Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-04-18
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



A look at queer burlesque
by Sarah Terez Rosenblum

facebook twitter pin it stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email

Posters plaster Starbucks bulletin boards, Facebook friends tout weekly shows and local establishments promote bar-top dancers. Let's face it: Chicago's booming burlesque scene has become impossible to ignore. However, even as a typically countercultural diversion drifts mainstream, some Chicago performers are queering the form.

With origins in the early 1800s, burlesque began as a lower-class response to refined upper-class entertainment—a mishmash of dancing, singing, comedy and notoriously, stripping. Superficially, burlesque's current incarnation harkens to a time when porn wasn't searchable by key words, and the sight of a woman's calves made an audience gasp. But lesbian burlesque performer Miss Tamale argues that, although nostalgic, burlesque packs a political wallop. "Burlesque calls into question all manner of body politics, gender politics, and sexual politics," she says.

For Bea Haven, another queer-burlesque scene mainstay, politics—albeit important—take a backseat to creativity. "I am political in the way that I cast my shows." said Bea Haven. "A commitment to presenting women of all ages, races, body types and personal gender expressions is a political act." But more important, is that each performance have significance. "It's a little tiresome to see girls in gowns stripping down to the same style lingerie with a "reveal" of pasties and G-string. If an act combines costuming, choreography, props, music, hair, makeup, etc. in a way that builds meaning, it's magical. For me, the point doesn't have to be political; it could be a simple exaggeration of the themes in the song or something that turns the costuming on its ear. But having a reason to take off your clothes is exciting."

If politics isn't the point, what attracts lesbians to a form which might seem hetero at best and anti-feminist at worst? Entertainer Candyland credited burlesque with helping her process body-image issues. "Burlesque performers come in all shapes and sizes, and the audience loves it," she said. Bea Haven agreed, saying, "After [ performing for ] seven years, it's not a big deal anymore, but I used to be nervous to undress at the gym." For Miss Tamale, burlesque's appeal to lesbians is obvious: "Performances are unapologetic and empowered. Even if the particular act is performed for a straight audience and contains relatively straight gender roles, the very act of heightened sexuality on display for others is rather queer."

Another possible draw is burlesque's relationship to drag, an obviously queer mode. According to Bea Haven, "the forms even share a history. We had a show recently where woman was exploring Gladys Bentley's work. She was one of the first drag kings and she started out in vaudeville and burlesque." Although Bea Haven admitted that as burlesque goes mainstream, "camp seems to disappear," she added that burlesque remains "like drag in that it is an exaggeration of 'femme' in the same way as male and female drag are an exaggeration of essential masculinity and femininity." Candyland summed up the intricacies succinctly, saying, "Gender is a performance, and people are attracted to all levels of that spectrum."

As for the continuum of burlesque performance, the thriving queer contingent has spawned an even edgier approach, sometimes referred to as Grotesque Burlesque. Active on the scene, as Candy Cadaver, Candyland has "always loved horror movies" and gets a rush from the "shock value" of creating acts such as "You want a piece of me," a gruesome take on the Britney Spears hit. "I pull off pieces of bloody dried liquid latex from my body and hand it to the audience," she said. "My friends love it, and thank goodness that stuff is mint flavored because act after act, they play along and bite it off me!"

Miss Tamale's performances, though perhaps less gruesome, are equally thought-provoking. "The addict act is one of my most popular," she said. Performed to the K's Choice song "Not an Addict," the secret to the act's success is "establishing an agreed upon story, then flipping it so all the clues given still apply, but to a new shared reality," Tamale added. As the piece opens, she said, "everything points to heroin addiction— [ until ] I reach into a paper sack [ and ] look at the audience with a desperate expression; then [ I ] pull out a giant Hershey's chocolate bar. When I discover it's empty, I begin to shake and tear my clothes off in a detox fit. I have this act introduced as political, with a somber tone. When I hear the audience self-policing with Shhhh! Shhh! This is serious. Please, you guys, keep it down. I know it's going to kill."

Although all openly queer, the three artists vary in their approach to integrating performing alter egos into their workaday lives. "Sometimes I worry about my day job finding out," said Candyland, "but the people there would never be exposed to the media or advertising of my shows." A certified high school teacher now completing an MFA in interdisciplinary arts and media, Miss Tamale, on the other hand, strives to align her day and night jobs.

Bea Haven has fluctuated in her approach. "I just lost a day job where I had to hide my performance life," she said. "My old boss actually told me that it was "inappropriate" to discuss. Never, ever again." Interestingly, she's turned her passion into a source of income, teaching burlesque as well as working as a freelance graphic designer. " [ Teaching ] re-energizes burlesque for me," she said, "It is amazing to watch women who had no idea that they were sexy discover their sexuality."

Although happy to welcome new performers and hopeful for a broader audience base, the artists have similar qualms about burlesque's increasingly mainstream future. "I'm really excited," said Bea Haven. "The only caveat I have—and I see it happening already in the larger national burlesque scene— is I hope that it becoming more mainstream doesn't mean women who don't have "perfect" bodies decide they can't do it." Miss Tamale also warned that, with greater exposure, "limited attitudes around what women onstage should look like could become more pronounced. I hope to see women of various body types hold their ground, insisting upon representation [ as burlesque's popularity grows ] ." Likewise, Bea Haven said, "I would hate to lose the part that drew me in the first place. Burlesque has the power to change the way women view themselves. And it's why I still do it."

Intrigued? Visit to learn more about Miss Tamale, for info or to take a class with Bea Havenand for Candyland's upcoming shows.

facebook twitter pin it stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.

Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Submit an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.