, she is fun and her performances really make you laugh – so it wouldn’t make much sense if she had a much more serious name. Whereas my performances tend to be a lot more serious and tend to dip into film influences, which is where ‘Noire’ came from.”
Whether performances are slapstick or serious, Willow said burlesque in general has acted as a vessel for self-confidence and unity.
“Burlesque spreads love everywhere, and it’s something that I think is happening all over the world: it’s connecting people that are all different body shapes, genders and political viewpoints. It allows everyone to feel accepted and confident and come together as one.
“You can express a lot through the dance as an artform with really meaningful pieces, or you can take it for purely dance sake. It’s very versatile, which is what’s helped it grow so much.”
Willow’s connection with other performers has transformed burlesque into so much more than a sport.
“It really is a family. Something that I’ve found with burlesque … when you participate in other sports or hobbies you make great friends., but with burlesque, you create much deeper connection with the other dancers and the students. They really become your family.
“We’re there for everyone, whoever needs help, whenever they need help. I know this for a fact; I’ve been through some hard times and the local burlesque troupe helped me get through it more than any of my other friends. It’s great to have that as a support network even if things aren’t burlesque related: we’re there for each other.”