There are many different approaches to burlesque within Chicago, ranging from classic "wink & a smile" acts to savage performance art.
Although many may argue about what the term "burlesque" means, there's no doubt that when an artist is successful at their art, they
have the power to influence the artists around them. When we take responsibility for the quality of the acts we present on stage - regardless
of the style - we show that we respect our fellow artists and our audience. In addition to building a sense of community and encouraging a
dialogue of honest feedback, I would like to challenge the artists in our community to up their game. To that end, every Friday, I will
introduce you to a performer within the Chicago burlesque community that I admire. Enjoy!
Find Out More about Other Chicago Burlesque Performers
Chicago Burlesque: Spotlight on The Flaming Dames
by Red Hot Annie
What I admire about The Flaming Dames is their organization and dedication to group-oriented performance. The Flaming Dames bring a dance-heavy, rock-n-roll dance approach to burlesque. I'll be interviewing Leslie Kerrigan, Creator and Artistic Director, on behalf of The Flaming Dames.
Name: The Flaming Dames
Height: Ranges from 5'2'' to 6 feet
Zodiac Sign: lol...all of them?
Hometown: The Dames are from all over the place, but mostly from the Midwest.
Burlesque Specialty: Rock and Roll burlesque & group numbers
Favorite Color: Black, red & white and anything that sparkles ;)
Favorite Cocktail: Whiskey & "SoCo & Lime"
Favorite Quote: If you can't deal with a woman at her worst, then you damn well don't deserve her at her best. ;)
Pet Peeve: Sloppy, upolished dancing, poor production quality and bad flow.
RHA - Where are you from?
I'm from Livonia, Michigan just outside of Detroit, MI. My Dames range from all over the place —Chicago natives, city and suburbs, Connecticut, Wyoming, Texas, Iowa, California, Wisconsin and the list goes on.
RHA - When and how did you find out about burlesque?
I grew up as a pageant kid, and I was pretty much raised in a dance studio where I was constantly training for some pageant or dance competition, where everything had to be perfect all the time, the dance, your body, your attitude, your hair, your smile, your everything...and to say that having to be that way is exhausting, (especially as a young girl) is a huge understatement.
When you're 9 years old and you have some dance instructor or pageant judge say "she just doesn't have a ballerina's body", or to bust your ass prepping for a big dance competition, and then actually have a judge write on your score sheets "dances too sexy"...it sort of messes with your head a bit. Eventually, as I grew up, and I truly came into my own as a performer, and I realized that I didn't have to only ever be a prima ballerina in order to be a successful dancer, that it WAS possible to do it my way and be truly happy, was when the wheels started turning in my head to show off the fact that no...I don't have a ballerina's body, but that I'm still a good dancer regardless, and I'm still interesting and entertaining to watch on stage.
To celebrate the fact that I have boobs and I have hips and an awesomely juicy booty rather than to hide those things or kill myself trying to keep my body as small as possible; was a liberating realization and kind of where burlesque started to emerge for me personally as an art form that I was made for. Vaudeville, burlesque & The Golden Age of Hollywood are my favorite eras.
I'm sure I first read about [burlesque] when I was a teenager, and thought it was naughty and taboo and completely thrilling and of course I was immediately into it. When I started the Dames 9 years ago, I sort of made it my mission to instill that confidence and self-appreciation into my girls.
RHA - How would you describe your approach to burlesque?
The Flaming Dames’ approach isn’t really considered "classic" burlesque, but I do try really hard to keep the same general essence of the “ old school” by poking fun at current-day trends and things in pop culture, while putting my own unique twist in there. It’s pretty solidly based in rock-n-roll with really big production numbers, really big spectacle and really big attitude from my girls. We're very "in-your-face"—some might even say aggressive—but it's all done with healthy optimism, lots of tongue-in-cheek stuff.
The precise and polished group dance/group strip is really where I think my Dames shine and has sort of become a bit of a trademark for us. I'm a huge stickler for very tight, organized, and frequent group rehearsals and we've got a strict attendance policy. I do work their assess off, but it's all for the greater good of the group, which really is what The Flaming Dames are all about. It ends up not just paying off for us onstage but also inter-personally, it builds a really strong team mentality for The Dames. So I guess to answer that fully is The Flaming Dames' approach to burlesque is one that encompasses a small nod to classic in more subtle ways, but is twisted more obviously with more modern, upbeat rock and roll, with big, polished group dance dance numbers and big attitude. I'm a bit of a freak about actually dancing. It's totally because of my background, but if you're going to attach "dancer" to any part of your name or title, THEN DANCE!!! I'm totally fine if a gal isn't a "perfect" dancer, (I've always said that. None of us are supposed to be perfect...that's the point in playing up your strengths as a dancer that does burlesque), but don't walk around the stage and do nothing...DANCE!! MOVE!! Shake it ladies!!!
