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Purrrlesque: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Burlesque

Aug 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Feature
purrlesque group

The delightful divas of Purrrlesque

I was nursing a PBR on the patio outside NYP trying to figure out what I wanted to do for my next Avant Greensboro article when a tall, lanky man dressed in a t-shirt and skirt starting passing around flyers for his troupe, Purrrlesque. He introduced himself as Stage Slave Gavin as he handed me a flyer. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass and asked if he’d be willing to do an interview. We set up a time and although he wasn’t able to make it himself, the wonderful divas Tiger RoxXx and Peaches de Vine along with the diabolical Dr. Tetanus took his place.

So, Tiger RoxXx, how did you get involved with burlesque?

Tiger RoxXx: I started in 2007. Every year I make a list of things to do and burlesque turned out to be one of them.

What is the appeal of burlesque?

Tiger RoxXx: Burlesque takes you back to a classier time. It can also be used as empowerment for women, to help them find their inner goddess, or as just hobby. Since I started in 2007, I’ve done everything from performing, to producing shows, and trying to find a place in the area for burlesque.

What about you, Peaches? What drew you to burlesque?

Peaches de Vine: I started burlesque in 2009. In the studio where I took belly dancing classes, they started to offer burlesque classes. I had been in a really bad marriage where I felt kinda “icky” about myself. I wanted to find something empowering to do and I thought, “I can do burlesque, that can help me get my mojo back, get in the swing of things, and feel better about myself.” I have a theater background and I fell in love with the art of burlesque. I joined a burlesque/belly dancing fusion group then moved into burlesque itself without belly dancing. I joined Purrrlesque in 2010.

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The titillating Tiger RoxXx

How does your background with belly dancing, theater, and burlesque intertwine?

Peaches de Vine: The belly dancing helped me with stage performance and made me feel comfortable in front of a crowd. It also helped me be more expressive with my body. With the theater, my background is more vaudevillian. I’m familiar with putting together props and costuming and that sort of element.

Tiger RoxXx: Each one of our shows have a theme. We try to make sure each one of the numbers of our troupe have a distinct archetype, and we invite guest performers that fit in with the theme. It’s a really high theater atmosphere. It is a well put-together, well thought-out production.

Peaches de Vine: We don’t wing it. We’re very methodical about what we do. We want to be prepared.

Tiger RoxXx: There’s a lot of characters and styles, a real calabash of acts. We all have acting and theater backgrounds. We have Jenn Martin, who is a Soprano who was with Memphis Opera. Gavin is an actor. Some of us can play an instrument. I just learned how to walk on glass. We have a sideshow we bring in. We do a really strong mix, classic burlesque, the bump n’ grind, comedic, vaudeville.

Peaches de Vine: Burlesque can be used to communicate a message. One of my first performances was a statement about universal health care. Also, Gavin and I did a piece once where we parodied Osama Bin Laden, his human shield wife, and an American soldier. The final reveal of that performance was my face instead of my breasts. It was about trying to break free of male oppression in various cultures including our own.

I remember Gavin telling me that you guys try to include socio/political commentary into your shows. How is that accomplished?

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Peaches de Vine

Tiger RoxXx: It doesn’t always have to be political. We’ve had girls who did messages about bad relationships, about feeling like their whole heart and soul was ripped out on stage. Burlesque is about the message and the story. It starts with the moment the music starts, to the final note. Usually with that final note is the last piece of clothing. In that, there is a huge story line. Sometimes the themes are more loosely interpreted while others are tighter, like our “Merry Greasemas” show where everybody had to include something from the musical “Grease” and an aspect of Christmas.

The costumes for these shows must be very elaborate. Do the performers make their own costumes?

Peaches de Vine: Tiger does all the group costuming. Each performer handles the costuming for their individual numbers.

Tiger RoxXx: The costumes usually start at $200 per person, which can be hard to recoup.

Peaches de Vine: Each costume is usually unique to a routine.

