What?! There’s Burlesque There? Part II: Montana

Cigarette Girls Burlesque talks shop outside of the big cities.

Belle "Momma" Rees
Belle “Momma” Rees

Q: What is the population of Missoula?

Missoula, MT’s population is just under 67,000 people.

Q: Please tell us a little about the beginning of The Cigarette Girls Burlesque?  When/where/how?  Describe your style.

The Cigarette Girls Burlesque was founded in January of 2010. Stella Pearl and myself [Belle “Momma” Rees], two of the original members of the troupe, took over management and booking after the troupe founder bowed out to pursue other commitments. We paired up with a very successful Johnny Cash tribute band, The Cold Hard Cash Show, for a couple gigs the following summer. That was our big break, and we’ve been putting out quite successful and popular shows in Montana ever since!

Our style is definitely ALL over the place. Because we’re in an isolated area, and performance art like what we do is hard to find, we all do a little bit of everything. Our troupe members range from burlesque to belly dancers, singers, fire performers, breakdance, contortion, body modification/Freakshow acts, and more. It’s a fun mix to be in and organize!

Q: Do you have a local burlesque community to speak of?  With their being little, if any, burlesque in your town and/or state, how do you stay inspired and how do remain informed of issues/evolutions in the burlesque community?

In terms of local burlesque community…we are the community! It’s a very small town, so if performers are interested in burlesque, they generally come to us. Statewide, there’s one other troupe that I know of. I would be ecstatic to learn if there were any others!

Staying informed on the international burlesque scene is definitely an uphill battle. The Internet is our main source of news and inspiration. We share videos of favorite performances to start our meetings, and speaking personally, I read and absorb everything I can. Pin Curl Mag, 21st Century Burlesque, I utilize as much as I can to share with my fellow performers here. We have had some awesome mentors and friends come through on tours, and they have become wonderful resources. I know that Minnie Tonka, Paco Fish, Darlinda Just Darlinda, Bettina May, and Eddie Van Glam are always happy to answer questions and give advice.  Plus, Burlycon is just a long car ride or overpriced plane ride away, and that so far has been a huge source of information and inspiration.


Q: Do you travel often to see burlesque?

As a troupe, no we haven’t traveled to see burlesque performances, which is definitely something I’d like to change. Both Stella and I have made trips to Seattle to go to as many shows as we could, and we were able to attend Viva Las Vegas this past April. I see amazing performances each time we go, but the best part so far was getting to watch my personal burlesque hero, Dirty Martini, perform live at VLV.

Q: How have your audiences responded to your shows?  Was it slow growth in audience numbers or a big boom from go?   Is there a pattern among your audience (mostly male or female/ age/ socioeconomic class)

We’ve been super lucky in that our audiences have been enthusiastic, and our shows packed, from the word go. It’s been a surprise. In a pretty conservative state, Missoula is a little liberal oasis, and aside from a few comments on a Facebook post here and there, people have always had a very positive reaction to our presence here. Missoula is a college town, so students make up a large part of our audience. The male to female ratio is pretty even at our shows. My personal favorite was a couple I met that came to one of our shows as their first date.

image2Q: Is education an uphill battle?  Have you had any push-back involving your town at large/venues/ or the law?

Our troupe has been very fortunate in that there has been no push-back that I know of, and definitely no trouble with the law! The only setback we’ve had is making sure that audiences understand boundaries, and that they respect and appreciate ALL types of naked bodies, not just the media-approved standard of beauty.   We are also blessed to not have to worry about blue laws. Anything goes in the Big Sky State!

Q: What are the pros and cons of running a burlesque troupe in a smaller town/state?

The biggest pro AND con of running a burlesque troupe in Montana is how very small the performance community is. Everybody knows/has dated/has worked with everybody else. To quote Ambrosia Salad, one of our girls, “It’s a messy, but very supportive sparkly family. We’re all sorta married to each other.”

There’s also no competition in our area, a definite pro. On the flip side, the lack of competition makes it rather hard to keep performances fresh and exciting. It’s hard to sell a show if your audience knows which acts they’ll see, because they saw them last month too.

image3Q: Do you feel under-recognized in the national scene?  What are three things you want everyone to know about burlesque in Montana?

It definitely feels like we are under recognized. In a mostly conservative state that has more cows than people(seriously.), Montana is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of burlesque, let alone good burlesque. With that in mind, three things we want folks to know about Montana burlesque are 1.) It’s here! We have that! 2.) It’s vibrant and good! And 3.) Come visit us! We’d love to have you!

Q: What are three troupe goals for 2015?

Three goals for The Cigarette Girls would be to 1.) Travel to perform other places, and encourage others to travel here. We had a small group at Burlycon in 2013, and I would love to see our whole group go in the future. Same goes for festival submissions. 2.) I’d like to see each performer really focus on taking their strengths as performers, and focusing on taking that skill to the next level. 3.) More sparkle and more spectacle!

Leave a Reply