A Page from Siren Santina’s Diary: BurlyCon 2013

Photo: John Latham
Photo: John Latham

Over the last three years BurlyCon has taken the top spot in my list of burlesque events to attend… and not just because I can wear my yoga pants the entire weekend. The affair offers a unique opportunity to focus entirely on development and networking. The event is open to all interested participants, regardless of role or experience, and draws a hugely diverse crowd from across the country and beyond. The result is an inclusive, immersive experience that is unparalleled in our community. It is burlesque sensory overload… in a good way. Imagine I am Scrooge McDuck and my vault is full of strippers. BurlyCon is a deep dive and backstroke swim through that sea of striptease. All that fun and friendship builds a warm and fuzzy barrier against the brisk Seattle air (I tell myself as I sprint across four lanes of airport traffic in booty shorts and a t-shirt). I return every year with even higher expectations than the last, and this year’s experience did not disappoint.

I arrived a day early and decided to explore the town. Of particular interest to me were a number of local burlesque productions, some featuring out-of-town talent. I opted for the Cast-Off Cabaret since it included guest performances from some of my East-coast burlesque family. I have experienced tastes of the Seattle burlesque scene at festivals throughout the country, but this was my first chance to actually see Seattle performers on a Seattle stage. The show included a variety of performance styles and talents including live singing, silk fan dances, deadpan comedy, performance art, belly dance, traditional striptease, and (for good measure) crustacean twerking.

The Paris Original performing at Cast-Off Cabaret. (Photo: Siren Santina)
The Paris Original performing at Cast-Off Cabaret. (Photo: Siren Santina)

The highlight of the show was the beautiful and elegant performance of The Paris Original and his ballet telling of the life of coral. He is a walking (or in this case pirouetting) dichotomy. He performs a conservative art form with a liberal interpretation. He has masculine strength and feminine grace. He is technically proficient but also raw and emotional. Every single thing about his performance was en pointe. (Get it? It’s a ballet joke.) He was beautiful, sensual, sensitive, and sexy as hell… a perfect finale to the show. A rousing ovation ensued. After a quick chat with the cast, my roommates and I headed home to rest up for the busy weekend ahead.

Thursday was the big day. The glitter tribe was arriving. My walk to registration was interrupted countless times with introductions, reunions, and general squeals of excitement. Once I finally focused on the task at hand, I obtained my badge and backpack. It was official – BurlyCon had begun. I rushed to an empty corner to review the final class listing and strategize a schedule. This is always a daunting task as there are so many amazing course offerings available. I always try to choose a schedule that balances class type (movement, lecture, etc.) and subject matter. This year’s guide made that a breeze, utilizing a system of symbols to identify basic class information quickly without having to read through the written descriptions. I outlined my day and jumped enthusiastically into the learning process, taking classes during all available timeslots.

I always try to choose at least one class that will push me outside of my comfort zone. This year that class was Friday morning’s “Intro to Chair Dance” with the beautiful and talented Lola Frost. As someone that identifies as a comedic burlesquer, performing dances that focus on sensual movements makes me feel vulnerable onstage. Lola’s class took what I felt was intimidating subject matter and made it attainable for any student. The base movements were simple enough for a novice, and alterations were demonstrated to increase the difficulty for more seasoned performers. The movements were not physically difficult to perform, but displayed strength and control. The early timeslot was great for waking the body and mind after a long night of social events (and in some cases, alcohol consumption).

Pepper Mills & Gurl Haggard (Indianapolis, IN) act as 'groupies' while Talloolah Love (Atlanta, GA) and class channel Mick Jagger (Photo: Siren Santina)
Pepper Mills & Gurl Haggard (Indianapolis, IN) act as ‘groupies’ while Talloolah Love (Atlanta, GA) and class channel Mick Jagger (Photo: Siren Santina)

My favorite class of the weekend was “This Class Goes to 11!” by Iva Handfull. The class was exactly what I would expect from the instructor: unique, high-energy, entertaining, bad-ass, rock ‘n roll amazingness. After a video voyage through Iva’s personal inspirations (ranging from pop icons Michael Jackson and Prince to 80’s hair metal legends Mötley Crüe) the class warmed up their inner “front man” with a little Bonnie Tyler sing along. All of my drunken karaoke experiences combined didn’t equal the magnitude of this raucous rendition. Brows were furrowed, fists were pumped, and folks were turnin’ around as far as my bright eyes could see. Later we learned a choreographed rock-inspired routine to Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City”. The room was so packed with attendees that the whole group could not learn the steps at one time. We broke into small groups instead and performed for the rest of the class, an unintentional yet completely appropriate built-in concert audience. The class ended with a Soul Train-style pelvic thrust improvisation strut across the room, to the speaker-thumping soundscape of The Revolting Cock’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Each attendee took home a “What Would Iva Do?” wristband to commemorate the experience. I’m never taking mine off!