Tiger RoxXx: We do it because we love it. It can be very cathartic, for us and the audience. At every show someone comes up and tells us how much they’ve inspired us. We’re helping someone realize their power inside.

Peaches de Vine: One thing I really like about our troupe is that we’re all really approachable, very inclusive. We promote body esteem, to make every woman feel beautiful with their own self.

Dr. Tetanus: What these ladies do is really empowering. They are proving that everybody is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20, 30, or 50 years old. It doesn’t matter if you’re 100 or 200 pounds. It doesn’t matter. There’s this energy, this presence they bring and it is beautiful. What they do is beautiful. They are beautiful.

Tiger RoxXx: We lead a good example. We have all body types, we carry ourselves well, we’re not afraid to put ourselves out there and be who we are. We also very community orientated and give most of our proceeds to charity. We have raised $5000 for the Sherri Denese Jackson Foundation. Last year performers from all over the country, including performers from South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, gathered for our Burlesque Festival.

Peaches de Vine: It is the only festival in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, to my knowledge, that gives all of it’s profits to charity.

Tiger RoxXx: When we scout charities, we try and look for “body beautiful” charities. We also try to choose one that helps the community. We threw a fund raiser for Tim and Kaylan LaFollette of Often Awesome at Triad Stage on February 5th, 2011. We also participated in Cabaret for the Cure.

On July 13th, you guys put on “Freaky Friday: Sassy, Sweet, and a little bit Naughty” at Triad Stage. How did that go?

Tiger RoxXx: It went great! It was a sold out show, and they had to turn away 30 people.

Peaches de Vine: It was our fourth sold out show.

purrlesque swing set

Purrrlesque

Tiger RoxXx: We are doing two shows in October, one at Legends Nightclub in Raleigh on October 22nd and another the next day at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro. The Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow will be performing with us both nights.  Also, on October 23rd the band HellBikini will share the stage with us.

There seems to be a lot of commonalities between burlesque, circuses, and sideshows. Why is that?

Dr. Tetanus: Historically, sideshow and burlesque came from the same place. The sideshow tent was a tent on the ‘side’ of the main circus tent, and your burlesque dancers were there in the ‘Sideshow Tent’ as one of the acts you could pay to see. You would pay your five or ten cents to watch the girl dance.

Peaches de Vine: To show her ankle.

Dr. Tetanus: And then you move along to the next attraction, like the Fiji Mermaid, the Siamese Twins, or the Human Blockhead. Sideshow and burlesque have always had a close-knit relationship. Back in the 20’s and 30’s, they were close during the Vaudeville days, and during the late 90’s, they reconnected after both having a sort of resurgence in popular culture.

Dr. Tetanus, what is it you do at Purrrlesque?

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Tea time with Stage Slave Gavin

Dr. Tetanus:  These lovely ladies were gracious enough to invite me as a guest performer for their recent Friday the 13th show at the Triad Stage, and that was the first time I’ve had the honor of working with Purrrlesque. As for my sideshow work, I’m a man of many talents. I breathe and eat fire, crush cans of food with only one finger, I’m a Human Blockhead, I eat light bulbs, I lay down in broken glass and have someone walk across my back and off my head, lift heavy objects with my nipples,and so much more…

Peaches Devine: Stage Slave Gavin is a lesbian in a man’s body.

You guys have mentioned that you’re trying to promote female empowerment. Given that, what role do the men in your troupe play?

Tiger RoxXx: He’s done everything from being that growling, male archetype on stage that women go crazy for, to a feminine performance where he wears all the same costumes we do and mockingly does a feminine routine. He runs the gamut of what a guy can do. He can get on stage and be the sexy male diva in faux drag.

Peaches: As comfortable as we are in our femininity, he is in his masculinity.

Peaches Devine: Purrrlesque wouldl like to thank Tristan Yonce (you know why) and Triad Stage for their support!

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