Gainesville’s burlesque scene strives for weirdness and inclusivity.
It’s a chilly December night, but Loosey’s is hot. Faces are flushed with alcohol, and seats are packed tight. Latecomers hurry inside, careful not to let the cold in. Suddenly everyone’s shedding layers: jackets are sprawled over the backs of chairs, and a corset lays discarded on the stage. This is Guilty Pleasures, Breakaway Burlesque’s December Show.
Burlesque is a performance art. Think cosplay meets striptease. Ornate costumes help performers tantalize and titillate as they explore stereotypes and push boundaries. They accomplish all of this while finding interesting and unexpected ways to remove their clothes.
Gainesville’s burlesque scene began in 2013 when Sally B. Dash created the Mischievous Madams. Three years later, Florence Rosé’s sister troupe, Breakaway Burlesque, joined the fold. Together, the two troupes are about 20 performers strong. Rather than compete, the three groups often share the stage and cheer each other on from the audience.
These performers have built Gainesville’s burlesque scene into what it is today: Empowering, hilarious and sexy.
The individuals who make up Gainesville’s burlesque scene do more than strip on stage. Each is responsible for creating their costumes: elaborate compositions of pasties and panties, and wildly decorated corsets. Many performers work multiple jobs to afford what can be hundreds of dollars in material. Story continued on page 26.
Burlesque can be isolating work due to the prejudice surrounding it. One performer sought to keep her involvement a secret from her family, and succeeded for about 10 months before an ex’s Facebook photo gave her away. Another said she faces criticism for being a mother and burlesque performer.
Those who do choose burlesque do so simply because they love it. Rosé said they love the intimate connection between the audience and performer that nakedness entails.
Burlesque’s appeal is often thought to be for the male gaze, but that isn’t the case in Gainesville. Many performers identify as LGBT.
“We’re all a little queer,” Dash said.
In June 2016, the two burlesque troupes formed an alliance with Downtown Drag, a group of local drag queens, and held their first performance in downtown Gainesville.
Now, Dash said, there isn’t a burlesque show without a drag queen in the audience, or vice versa.
Despite efforts towards inclusivity, the burlesque scene still has room to grow as the audience, troupe managers, rising performers and veterans are all consistently white.
Phoenix Midnight, a member of the Mischievous Madams, is north Florida’s only black burlesque performer.
“Burlesque is a safe space,” Midnight said, “as long as you’re white.”
Midnight said it’s lack of visibility that keeps black women from engaging the scene.
Troupe managers Dash and Rosé aim to address this problem by bringing in established performers of color from outside of Gainesville. They are eager to mentor every driven performer interested in joining their community and hope to see more diversity among their troupes. A show promoting newcomers in the community will take place on March 10 at the Hardback Cafe, produced by Dash.
“I was very fortunate to have opportunities to get started,” Dash said. “Now I want to pay that forward and give new people the platform to show us their stuff.” •
1. Dash, producer of Mischievous Madams, brushes the curls of her wig backstage before a performance at High Dive.
2. Dash tightens Rosé’s corset backstage before a show at High Dive. “Yes, Daddy, harder!” Rosé moaned, prompting laughter throughout the room.
3. Betty Shiraz emcees at the Burlesque Against Humanity show in downtown Gainesville. When she takes the stage, she asks, “Who’s your host-ass with the most ass?” To which the audience replies, “You bet your ass it’s Betty Shiraz!”
4. On stage, Dash is known as the Countess of Caricature for her heavily character-driven acts. “I love that title because it really fits my style and my background in comedy and theater,” Dash said.
5. Rosé, the producer of Breakaway Burlesque, performs in a risqué cosplay of Kylo Ren from “Star Wars” during a show at the High Dive.
6. Formaldehyde Flower shimmies as she strips. Flower is known for her gothic-inspired costumes; the troupe calls her “our Spooky Sweetheart.”
7. Rumor Hasset performs “Suppertime” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” during a show at High Dive. She collected tips from the audience in a makeshift dog food bowl.
8. Jenny Castle performs Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” while assuming the dual personalities of Smeagol and Gollum. Castle received a standing ovation, and reminded the audience that burlesque is as much about comedy as it is about sexuality.