Last night I went to a local Halloween-themed burlesque show, “A Darker Shade of Burlesque,” by Vintage TeasE. It was the first proper burlesque I’d attended, and it was a fantastic evening. The performers were all women with a wide range of body types, styles and talents, and the majority of the audience were women too. It’s interesting and encouraging to see performances that, although historically intended to titillate men, now seem to appeal very much to women through their glamour, costumes and sense of empowerment of seeing other women with bodies very much like their own looking confident and sexy as they bare all.
All the acts were very entertaining. It was headlined by a very beautifully gothic Bonnie Fleur, who had not one but two acts – as a seductive Morticia Addams in one of the earlier acts, and an intense, vampiric Red Queen at the close, who swooped around in Isis wings designed to look like a huge red cloak, and ended by pouring “blood” from a chalice over herself. There was also Jeanie Wishes, who performed a sexy pole dance in the persona of a spider queen; a bride who hacked off her own chastity belt with an angle grinder (sparks flying and all); and a bizarre “werewolfess” who at the end sported a wolf mask and very little else.
But for me, there was one act that really stood out above all others, and that was a voodoo-inspired dance by the award-winning Coco Deville. She made her entrance to The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs,” dressed in an incredible outfit of a feather headdress, feather skirt and trailing cloak made from different fake fur prints stitched together. She was carrying a skull, which she placed reverentially upon a table with a red and black cloth and a lit candelabra, and knelt before it as if praying to the spirits of death. She then began her dance, with slow, hypnotic movements reminding me of those used in tribal bellydance. As she stripped off each layer of clothing, from her cloak down to her skirt, she toyed with a riding crop, bringing an element of bondage into her dance. Right at the end, she took one of the candles and poured the wax all over her now mostly nude body.
What was incredible about this intense act was the effect upon the audience. Throughout the show, we were all encouraged to clap and cheer during the dances as each layer of clothing came off. But for Coco Deville, the audience was spellbound into a respectful hush. Most of the cries that came from the audience were the kind of ululations you might hear women make at events of particular ritual or religious significance in the Middle East and Asia. Everyone else simply gazed, mesmerised by Coco’s preternatural grace and captivating presence.
That’s when I realised that what we were watching somehow transcended mere performance and entered the realm of ritual. This young lady, part-voodoo priestess, part-dominatrix, part-goddess, with her supreme confidence and talent, had the entire audience under her spell. Erotic it certainly was, but in a manner that re-enforced the connection between sexuality and the divine.
As a Pagan observer, I would certainly call the effect of this performance magic. It was a reminder that magic does not need to be performed by self-identified witches within a coven, or practitioners of ritual occult – a simple dance in a cabaret show, through the combination of music, movement, costume and the energy of the dancer herself – can invoke just the same level of power.