Pussy. I did not expect a poem hailing the virtues of the pussy at Vivienne Vavoom’s burlesque performance at Museo de las Americas last night.

 

“Life is because of the pussy,” Lady Speech’s poem went. Kind of true, isn’t it? But still, a bit surprising of a word to hear while at a museum. Titty tassels? Sure. A sequin-covered G-string? Why not. But a woman reciting, nay rapping, about her pussy? I was not prepared.

 

Shock aside, Vivienne Vavoom knows burlesque. In fact, she’s responsible for bringing this dance form to Denver in 1998. Today she performs all over the country and even owns and teaches at a burlesque studio near the museum.

 

The line-up of the evening was as follows:

  1. Burlesque class for women taught by Vavoom
  2. Burlesque performance by Vavoom
  3. Poetry readings by three different female poets
  4. A trumpet
  5. A poetry piece about the pussy
  6. Final burlesque performance by Vavoom

A stuffy, boring night at the museum? Not so much.

 

I was present for the entire line-up but was most eagerly anticipating the burlesque class. I dragged two girlfriends along with me, and we texted all day about the fact that while we were not quite sporting abs a la Gisele Bundchen, but we were secretly excited to get down and dirty. I even wore a sparkly pink bra for the occasion. So I was a little disappointed when Vavoom failed to hand out brightly colored pasties in various shapes or a boa to weave between my thighs. The class was quite tame—we learned to bump, grind, walk in a sultry manner and run our hands over our bodies. Yet, Vavoom’s smile was genuine and infectious, and me and the 15 or so other women attending the class giggled and wiggled our booties for all we were worth. It was a fun and silly hour made even more special with the museum’s Cara a Cara exhibit as a backdrop.

 

Then Vavoom performed. There was something incredibly liberating about seeing a grown woman dancing almost naked in a very public museum in front of ancient, cultural masks. Her body was so luscious, so perfectly feminine and beautiful that I felt borderline prude in my stretchy pants and t-shirt. Vavoom was radiant, and her movements were natural. Her dance reminded me of the way it feels to swim nude in the ocean: a bit naughty, but oh-so-right—preternatural beauty at its finest.

 

Vavoom was gracious enough to satiate my journalistic lust, and I thought I’d share her responses with you. Enjoy.

 

303: How did you get involved in burlesque dance? Why burlesque and not another dance form?

Vivienne Vavoom: It is the only dance form that embraces every body shape and age. Plus it is a pure form of self-expression. In other dance forms you are generally performing other people’s vision, not your own.

303: You’ve been performing burlesque for 14 years. How has it changed over that time?

VV: It is much more popular and more embraced by the public. When I stared no one knew the word and it was pretty much a dead art form.

303: Where do you usually perform?

VV: Mostly Bender’s Tavern at my student showcases.

303: What do you do to get ready for a performance? Do you still get nervous?

VV: I am always nervous when performing a new number or performing for an audience that doesn’t know me or burlesque, but otherwise I always feel a bit like a racehorse in the gate. I want to get out there! I do try to take as much alone time as possible, I stretch, listen to my music, take my time with my hair and makeup, generally try to relax.

303: In what way, if any, do you think burlesque ties together with Museo’s current mask exhibit?

VV: Burlesque, like any other theater, is about creating a character and wearing that character’s mask. I always tell my students that their burlesque self should be the super heroine version of themselves, and in that way they remove the mask they wear every day.

303: What do you say to critics of burlesque?

VV: I don’t hear a lot of criticism. I know there are people who don’t like it, but I think it’s just not to their taste, and that’s fine. You won’t find me at a hip-hop show anytime soon. There’s nothing wrong with hip-hop, I’m just not into it.

303: Do you have a favorite song to dance to?

VV: I LOVE vintage burlesque music, but my fan dance to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is my favorite number. I love it, the audience goes nuts- it is the best.

303: Given the fact that you show so much of your body in this dance, what do you do to stay healthy and fit? Have you ever had body issues or insecurities? In what way to you think this dance form impacts a woman’s perception of her body?

VV: I don’t do a lot, mostly just light yoga, crunches, etc. at home. I sometimes hit the gym and rehearse. Burlesque isn’t about perfect body. It’s about using what you have and sometimes turning your imperfections into assets. I hated my super skinny body when I started in burlesque, but when I saw that the audience loved it, I grew to love it, and as I got older and curvier, the audience still loved it.

303: Who do you think would benefit from doing this kind of dance?

VV: Anyone! Even if they never get on stage, it is a huge confidence booster.

303: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

VV:
 I was very, very shy until I got into burlesque!

303: For someone who has never been to a burlesque performance, what can they expect? What do you hope your audience takes away from your performances?

VV: Expect the unexpected! Burlesque is sexy, funny and sometimes even a little odd or disturbing. It can be shiny and pretty or challenging performance art. I hope people walk away from my performance entertained.

303: What does your future with burlesque look like?

VV: My friend Jo Boobs turns 50 this year, and I’m 38, so I’ve definitely got more dancing years in me.

Cheers to that. Tassels, G-strings, sequins, and yes, even the pussy, unite. I’ve got my self a case of burlesque fever.

 

 Stephanie Richards is the art and culture editor of 303 Magazine.

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