Since its popularity began to grow in 1830, the art of burlesque dancing has enthralled, evolved and continues to attract audiences all over the globe.
While burlesque has historically been branded as a ‘travesty’ and a cause of moral outrage, the form offers so much more.
Burlesque is a celebration of the human body in all its shapes and sizes. It's an invitation to explore and empower oneself, and be encouraged by a supportive community. Supplemented by music, dance, comedy, parody, and more — burlesque is more than a performance, it is a protest. Everyone has a right to be seen, to be comfortable in their skin, and to be celebrated for their uniqueness.
Now, our own city is home to its first burlesque school and their upcoming event is sure to stir its audience into a frenzy.
The Scarlet Studio House of Burlesque, a partnership and collaboration between Studio House Barrie and Toronto’s deadly dame A’Slayna Von Hunt, will present its Spring Showcase on June 10. The showcase includes performances by new artists who have challenged themselves to step out of their comfort zone, all the way to seasoned professionals including Scarlet Studio House of Burlesque co-founder A’Slayna Von Hunt.
Combining her 15 years experience as a professional dancer with six years of performing burlesque, Alayna aka A’Slayna Von Hunt is a well-known figure in the industry and has brought her brand of sultriness and fierceness to Barrie.
I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions before the upcoming Spring Showcase.
Richard: What inspired you to start your journey into the world of burlesque, and now as a well-established performer, has that inspiration changed?
A'Slayna: After some big life changes, a colleague asked me to perform in her burlesque company because she needed a performer who could do Martha Graham modern in a booty cage. I decided to try it and, if I hated the experience, at least I would have a great story. And here I am, performing in multiple provinces and producing shows in multiple cities. I guess you could say I liked it.
As a more established performer, I am inspired by the different ways I can share this art form and community with others, whether it is the classes I teach, the shows I produce, or my time on stage.
Richard: What are some trademarks of an A’Slayna Von Hunt performance?
A'Slayna: I spent over 20 years training in classical dance, including ballet, jazz and modern, so a typical A'Slayna act will have at least a nod at my dance roots, whether it is a fully choreographed, technical routine, or just a surprise high kick, you won't forget my origins. Another hallmark of my acts is the combination of glamour and humour, I love to keep the audience on their toes.
Richard: How do you find your ‘burlesque identity’? And are there any boundaries that have to be considered?
A'Slayna: I feel like A'Slayna was always a part of me, long before burlesque, but she was a little "too much" for most situations and jobs. Often, as a dancer, your job is to match the energy and vision of others, whether they are the creatives in charge, or your fellow cast members.
Burlesque is a highly individual performance art, which finally gave me a platform for all the layers of A'Slayna. I think most of us have an alter ego, or aspects of our personality that we tone down for others in our everyday life, burlesque is a place to channel all of that extra you.
As with anything in the arts and especially being presented to the public, there are definitely boundaries to be considered. Recognizing the appropriate time and place for being in character, or producing shows is key, as well as being aware of avoiding cultural appropriation as well as issues like racism, able-ism, homophobia, misogyny, etc when creating names, concepts or even exploring aesthetics.
Richard: The Scarlet Studio House of Burlesque will present its Spring Showcase on June 10. What can people expect from this event?
A'Slayna: The audience can expect a true experience! We will have performers ranging from absolute beginners who took their first steps into class in April, all the way to seasoned performers like myself.
The show will be a celebration of these women, their hard work and everything that makes burlesque and cabaret exciting.
Richard: What are common misconceptions about burlesque you have encountered in your career and what does burlesque mean to you?
A'Slayna: One common misconception is that you have to look a certain way, be a certain age, or have certain attributes to do burlesque. Burlesque is truly for everyone and every body! Burlesque is a huge umbrella that covers countless sub genres, from cosplay to Vegas showgirls to drag and everything in between.
Some of the best performers working professionally in Canada right now are plus-size. A fantastic burlesque venue in Prince Edward County is run by a very successful Boylesque performer and producer. A Canadian legend of burlesque, known as Lorna, who has been inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las
Vegas, has returned to the stage in her 70s to huge acclaim.
This is an art form that comes from a long history of political activism, boundary pushing and self-love, and it is truly for everyone.
As evidenced by my answer above, I get very passionate about burlesque. For me, burlesque has represented a place of acceptance, possibility and community. As a professional dancer, before finding burlesque, you are never quite good enough. You are always too big for one job, too small for another. Too young for one role, but much too old for another. Finding burlesque and the right community within that art form was the place I finally felt good enough, no matter what.
I could gain weight and no one would care. I could chop my hair, decide to perform in a pile of plastic vines, stand still for a seven-minute number, and as long as you created something worth watching, shared your passion and sold it, there was a place for you onstage. That acceptance and enthusiasm was very freeing and healing.
Richard: Burlesque has been evolving and performed since the 1800s. What do you hope to see in the future for this art form?
A'Slayna: The history of burlesque is fascinating and impressive. As part of our Burlesque 101 and Encore classes at Scarlet Studios, we make sure to get the new performers started down the rabbit hole of burlesque history, and I highly recommend everyone spend an evening on YouTube checking out performers from showcases like The Burlesque Hall of Fame as well as fabulous performers in history like Josephine Baker, Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand.
