Naughty or not, burlesque comes to Rochester
Burly Bluffs brings the titillating theatrical art form to Southeast Minnesota.
ROCHESTER — There wasn’t much time for the two first-time burlesque dancers to get nervous before performing at Bleu Duck on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The two were the first ones on the lineup of performers at Burly Bluffs’ Burlesque on Broadway show there.
Observing an unwritten tradition in burlesque performance, the two dancers making their burlesque debut were given the first slots, said Genevieve Johnson, a co-founder of Burly Bluffs burlesque dance production company.
The practice gives amateur performers experience and confidence. They learn as much backstage from fellow performers as they do from being on stage, Johnson said. The practice also helps cultivate and build a community of burlesque performers.
“I think we’ll be able to build more excitement and bring in more dancers,” she said.
Tickets to the Aug. 20 show sold out in a couple of days. It was the second-ever burlesque performance by the Burly Bluffs Burlesque performers.
Burlesque is part strip tease, part sketch comedy and part vaudeville entertainment. While avoiding nudity, the long-time variety performance and dance traditionally is designed to be provocative and comedic. Modern versions embrace queer culture.
The two opening performers Saturday, Moonboy and Drrrty Dancer, both from the Winona area, made their burlesque debut.
Johnson, a dancer with decades of performance, teaching and choreographic experience, began dabbling in burlesque performing in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic paused the endeavor. She found a welcoming burlesque dance community in the Twin Cities, where she lives and works. However, Johnson has ties to Winona and so does her friend and troupe co-founder who performs as Mona Rydeher.
They founded the troupe to reach out to the queer communities of Southeast Minnesota, Johnson said.
“We didn’t feel like there were a lot of places where the queer communities can come together,” she said.
The Burly Bluffs group debuted with an April performance in Winona as part of the Midwest Music Festival. That performance had a capacity crowd. The sellout crowd of about 80 people Saturday at Bleu Duck was a bit of a surprise, Johnson said.
“The space was perfect, but we had to cap it,” she said.
How the industrial look of the historic warehouse space contrasted with the glamour and color of the performers’ costumes felt right, Johnson added.
“Burlesque in many ways is still an underground art form,” she said.
Johnson credits Out Rochester for bringing the burlesque show to downtown Rochester. Out Rochester received a first-time event grant from the Rochester Downtown Alliance for the event. The funding went to pay for the venue, production and pay the performers, Johnson said.
“A lot of times performers aren’t paid very well and people come to expect that,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to change that.”
The response makes it likely the troupe will put on a performance every other or every three months, she said, depending on financial support to pay for venues, production and performers.
Johnson admitted she wasn’t sure how the event would be received by the funders, the venue owners and the community at large.
“I was a little skeptical about what the Downtown Alliance would think,” she said. “I was also under the impression Rochester can be a little conservative.”
The crowd was attentive and appreciative, Johnson said. The tips weren’t bad, either, she added. Bleu Duck staff and management were helpful and patient with the first-time event.
Between the success of the Rochester show and the Midwest Music Festival performance in Winona, Johnson said more shows are likely in Southeast Minnesota.
“I think there are enough people in each community who recognize (burlesque) as an art form and can support it,” she said.
Other performers for the evening included: Emerald Eve, Plum Ridiculous, Borinqueña Bonita, Xavier, Stella Rockstar. Mikko Blaze hosted the event.