Grace Truvant, founder of Lady Grace Academy, is putting Houston, TX on the burlesque map!
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Know burlesque? Know Texas? Well here’s a question…what do you know about burlesque in Houston, Texas (the nation’s fourth largest city by the by)?
Your answer in all likelihood is not a darn thing–which seems surprising in these neo-burlesque-even-sweeping-the-silver-screen times. Located a mere two hours from Austin…and only five from Dallas where TWO different burlesque films have made their debut within a two months’ time span, Houston is surprisingly behind the striptease times.
But one little lady in the oil tycoon city is set to change that…and she’s starting with building her own audience of burlesque admirers and appreciators.
To my absolute enjoyment, the stars aligned for me to do an actual phone rather than email interview with the woman wanting to help bring burlesque to her hometown, and by the end of our talk I was absolutely enthralled with the sweetness and intelligence of this new but determined advocate for Houston’s striptease revival. Grace Truvant first fueled her lust for classic tease by attending one of the most historically relevant festivals in the new movement….the very first annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival.
Swept by storm tragedy a mere 4 1/2 years ago, New Orleans is often viewed as the old time birthplace of American burlesque. Although this is factually questionable, there is no doubt that NOLA brought something entirely original to the language of bumps and grinds. The lovely Ms. Truvant happened across the festival through the internet and planned a trip with her husband; the trip soon served as the impetus for an overhaul of the curriculum offered at her newly conceived dance school.
When she came voyeur to stage with NOLA and the enticingly cheeky and charming performers of burlesque, Grace fell in love at first grind. Having recently founded Lady Grace Academy, as an alternative opportunity and environment to learn exotic dance, Ms. Truvant knew that she must bring burlesque back. For herself. For her city. And above all to her students…women searching for the meaning of everything from body confidence to sexuality to femininity as fun.
You see…before Grace took burlesque to her city, it was nowhere to be found. Not on stage, not in studios. Asking Grace what really hooked her that fateful night in New Orleans where she witnessed her first show, I learned we had one remarkable influence performer in common: Jo Weldon. It was the incredible aura Jo brought to the stage as well as her workshop (Tassel Twirling 101, of course!) that sealed the deal for Grace, as it has for many burgeoning burlesque stars. It was Jo’s influence and presence as a strong woman in both performance and attitude that gripped Grace’s dancer soul and led her toward beginning a movement that has yet to be really made in Houston.
Grace will tell you that there have been troupes that have come and gone in the south Texas city–but nothing that really stuck or resounded with the general populace. Ms. Truvant is not entirely clear why this has been the case in her hometown, but she suspects it may have somewhat something to do with the high number of lap dance strip clubs–which may help foster a general lack of education regarding burlesque and its value as entertainment beyond sexual enticement.
This led me to another curiosity: if the Houston scene has yet to develop, and few people in the city seem to have a clear idea as to what a burlesque show entails, what sort of students seek out the Lady Grace Academy? Essentially it is women in very similar sparkly shoes to Grace this past year: they have a base knowledge of what burlesque once was, just as it has become part of our classic collective knowledge. But that isn’t enough. Her students find her as they search to find what the meaning and movement of burlesque is beyond feather boas and satin gloves.
Although LGA initially offered only exotic dance classes (Lady Grace herself has been trained in exotic dance forms from expert instructors in the field–but she sought to make it more accessible to women intimidated by the sometimes unfortunate connotations of the art), the school is now almost exclusively burlesque curriculum based outside of the occasional workshop on lap dance or go-go movement. In between educating women about the benefits and beauty of burlesque, Grace is also presented with another plateau to mount–actually getting burlesque shows into Houston. This is a process of small steps, however; and Grace wants to get it right the first time.
Although Grace is well versed in the transformative and tantalizing thrill of burlesque movement, she too is still seeking out her burlesque performance voice. A trained journalist, she is well acquainted with searching for her writing voice–and the difference it makes in presentation once it is finally found. When we talked about the high volume of writers cum burlesque queens (and vice versa), she felt it was that voice element that draws so many practitioners of both arts. As she said, “Burlesque requires the brain, all of one’s thoughts. The planning and methodical process taken to produce a cohesive creative endeavor appeals to women who are attracted to thinking in a narrative way.”
For Grace, the first stop then in creating both a burgeoning burlesque scene in Houston, as well as growing and shaping her school and students, is to really find her space on the stage with more performance experience and audience interaction. As many fresh faces feel when they arrive, she feels the tug of opening herself totally on stage, but she is still exploring the means and meaning of her personal give and take with the audience. She’s trying to process her precise formula for the final feeling and energy she wants to leave with her spectators. Once she finds her personal stage presence signature…the spotlight’s going to keep shining bright in Grace’s eyes. Thus far she has performed in Houston’s “A Tribute to Bettie Page,” presented by The Jigglewatts. This week she takes on Texas Burlesque Festival, and she can then next be seen at Dallas’s own Hot Rods and Heels. All shows which provide further evidence that although Grace may be new to the scene, she’s a force that won’t be forgotten any time in the near future.
So what does come next for Lady Grace Academy and Houston burlesque as Grace goes forward? Well, for one she wants to take her students to the next level with her. Having traveled to Dallas several times for workshops with Ginger Valentine, Headmistress of Ginger Valentine’s Burlesque Charm School, Grace is excited to begin planning for advanced classes in addition to her Burlesque Basics (which already has experienced several happy repeat students). Once things really get underway for both Grace’s performance prowess and her school’s student advancement, she hopes to seek a space to showcase her students and try her hand at producing. She isn’t afraid to help other ladies join her ranks, either. Because that may be the most charming thing about this sweet Houston honey: she really honors the term lady and exemplifies a refreshing grace. For Grace this isn’t about being the best or outshining others. I think she put it best when she told me at the end of our lovely talk, this little gem of a genuine spirit:
“The thing I always want to uphold and encourage in my time as a performer and teacher is that burlesque is a tribe. We should all support one another as much as possible. Because when one of us shines, we all do. There is no finite number of spotlights and we all bring something different and special to the stage. We won’t eclipse one another.”
With that, I can’t wait to see the direction Grace takes on stage, with her students, and in helping to shape the foundation of Houston’s burlesque community as a whole. She’s already a star in my sights, and we should all support this new addition to our skies.
You can find Lady Grace Academy at ladygraceacademy.com, or you can find Grace Truvant on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thursdaygirl, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Truvant/322338607783.