Dimly-lit stage, scantily clad flesh moving to the beat of the music, a transfixed audience: but this is not a seedy strip club down a back alley. This is burlesque (滑稽戏 huájīxì).
“Burlesque is not about stripping, it’s about beautiful vintage style costumes. It’s about sex appeal, sensual, exotic, and sometimes humor,” says Trixie Royale, founder of Moonglow Burlesque (月光艳舞 Yuèguāng Huájī) troupe, based in China.
“Burlesque is a form of live entertainment that was popular during the Jazz Era (爵士时代 Juéshì shídài) (1920-1950s) in America, later re-emerging as a populist blend of satire, performance art, and adult entertainment featuring striptease and a wide variety of comedy acts,” Moonglow’s website explains.
“Burlesque also evolved alongside vaudeville and cabaret, so it has an entertainment focus that is missing in stripping. Burlesque is often light-hearted, involving comedy, parody or theatrical elements. If you’re looking for vintage glamour, sophistication, spectacular entertainment and a little bit of fantasy, see a burlesque show.”
Burlesque dancing has become popular in Beijing, as you would expect from a city that is known to embrace all things Western, but the reactions are very different in more conservative areas of China, so the troupe must adapt to each audience.
“We have performed in other cities (outside of Beijing) and we pick the acts that would be suitable for the audience unfamiliar with this genre,” says Trixie, who has been burlesque dancing for six years.
The atmosphere of the show and venue plays a big part in the success of a burlesque show, and Moonglow is no exception.
“We like to have our shows in bars, with people drinking, eating and generally having good relaxing times, just like it was back in the day, rather than theatre atmosphere. We also like to make the audience feel involved and participate in the show,” Trixie explains.
Then, of course, we have the costumes. The vintage corsets, feathers and glitter scream glamour and showmanship, and Moonglow will settle for no less than perfect.
“I’ve been designing most of the costumes for the troupe. Some of it we buy, modify and combine to get what we have in mind,” says Trixie.
The art of burlesque is not a talent that the members of Moonglow want to hold close to their chest. You can book a private lesson with one of the dancers at a time to suit yourself, regardless of “age, shape and persuasion”, they say.
When describing a typical show day, Trixie does make the excitement and glamour of burlesque sound oh so tempting.
“Usually if we have a big show, we meet at the venue in the afternoon for a dress run-through. Everybody arrives with suitcases of costumes, and while technicians are getting ready, we sometimes practice on the side. Then a short meeting with everybody and the run-through, which is sometimes better than the show itself!” she laughs.
“Then we go to have dinner together before its time for makeup and preparations. We always help each other to get dressed and do hair, since we do everything ourselves. Right before, when guests start arriving, we go to greet our friends dressed in nice gowns and glitter. When the show is starting my heart beats so fast and it passes so quickly! Then it’s time for drinking with the crew and the guests, celebrating.”
Sounds like a nice way to make a living, right?
The popularity of burlesque dancing in China’s biggest cities is rising and Trixie has high hopes for the future of Moonglow.
“In my most vivid dreams we have our own venue with a good stage, and proper backstage and green room, which we lack at the moment. A solid crew of performers, and a big collection of amazing costumes too,” she says.
With the interest in burlesque growing, Moonglow are always on the hunt for new talent. Budding dancers, dust off your dancing shoes and don your feather boas, burlesque is in Beijing!
Want to see for yourself? Contact the Moonglow troupe or watch their trailer here:
Here’s some footage of the group on YouTube as well: