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The rise of Burlesque: Unself-censored self-expression

Queen City Burlesque’s Burlesque Expo set for Nelson this weekend, March 15, 16
Déjà Louve’s Queen City Burlesque brought “Hard Core Love: A Rock n’ Roll Valentine’s Burlesque Show” to Cranbrook, Saturday, Feb. 10. The show featured top Burlesque performers from the Kootenays, as well as Calgary, Toronto, Seattle and Port Angeles. Photo courtesy Alisha Kastrukoff.

Burlesque, as the edgy, outspoken, colourful art form that it is, is always evolving and shifting shapes. It’s come a long way from its bawdy, satirical beginnings, yet retains that satirical voice, as a comment on the world we live in.

Burlesque is raunchy, colourful and comedic, with its costumery, characters, theatricality, song and commentary. At the same time, it is an intimate and liberating form of self-expression.

“It can be edgy, but it can also be beautiful and elegant and soft,” says Déjà Louve, Burlesque performer and producer. “It can be funny, it can be erotic. It can be scary, it can be thoughtful. It can be political.”

But what Burlesque really is these days, she says, is about self-exploration, self-expression, and body acceptance.

“It’s about everybody being seen, no matter your age, your identity, your body size, your form of expression. We’re basically a catch-all art form for people who want to express themselves.”

In recent years, globally, and in the Kootenays, Burlesque has seen a renaissance and a growing interest, in both performers and audience.

“The resurgence has been happening since the 1990s, but now it seems to be mushrooming,” Louve said. “More and more people are aware of it and interested in it. It’s not just in the bigger centres anymore.

“People are doing it for fun, as a pastime, as well as for full-time work. People are doing it in their local scene, or they’re doing it to travel and meet people. So it’s very much exploding right now.”

Déjà Louve, who runs Queen City Burlesque in Nelson, has played no small role in bringing Burlesque to Kootenay communities. Each show she produces is designed for the community it is held in, with a mix of travelling guests and local Kootenay talent, including new performers — who bring a different kind of energy — and a focus on diversity.

“For the show I did in February [at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook, around Valentine’s Day], we chose the theme of ‘Hard-Core Love. So the acts were a little edgier, a little stronger. My act was the slowest, or softest one. But it’s all over the map.”

Burlesque has always featured a strong sense of social commentary and reaction to societal happenings.

“That is its origins,” Louve said. “The origins of burlesque were entirely about poking fun at higher brow entertainment, or politicians, or commenting on what was happening at the time.”

But as more and more people seek out Burlesque as an entertainment, and as an opportunity to take the stage themselves, it is about personal expression and personal liberation.

“A lot of people have discovered their beauty in being able to be on the stage and express themselves in such a way, because we challenge societal ideas of beauty,” Louve said. “We challenge what we think or believe is supposed to be the beauty standards.

“With Burlesque, you’re seeing an assortment of bodies, sizes, ages — we’re seeing how beautiful and amazing everything and everyone is, because we can bring joy with our bodies and our ideas. We can show confidence on the stage, or develop our confidence out of realizing that you don’t have to fit the societal expectations of beauty.

“The feedback we get after a Cranbrook show specifically has been enormous,” she added. “Even though with the diversity casting that I try to adhere to, I still pop in the sexy cute classic acts, because that’s also a comfort zone for a lot of people. Trying to make sure we have a good mix is key to making sure we have a diverse audience who also feel comfortable in the environment.

“The amount of people who have told us the comfort and safety they feel at our shows is actually quite humbling, and part of what I love doing this so much.”

Louve has been involved in Burlesque as a performer for 10 years, starting in Vancouver’s thriving scene. After moving to the Kootenays with her partner, she found a small, booming underground scene in Nelson.

“There are a lot of performers, there are a lot of people who are interested, there’s a lot of people who want to come out and play, and there’s a lot of support for the arts in general. It’s a beautiful place for Burlesque to exist.”

Louve started producing Burlesque shows herself, in order to give herself more stage time. Eventually theatres and venue owners in the region and beyond started to reach out to Louve to bring shows to their venues.

“What happened with that is that I’ve become more of a producer than a performer. But I still do both. The two are very much hand in hand.

“As a performer I believe in having fun ideas that you can play with in front of an audience, but I also am a performer who wishes to compete and travel. What that usually means is developing an idea and working on your craft, and then you create a polished number, and with that you can travel and compete.

“But the other angle of Burlesque is that community gathering of people, sharing their self-expression and art.”

Déjà Louve produced some 15 shows, as well as workshops, in the Kootenays East and West in 2023. In Nelson, she runs the Queen City Burlesque Expo, a yearly event where people come from far and wide to perform Burlesque. Just this year, she started Key City Burlesque in Cranbrook, which will be a yearly event. She also launched Pretty Reckless Burlesque, which is a heavy metal weekend.

And the coming months bode to be busy ones. Coming up March 15 and 16 is the fifth annual Queen City Burlesque Expo weekender, featuring performers from Florida, Montreal, mixed with local Kootenay talent. On March 30, at Frisky Whisky in Creston, is Film Noir Femme, exploring the dark and twisty side of Burlesque. In May, Louve is travelling to Croatia to compete in a Burlesque festival. Then to Winnipeg for the Winnipeg Burlesque Festival. In June is the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. In October is Pretty Reckless Burlesque show in Nelson.

“I am so passionate about it,” Louve said. “I love everything about it. I love what it does for people’s sense of self. For their mental health, for their physical well-being. As a late-blooming artist myself, Burlesque has saved me in more ways than I can explain. It’s a truly magical and addictive little world, and when you find your people and your way of expressing yourself, there’s no going back.”

For more on Burlesque, Déjà Louve and Queen City Burlesque, check out

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998.
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