Friday night was wrapped up by the social event of the season: Burly Prom! It was everything I hoped it would be. The hair was big and the wardrobe was flashy. Light bounced off sequin appliqués and metallic lamé ruffles from every corner of the room. The music selection was straight from a John Hughes movie and the dance floor was always full. The event was complete with a tinsel-draped photo background and a line of eagerly-waiting corsaged customers who took turns posing awkwardly in true teenage style. Go-Go podiums were available for extrovert attendees to showcase their dancing skills, and both were often inhabited by con-favorite Rand The Vampire and his beautiful feather boa fans. Just like my real prom, attendees scattered off to various hotel rooms for a little post-prom debauchery that lasted into the wee hours of the night.

Saturday I tried my hardest to summon my inner twenty something and breeze through an early class like the night before hadn’t happened. A little Hospitality Suite breakfast and a lot of caffeine went a long way and I managed another complete day of classes. I also devoted some time to one of the other wonders of BurlyCon: The Vendor Fair. I have to admit, I went back through the vendor space every time the opportunity presented itself. There was so much amazing stuff to look at! I noticed something new in each visit. My wallet is quite a bit lighter, but I have a lot to show for it. My booty is geekier, my eyes are glitterier, my make-up is organized, and lack of pasties is a problem I will never have. I also paid a visit to the upstairs vendors, which included the shimmer-laden suite of Xerion Skin Science and Atomic Cosmetics. Dr. Jen is amazingly intelligent and so very personable. She takes a moment to speak with each customer about their wants and needs and offers them expert recommendations based on her intimate knowledge of the products. A bathtub full of champagne doesn’t hurt the ambience either.

Siren's annual portrait with the Atomic Cosmetics "bathtub full o' champagne"
Siren’s annual portrait with the Atomic Cosmetics “bathtub full o’ champagne”

The highlight of my Saturday would have to be the final session of Peer Reviews. Notable performances included Lola LeSoleil (Atlanta, GA) whose fringe-filled shimmy strut brought the audience to its feet and Deanna Danger (Richmond, VA) who was caught “red handed” dancing her way through a cover of Nick Cave’s “Right Red Hand”. My favorite performance of the night was that of Sunny Sighed and Bal’d Lightning (Baltimore, MD) who gave us a lesson on taming an audience with live song, dance, and striptease. Having performed for peer reviews in the past, I can tell you that being face to face with your idols in a fluorescent-lit conference room is an intimidating environment for performance. These intimate conditions worked in this act’s favor, however, providing the perfect playground for audience interaction. After getting up close and VERY personal with a lucky peer in the front row (Growl!), Sunny Sighed was lulled back into song at Bal’d Lightning’s intense insistence. The final reveal of Sunny’s unrequited longing for Bal’d Lightning solicited a mass “Awww!” from the audience and solidified their place in my heart. Sunny Sighed and Bal’d Lightning are talented, beautiful, and entertaining. I love seeing unique, genre-blending burlesque and this team brought it in full force.

Saturday night wrapped up with a popcorn-powered pajama movie party, the perfect event for people who are too exhausted to continue drinking or dancing but still wanted to spend every available second with their burlesque buddies. Those that weren’t in the mood for cinema could be found forced into the hotel’s outdoor hot tub, twenty at a time.

Sunday saw the final four class sessions and the launch of ticket sales for next year’s event. Twenty lucky so-and-sos were able to purchase a 2014 weekend pass for a mere 100 dollars!

The weekend was sadly coming to an end and the associated emotions were tangible. All those feelings culminated in the annual BurlyCon Closing Ceremony. This important experience gave opportunities to say goodbye to friends old and new and bond intimately with others over the shared love of the art-form that is burlesque. There were laughs. There were tears. There were indiscriminate hugs. Then, just like that, BurlyCon 2013 was over.

I made my way back to my room to pack up and head home. It had been an amazing weekend. I was exhausted, but excited. Each year I have attended I have become a better performer and a better mentor to my troupe-mates back home. I couldn’t wait to get back home and apply all the new things I had learned. My sass tank was full. I had enough inspiration to get me through another year… until we meet up again and start all over at BurlyCon 2014!

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