Written by Nicci Lou
‘Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but, if you want to truly understand burlesque, then go to a number of different types of shows and even try a workshop. An opinion based on ignorance is not valid.’ Dawn Gracie
I have limited experience in the world of Burlesque. I found myself at Erotica about ten years ago where I watched Dita Von Tesse navigate getting into a cocktail glass semi clad. I had been to strip joints and exited feeling dirty and left Thai bars with art work drawn by a moist, large felt tip pen. But this was different. This wasn’t sex this was power. The whole event was pretty enlightening and must have lingered in my imagination. Turned off by usual hen frivolities I requested, of my sister, a day of burlesque workshops and a night of drag prior to my wedding. But, that too was 8 years and a divorce ago. It was time to dust off the heels and fish out the pasties (that’s nipple tassels to you and I).
The first step, before launching my post baby body at a workshop, was to see a show and back in December I was in for a pre-festive treat. Dawn Gracie was hosting one of her regular ‘Starlet’s Burlesque Show’ cabaret nights at the Southern Pavilion on Worthing pier. I had walked round the wind-swept pier before, but had never entered the Southern Pavilion: bought by Phil Duckett in 2014. It had been sympathetically transformed into an art deco masterpiece, that is now accessible to stare at in awe during the daytime, alongside its hosting entertainment in the evening. **
Inside and under beautiful lighting giving the room an orange glow I had the choice of a black seat or a white one, which led to my asking myself whether I had been naughty or nice that year. I settled on the black one of course!
The tone of the evening was set from the beginning with a hip thrusting musical number full of innuendo and a sprinkling of ‘fruity language’. But, as host Dawn Gracie said, ‘if you don’t like it there is the door’ or words to that effect. Everyone seemed to be smiling too much to be worried about leaving. I was sat with a male couple and their mother whose experience lay in watching drag rather than burlesque, but we all saw some similarities. They too left with huge smiles on their faces.
The world of Burlesque isn’t limited to one type and you can find Boylesque, Bearlesque, Gorelesque, Draglesque; pretty much anything goes and that is why Dawn Gracie puts on Cabaret nights where… well, anything good does go. In Miss Disney who sang soundtrack classics, with a twist, in what she describes as drag (and I as fabulous ball gowns) we had a cabaret act .It was received with mixed reviews solely by the non-fans of Disney (myself included). But, no-one could fault her voice and charismatic stage presence.
In physical skill Deux Ailes, meaning ‘two wings’ were my highlight act. Recently married these two women moved themselves and each other around the rings in ways that I couldn’t have previously imagined. They paused just enough at all the right times. I am a little bit in love now actually, but I think my aerialist days may have passed me by.
Santa’s little helpers were also tasseled up with a couple of entertaining numbers. They could, in fact, have been you or I: as they are women who have taken up burlesque for fun, or exercise, through regular local workshops held by Dawn Gracie. Sat watching them, I noticed that where husbands did come to support them there were probably more female friends in the crowd. Their performance certainly felt more about something they were doing for themselves than for the titillation of their males. I vowed to find out more about how that is.
Photos: Lee Barrett Photography
But I hadn’t time to give it more thought then, as on stage came Ruby Deshabille who added an alternative twist to the proceedings, with humour that occasionally went over my head, but I think that says more about me than her. With drama, peacock feathers and audience participation she dipped between performing and interacting with host Dawn Gracie and succeeded in helping tie the whole thing together: with the help of Miss Ginger Pussy (the stage hand) and all those behind the scenes of course.
Model and Burlesque dancer Avant Garde performed en pointe for both her pieces and I was brought back to watching Swan Lake by the Russian ballet; that is until her feathered tail became two large fans. The costumes certainly played a huge part in the performance, but in the same vein never took over the performance. It wasn’t until I tried a workshop that I realised how important the clothes are to the way you perform.
It was a month later that I found myself stepping into Dawn’s workshop venue. I admit I initially felt a little nervous. Dawn Gracie had certainly been ring master and host at the Starlet’s Burlesque Show in a range of glittering outfits and headdresses. Her singing voice filled the room and her antics in the audience could have instilled fear in the quietest of wall flowers. That is until you noticed she only approached those begging to be approached. The mark of an effective hostess is one that can read the audience in this way. However, back in the workshop environment, the nerves remained. Until she beamed hello and whooshed off her outer dress revealing one easier to move in that is. In one action she shouted ‘I am with you; we are the same now let’s dance.’
Dance we did. We started sexy and warmed up to kinky before the props came out. With the props it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I hadn’t realised I had been watching others, to that point, with mild envy while sucking my stomach in until my back ached. But, with a feather boa in gloved hand I was no longer watching them… I became Nicci Lou: Vixan. Myself, but in magnitude. At the end of the routine, performed always with others, I swore I would return and that this time I would start in frills. With a passion for the Victorians I should probably actually treat myself to a bustle from Miss Cherry Bliss Boutique, Worthing. After-all my legs have always been my best feature. There you have it. The workshops bring out the confidence in you while exercising and having fun. Join me. Maybe one day we will make it into Starlet’s Burlesque Show to perform alongside the magnificent too. See you there!
Stay Authentic! Stay You!
**The future of the Southern Pavilion is uncertain at the time of writing (March 2019) due to exchange of ownership.