Photographs by Seven Ford.
Recalling the glory days of burlesque, the 6th annual Windy City Burlesque Festival began on a rainy Wednesday night at Stage 773 in Lakeview, featuring performers from all over the U.S. Hosted by Chicago burlesque performer and teacher Red Hot Annie, audiences were treated to an enthusiastically sex-positive, body-positive, and age-positive experience. In a gesture of defiance against the male gaze, dancers of all shapes, sizes, and ages took to the stage in a proudly feminist celebration of all bodies and expressions.
When thinking of burlesque, one typically expects to see female performers. At this festival, there are also male “boilesque” dancers, and gender-defying performers who entertained and excited crowds as they simultaneously questioned and provoked them. Friday night will feature a performance by Chicago’s own gender contortionist Ms. Mr. Jr., also known as the Queen of Boilesque and the World’s Hairiest Woman.
According to performer and festival worker Raven Gemini, burlesque performances are indeed sexual, but they also offer a tease, a tasteful temptation, and a story. There is always an emphasis on being playful in performances; on teasing rather than revealing all, all based in the field of self-expression.
The first time she saw burlesque, Gemini said she knew she wanted to be a part of it. “The first time I went on stage, I was so nervous that I couldn’t feel my legs below the knees, which is no good for dancing,” she said. But she soldiered on and has been performing around the country for the past six years.
“It’s the perfect vehicle for self-expression,” Gemini said, describing her own performances as twisted and obsessive, but also fun and sexy. Her personal favorite performance is one she does to the bombastic, militaristic song “Haifisch” by German band Rammstein. In this performance, she plays the part of an assassin, killing her own clothing bit by bit until it’s all been cast aside.