Burlesque, nerdlesque, boylesque and more

Festival workshops and performances build niche burlesque community

The fourth annual Winnipeg International Burlesque Festival will be on at the Gas Station Arts Centre from Aug. 15 to 18.

This year’s festival deviates from traditional burlesque performances, and includes diverse styles of burlesque such as boylesque — which showcases male performers — and nerdlesque, which fuses cosplay with pop culture parodies.

The festival features Canadian and international performers including award-winning headliners Gogo Incognito — an Ivy League-educated cosplayer and nerdlesque performer, and Zyra Lee Vanity, who is known for high energy routines that combine Afro-Caribbean culture with vintage burlesque.

The festival is an 18+ event but boasts a diverse crowd of young and old.

The Winnipeg International Burlesque Festival began in 2016 but fundraising efforts for the festival began almost six years ago.

Festival producer and co-founder Carmen Murray ⎯ whose stage name is Dixie Cups ⎯ said she was inspired to create the festival after attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas.

“Seeing the inspiration in Las Vegas, these amazing women including burlesque legends coming onto stage, they forged that whole industry, and to see them just honoured and brought onstage again was really amazing.

“That showed me what a supportive community it is.”

Murray also said that the body positivity in the community attracted her to burlesque.

“You can take what might have been considered a flaw […] something different about you, that maybe you don’t love, and learn to love it and honour it.”

Murray added that burlesque also helps people with mental health issues and “finding out who they are, and letting that person flourish.”

According to Murray, the term burlesque often calls to mind the “sassy, almost-nudity,” but the performance art is also about celebration, inclusivity and fun.

“It’s meant to titillate, to tease, to provoke thought, to bring joy, to make you think,” she said.

Burlesque was traditionally performed by women only, but Murray said that burlesque “has changed a great deal” and “is getting a little more difficult to define” as different sub-genres emerge.

“It’s incorporating every body and every gender or non-gender,” she said.

“Diversity is really key. There is no ‘should’ in burlesque.”

Murray attributed burlesque’s recent rise in popularity to increasing demand for diversity and body positivity.

“I think people are just looking for something different, people are tired of [the idea that] everything has to fit into a particular little box,” said Murray.

“The world is craving diversity and burlesque offers that.”

Both headliners will be performing nerdlesque acts. Zyra Lee Vanity will be doing a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-themed act and Gogo Incognito will be doing a Twilight meets Star Wars performance. Other performances include a The Lion King act called “Circle of Life,” and a Hockey Night in Canada-inspired performance.

This year’s festival offers eight workshops including pasties making, tassel twirling and a drop-in dance class. The workshops are open to all skill levels.

“We’re trying to focus on community building and learning, and that’s why we’re bringing in all these workshops,” said Murray.

Murray said the festival promises to deliver audiences a unique experience.

“I want people to leave thinking they’ve seen something that they couldn’t have seen anywhere else,” said Murray.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit winnburlesquefest.ca.