RHA - Who are some of your favorite local performers and why?
I'm in complete and total love with the Stagedoor Johnnies. Again, it's that group dance thing. When the three of them are on stage together, they just really shine. Very impressive. Siren Jinx is a big favorite of mine personally; I love how fully theatrical she is and her stage presence is just captivating. Girl can sing, dance and act and is one of those true "triple threats", I gravitate to performers like that. Donna Touch is a big favorite, I can tell she's trained so of course, I dig all of her stuff. Natasha Minx, Lady Jack, well, the list could go on, as I think Chicago has some huge , huge burlesque talent here. Really, any gal that can be sexy and funny and powerful, that can dance will totally turn my head. And again, I don't care if her dancing isn't perfection, as long as she DANCES...whatever that means for her!
RHA - What are your goals in performing?
My goal in performing and for my Dames is to continue to produce original, interesting, in-your-face shows that fully encompass what it means to get to call yourself a burlesque dancer. There's a new climate of burlesque in the air, and I like to say "everyone and their purse dog is doing burlesque nowadays"; and I do feel that it's gotten slightly diluted. I mean, don't get me wrong at all, the more burlesque, the better, but I feel like people need to step up their game. If you're going to say you're a burlesque dancer, then BE that. Just because you're an exhibitionist and like to take off your clothes doesn't necessarily mean you're a burlesque dancer. I firmly believe that if you can be captivating enough on stage, DESPITE showing your boobs, then you should show your boobs...but stripping shouldn't be used as a crutch in order to entertain.
Be entertaining your bras on, then when you take the bras off...you will will blow minds. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to the craft to do this correctly. The Dames and I plan to keep working as hard, if not harder to keep producing new and interesting work. We also plan on moving around a bit more geographically, I mean Chicago will always be our home, but we've got plans to "get the show on the road" as it were.
RHA - What are some of your hobbies outside of burlesque?
I LOVE to do absolutely positively nothing. Is that sad?? lol.
In all seriousness though, once I'm nice and bored of "nothing", My degree is in professional photography, so I also shoot pin up photography when I have a minute.. I tend to cook and bake a lot. I also write erotic and romantic fiction. I read smut novels a lot (yes, I love bad romance novels...lol...don't judge) I love rock shows so when I'm not "Dames Busy", I'm probably at or on my way to a rock show.
My Dames all have such interesting "outside of burlesque" pursuits too. We’ve got a Social Worker who makes handmade clocks out of old books that she travels around to various art fairs and festivals. . Yet another Dame of mine teaches theater to children. Another sells adult toys and blogs about sexual wellness, We’ve got new moms but one is an accomplished cabaret singer and the other has a degree in classical theater and works for a contracting firm by day. When she has free time, she pursues rock and roll and finding the perfect Guinness. Another loves, LOVES to cook and she's also a mom, a professional copywriter and working musician. My music manager, Meagan Piccochi is one of THE most talented composers I've ever met and is currently getting one of her original musicals produced next year and she's an avid collector of vinyl and loves to paint & sketch. Another loves to garden, Yet another is a singing waitress on a cruise ship and she's a professional Wonder Woman impersonator and hires herself out for kid's birthday parties. We also have a vet tech who’s into yoga and is an award winning horseback rider. I honestly could go on and on about my girls, their interests are so diverse!
RHA - How would you describe your family's reaction to your performing?
Not surprised in the least. My family is really supportive of anything that I do that makes me happy. My mom and dad think The Dames are awesome. They love it when we travel to Detroit for gigs, cuz then they get to dote on the girls. My brothers (of course) totally dig Dames shows. So, I'm extremely lucky to come from such an understanding and supportive, (and liberal) family in that regard.
I know that it wasn't that easy for many of my gals. Some of their families still struggle with them "taking off their clothes" and wonder "why can't you just keep yourself covered but still do the dancing part?" Other families think this "burlesque thing" is just a phase, yet others are totally cool with it and in fact are huge fans and supporters of The Dames and look for ways they can help out and assist with promoting. I've had mothers over the years thank me for providing such an empowering platform for their daughters, and they absolutely love what we do. It's actually kind of all over the place, but none of the families are out and out angry or so weirded out by it that they refuse to acknowledge what we do; they all support in their own way and in general, are happy that their daughters, sisters, etc. are excited about The Flaming Dames and feel as though they've found a supportive platform to own who they are as performers.
RHA - Where's the best place for fans to find out more about you?
Our website: TheFlamingDames.com or on our facebook fan page
Find Out More about Other Chicago Burlesque Performers