Burlesque has always been ahead of the game in gender-bending performers, celebration of the LGBTQIA2+ community, integration of burlesque with other art forms like drag and aerial work. I would love to see the community work to continue to prioritize representation consistently including performers of colour, performers over 35, and performers with disabilities, both visible and invisible.
Richard: Do you have any advice for individuals who either want to start their own journey as a burlesque performer or for individuals who have hesitations about attending a show?
A'Slayna: If you want to become a performer, there are a few first steps to take:
1. Go to a show! Go to shows and introduce yourself to the performers, the kitten, the host, the producer. Chat with other people who you meet at the shows. Burlesque is very community-driven, so meeting people in the community and being honest about your desire to join us is a great start.
2. Take a class! Whether you want to try a single drop-in class, an online class or a session with a performance at the end, taking a class is a great beginning! You will meet other people who want to perform and learn, you will get information and guidance from experienced performers, and you will make great connections.
3. Work at a show! Most burlesque shows have a role called the Stage Kitten. This is the person in charge of setting up the stage and clearing the stage after each performer. It is a very important role, works closely with all the performers and, depending on the show, can also allow for some audience interaction and repartee with the host. This is a great way to get into the action of the show without performing, as well as to meet people and network for future opportunities.
In terms of people hesitant about attending a show, I suggest checking out the posts for shows near you and looking for something like a comedy night with burlesque, a cabaret or something that integrates burlesque and other styles of performance. Not only are you hedging your bets, so if you don't love the burlesque element, there are other things to enjoy, but often those crossover shows tend to be on the gentler side, a little less raunchy and in-your-face.
Another great option to test the waters would be to attend a show at a place like A-Toi, the champagne bar where I produce a monthly show. That show has large breaks between performances so if you get a little overcome by a performance, you have some time to catch your breath before the next one.
Student shows may be a good option if you are concerned about the "spice" level of the performances, as students are generally easing into their own level of spice and might be a more gentle introduction.
Otherwise, just look at the promotional material for the show and look for one that suits your interests. There are Game of Thrones burlesque shows, Star Wars burlesque shows, burlesque shows with live opera singers, burlesque shows all about food. Find a show that sounds interesting, grab your tickets and bring your tipping money!
Richard: If there was a catchphrase or slogan for the upcoming Spring Showcase, what would it be?
A'Slayna: Hmmm, I wish we had a super witty one ready to go, but let's try out 'sweet, strong and a little spicy.' Scarlet Studios Spring Session: See them like you've never seen them before.
The Scarlet Studio House of Burlesque Spring Showcase will be performed June 10 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in the Barrie Curling Club lounge, located at 175 Essa Rd. This is an 18-plus event.
Note this show includes incredible humans portraying extreme confidence and power, with some performers going down to pasties — please keep this in mind before purchasing your ticket. Touching the performers is not permitted, any inappropriate behaviour from audience members will not be tolerated and you may be asked to leave with no refund provided. The purpose of this show is for the performers to gain confidence and step out of their comfort zones while creating unique art that suits them as individuals.
Tickets to the Spring Showcase can be purchased by clicking here.
You can follow the Scarlet Studio House of Burlesque on Instagram @scarletstudiohouseofburlesque.
To keep up to date with A’Slayna Von Hunt, visit her website here.
What else is happening?
Our city is brimming with events and activities for everyone. Check out a few of the wide variety of things happening in Barrie:
JUNE 5: UPTEMPO BARRIE DANCE CLASSES — Take on a new challenge and have fun learning new styles of dance with instructors from Uptempo Barrie. Options include Latin dances, country dances, swing dances, and Ballroom Classes. Classes are held at The Ranch 2.0, located at 56 Bayfield St. For more information and to register, click here.
JUNE 5: (and every Monday night) OPEN MIC NIGHT at Redline Brewhouse — Providing the microphones and PA equipment, Redline invites aspiring and established artists to perform every Monday night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Redline is located at 431 Bayview Dr. Interested parties can visit their website here.
JUNE 8: A WALK IN SUNNIDALE PARK: ARTISAN AND CREATOR MARKET — You’re invited to an evening of delicious food, great music, and more than 30 artisan vendors. The market will be held at the Dorian Parker Centre located at 227 Sunnidale Rd., and is a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe Muskoka. For more information, click here.
JUNE 9: THE LAST GANG — As part of their North American Tour, California punk outfit The Last Gang hits Barrie. Featuring The Readys, 30 Going On 13, and Frank Dux, this night of high-energy punk rock will be held at The Queens Hotel, located at 94 Dunlop St. E., in downtown Barrie. To purchase tickets, click here.
JUNE 8-19: BARRIE JAZZ AND BLUES FESTIVAL — The festival features some of the best Canadian and international jazz and blues artists performing in more than 25 venues throughout the Barrie area. For a complete schedule of artists, times, and how to attend, click here.
JUNE 12: LEGENDS LIVE — At 7:30 p.m. with comedy award-winning Shayla Shenanigans. One drag queen, 16 hilarious impersonations... what better way to celebrate Pride month? Legends live will be performed at CW Coop’s, located at 3 Mulcaster St., in downtown Barrie. Tickets can be purchased here.