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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

In Burlington's Burlesque Scene, It's All About Loving Your Body

Alexa Luthor
Green Mountain Cabaret puts on burlesque shows every month in Burlington. Founder Alexa Luthor says burlesque is about more than just strip tease.

Higher Ground, a music venue in South Burlington, sold out a string of shows this past weekend. But it wasn't a band that folks were lining up to see.

The performance space hosted a popular festival celebrating the art of burlesque.

And yes, some of the performers were less than fully clothed. But styles ranged from operatic parodies to slapstick. First you might see a chorus line, then a striptease.

Opening act and emcee Foxy Tann got the crowd going, kicking off a night filled with local and national performers, while backstage, Alexa Luthor got ready to perform.

She's the founder of the Green Mountain Cabaret, a group that puts on burlesque shows every month in Burlington. She says burlesque is about the strip tease, but also more than that:

"First and foremost it's a dance form. I think people immediately go, 'Oh my gosh, you take off your clothes.' And yes, that is part of it. It's definitely part of it,” Luthor says. “But it's the tease, it's about getting the audience to come on a journey with you, where you show them how much you love yourself."

"First and foremost it's a dance form ... But it's the tease, it's about getting the audience to come on a journey with you, where you show them how much you love yourself." - Alexa Luthor, Green Mountain Cabaret

And loving your body – no matter what size – is something Luthor emphasizes in the burlesque classes she teaches at North End Studios in Burlington.

"Burlesque is all about loving what you already have as opposed to loving what people tell you you should love,” she says. “It's about building confidence in the jiggles, everything you've got that's already there. Not trying to change your body to be sexy. Because you are sexy no matter what size you are. You can show it off whether you're male or female, size 10 or size 2. It doesn't matter anymore."

That diversity also extends to performance style. Some performers provide a nod to burlesque performers from the 1940s and ‘50s. Think satin gloves and fan dances. Others dress up in costumes that reference modern pop culture figures.

Luthor calls that "Nerdlesque."

"Strippers make money. Burlesque performers don't make money." - Cory Royer, festival organizer

"Every year we do a geek themed show. So yeah, we did a Star Trek Number,” she says. “But in April we're doing a books show."

And tonight, there's even a nod to a Mel Brook's film.

Luthor says the theatrical aspect of burlesque is just one thing that sets it apart from a modern strip club.

But festival organizer Cory Royer can think of another: "Strippers make money. Burlesque performers don't make money,” he says.

Royer is a Colchester native who decided to bring the festival back to his home state. Now that he knows it's wildly popular here, he says he's looking forward to next year's festival.

By the sound of the crowd, so are they.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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