There are some things, I am quickly finding, that are synonymous with Richmond: brunch at 1 PM, copious amounts of PBR, music shows of all types every night of the week, and, now that this shitty weather has at least temporarily quit, doing everything possible on the river.
There are some things, I am quickly finding, that are synonymous with Richmond: brunch at 1 PM, copious amounts of PBR, music shows of all types every night of the week, and, now that this shitty weather has at least temporarily quit, doing everything possible on the river. I may still consider myself new to Richmond, but lately I have been noticing another local trend that I can only imagine will continue to grow–the rise of burlesque. And recently, I got my first taste.
Walking up to Studio Two Three, an artists’ collective on Main Street, I had few expectations of what I was about to see. Honestly, what I knew about burlesque revolved primarily around boobs, which would have been enough to get me through the door even if I had not been invited by my friend Eva Swanson, who performs under the name Sally von Streusel. After meeting Eva through my boyfriend and talking all about burlesque and feminism over beers at Portrait House one night, I found myself invited to her upcoming show, a fundraiser for Studio Two Three.
Standing outside in a toga, with her almost full-term pregnant belly adding a layer or two to the sexy theme of the night, Ashley Hawkins, executive director for Studio Two Three, explained that this was the second annual burlesque fundraiser benefiting the nonprofit. As people dressed in various states of Greek homage filtered in and out of the printmaking room, Hawkins described the community aspect of the studio; artists can utilize the printmaking, screenprinting, and darkrooms in the space 24 hours a day, and classes are available for all levels of expertise.
Bringing together burlesque and craft beer donated by Hardywood Brewery in a space dedicated to art makes perfect sense, and as I saw people gather in anticipation for the show, I was struck by the diversity of the crowd. People of all ages were milling about with beer or wine in hand, talking to the dancers that weaved through the space in sweeping togas and not much else. Even though we were about to see this titillating display, the atmosphere was fairly relaxed and happy. Don’t hate me for saying this, Richmond, but as a first-time burlesque viewer I was slightly concerned there would be a stale, creepy vibe seeping in, but that could not have been further from the truth.
And, as the show commenced, that playful tone was teased out into the open by the hilarious emcee, Buster Britches. Dressed in a short toga and red boxer briefs, Buster corralled the audience into submission, first by asking the front half of the audience to sit on the floor, then by giving us all a primer on how to properly watch the show by having the stage kitten Olive dance a little and then admonishing us for not hollering at her sexy moves loudly enough. Emphasizing the voyeuristic aspect of what we, as a group, were about to do made this show even more delightful. It was made abundantly clear that we should most definitely indulge in the pleasure of looking, and let that pleasure be known.
By the time the dancers began, I was ready to do some whooping, and I have to tell you, they did not disappoint. As I watched Ellie Quinn, who performed a Cupid routine, do some serious tassel twirling, I was struck by how sex positive the show was; not only did Buster’s comedic interjections between sets kept things from veering to the creepy side, but the dancers were clearly performing an art for us that incorporated, but was not only about, the naked female body. Watching Eva perform her Narcissus routine, dancing in front of two mirrors and eventually stripping down to rather lovely gold tassels and a matching merkin, I was happy to be a part of this event that celebrated female bodies of all types. Even more so, I was thrilled to be whooping for women stripping it all off in front of a crowd of people who were with me in enthusiastically applauding the show.
I left that night excited to have popped my burlesque cherry, as Buster would have said, and I am writing now not in small part to encourage more burlesque shows in Richmond. If there’s one thing this city needs more of, it would be sex-positive, feminist events that also showcase the hips and booties and boobs of our city’s loveliest women–wouldn’t you say?
A recent transplant to Richmond from Alabama via upstate New York, Laura Confer is primed and ready to experience the city everyone is so happy to show off. As she navigates this new terrain, she’ll be writing about her adventures. Tell her where she should go! Tell her what she should do! Tell her to stop talking about food so much!