Burlesque Cares

A new burlesque troop show that the art form can be about more than dancing

Feature by Ana Hine | 25 Jul 2012

When you think of a charity event, a burlesque show is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. Yet after two hugely successful shows, the Dundee-based Burlesque Cares have shown that the format can and does work. Established last year by Leigh and Vikki (Miss Gin Kiss and Vodka Von D'Roxx respectively), as a way to raise money for a local disability charity called the Inclusion Group, they’ve since expanded into helping other charity organisations. Their event this Friday at Dexters Nightclub in Dundee was in aid of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at Ninewells Hospital and MECP2 Duplication Syndrome.

MECP2 Duplication Syndrome is characterized by complete mental retardation, often including lack of speech, autistic traits and severe epilepsy. Most children diagnosed with the condition don’t live past two years of age.  Usually boys, they’re unable to support their bodies unaided and suffer recurrent infections; there’s a high correlation between the disorder and pneumonia. It’s a disease that is close to Vikki’s heart:

“My cousin had a baby boy three months ago and he’s got MECP2 Duplication Syndrome. Because Blake was so ill when he was born he spent time in SCBU at Ninewells, so some of the proceeds are going to go to them. That was the reason we put on tonight’s show – to help baby Blake and all the other babies out there that are suffering from this terrible syndrome.”

It might seem odd to have a burlesque show to raise funds and awareness of a disease that primarily affects children, but it seems clear as I speak to members of the audience that it’s possible to do something for children that doesn’t have to be aimed at or about children. The audience is full of parents and relatives of kids who had spent time at SCBU, as well as members of Vikki’s extended family. For the most part the dancers sit with their friends in the audience in costume, rushing into the dressing area to touch up their make-up and add last minute accessories. As most of the audience are in various levels of costume already the dancers seem like ‘us’ which increases the atmosphere of camaraderie.

One man, dressed in a pinstripe suit and grey top hat (complete with feather) says that what’s good about the night is that it introduces parents of sick kids to burlesque and the ‘typical’ burlesque audience to sick kids charities. For him it is “something they can enjoy apart from their children, but for their children. Giving to a good cause so you don’t feel bad about watching women… tastefully teasing.”

The show itself is a mixed bag. As it’s a charity event the performers are unpaid, coming in from all levels of the industry to help the cause. This adds to the sense of a community banding together to help a family in need, but impacts a little on the quality of the dances. A debut act is largely unsuccessful, but it’s clear from the reaction of the audience that the woman had made huge personal progress. A man behind me remarks proudly, “The girl I knew a couple years ago would NEVER have done that.”

A few acts fail to make sufficient contact with the audience, owing perhaps to the awkward stage arrangement in Dexters; a deep-set stage means that those at the far sides of the audience can’t see especially well. Vikki’s own routine addresses that problem somewhat, as she clearly knows how to work the audience and understands better the constraints of the venue. She avoids, for the most part, the back of the stage and makes sure everyone has a good view of her. A dirty nun routine, at one point she does a pretty good impression of someone genuinely surprised when excessive amounts of beans appear from the depths of her corset.

Another act that’s particularly imaginative is performed to the song The Last Unicorn by the band America. Va Va Voom, an older woman, appears dressed entirely in white and quickly reveals herself to be the unicorn (complete with horn – on her head, get your mind out of the gutter). Her age really works with the context of the song; the unicorn being an ancient creature, the last of her race, singing about time passing and the burden of loneliness. Not typical stripping sentiments, but it fits; like she’s stripping away her outer shell to reveal an inner, fundamental beauty. Or something. The dance style has obvious influences of ballet, which heighten the effect.

Age and body confidence is a key attraction of burlesque. Says Leigh; “We’re saying to the over forty-fives and the younger people, both of whom may not have a lot of confidence - we’re telling them to say ‘no’ to the magazines and appreciate who you are.”

With more shows lined up, and more charities to support, this is only the beginning for Burlesque Cares. For Vikki it’s about opening the idea of burlesque up to everyone, “as long as you’re over the age of eighteen!” and getting out of the alternative niche. “From your bored housewife to your old age pensioner to your rock and rollers; we want to open it up and make burlesque big. Especially with charities. It has to be acceptable in all forms.” I see no reason why they can’t make that happen.

Next Burlesque Cares event will be in aid of DebRa on September 21 2012 at the Yard Nightclub, George Street, Montrose. Tickets cost £6.50 from DebRA Montrose of The Yard. http://www.burlesquecares.co.uk