The Confidence To Bare (Almost) All
What does the Muppet Show and burlesque have in common? More than you might think. They both have roots in Vaudeville theater. Both have a combination of dance, theater, and humor, although burlesque definitely has more…skin. In Charlotte, one burlesque troupe has a growing audience. But the cast isn’t made up of professionals, they’re individuals dedicated to learning the craft.
When you walk into the Big Mamma’s House of Burlesque owner DeanaPendragon’s studio you’re hit by all the colors. Sequin dresses draped on plastic body forms and vibrant fabrics fill the room. And there’s rhinestones galore scattered throughout the space.
But if you stop by the Sunday before her troupe of burlesque performers have a show, it’s a little louder than the usual sewing machines running in the background.
The group discusses new routines and costume ideas. And Pendragon, or Big Mamma D, as she’s known as on stage offers suggestions.
“I have a sewing machine and two years ago, I knew how to turn it on and that was about it. Now I make almost all of my costumes.”
That’s 29-year-old Megan Sky or Pepper LaRouge if she’s on stage. She says Pendragon mentored her from the start, teaching her how to do her makeup and showing her how to sew.
All of Big Mamma D’s performers are paid, but not enough for it to be a sole source of income. So what draws them in is much more personal.
“It’s something you’ve almost entirely created by yourself. You go out on stage and say 'this is my heart, this is my whole heart, I’m showing you all the bits, the creepy bits, and the funny bits, the intelligent bits and the dark and scary bits. Here it is with glitter.' I can't imagine not doing this anymore,” says Sky.
For the record, burlesque while involving some showing of the skin isn’t what you’d see in say…a gentlemen’s night club.
“It is a performance. It is theatrical. It is an illusion. It's a promise of, or anticipatory seduction.”
That’s Big Momma D. herself. She says while many of her performers in her cast have a background in dance or theater, it’s not necessary to have any previous entertainment experience to be successful at burlesque. You just have to want to learn.
“All we have to do is teach you how to be somewhat graceful and to express the personality that you’ve been keeping to yourself and express that on stage,” she says.
For 24-year-old Destiny Behringer, or Veronica Broadchest when she’s on stage, exploring that other side of her personality was an important reason for trying burlesque in the first place.
“Being a bigger girl, I’m not a cookie cutter. I’m not most people’s image of beauty so to be able to say: ‘look at me, I’m beautiful and I’m doing this,’ I’m able to do that more often in my real life,” says Behringer.
While Behringer has been with the troupe for less than a year, more seasoned performers like Meredith Sparkles (that’s her stage name) have been here for eight.
She says when she first started she was nervous and scared to interact with the audience. But now, it’s a different story.
She says the confidence and the rush burlesque gives her is more and more important.
“It’s hard to feel as sexy as a 20-year-old in your 40's as it was in your 20's. This type of industry you think it’s like a young person’s game. And I love the fact that I’m 43 and still playing it.”
And her mentor Pendragon loves that she’s able to give this creative outlet to the women and two men in her troupe.
She says the point from the very beginning wasn’t about making the big bucks; it was about making women feel good about themselves and putting on a great show.
"If I feel like this is something you love and it makes you feel great I’ll continue working with you whether or not you have this talent that you've brought to us," she says.
Everybody has a talent she says, the trick is figuring out what yours is.