The Beauty of Burlesque: An interview with Lila Luxx
“I think what’s attractive about burlesque is that it’s inclusive…Provided you are over eighteen literally anyone can do burlesque. There is no requirement to join in a class, you don’t have to have a prerequisite of fitness or experience or height or weight or race or gender or anything at all. All bodies are burlesque bodies”
Lila Luxx is the head of the Brisbane’s Bombshell Burlesque Academy. In what turned out to be one of my most in-depth and fascinating camterviews, patent-pending, we discussed the academy, running a business during the pandemic, the ways in which burlesque challenges the notion of the perfect body and a bunch of other great stuff I simply didn’t have space for.
Lila began her creative career as a freelance Arts Producer, working with QPAC, the Brisbane Festival and many other fantastic events. In 2008 Lila attended a show titled ‘Feasting on Flesh’ starring Gypsy Wood and Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Windmill.
“Gypsy Wood writhing around in a giant vat of spaghetti and I was like I’d like to do that, please.”
Shortly afterwards Lila attended her first class at the Bombshell Burlesque and Beauty Academy. She took on the name Lila Luxx in 2010, by which time she had begun teaching at the academy. So quick was Lila’s rise to burlesque stardom that when the owner relocated in 2012 she asked Lila to take over the school. Initially, Lila’s response was something along the lines of “I don’t know, I don’t think so I don’t know what I’m doing.” but she followed this uncertainty with “…by 2014 I was the sole owner/operator and rebranded to the Bombshell Burlesque Academy.” Since then Lila has remained in her position at the Head of the Academy whilst also teaching classes and maintaining a close relationship with her students.
The Bombshell Burlesque and Beauty Academy was founded in 2010, meaning that this year is its tenth anniversary. In true 2020 fashion, their incredible show was not to be but the students have refused to give up hope. When Lila offered the already learnt routines to be torn apart to suit social distancing the answer was a resounding no. Her students would rather wait till this madness is all over and celebrate a decade of glitz, glamour and self-discovery in an appropriate way. Of course, keeping the business alive while students aren’t allowed to go anywhere near each other has been difficult. Lila combated social distancing with a variety of workshops and classes available online, including workshops from artists such as Zeila Rose and Bella De Jac. If you aren’t familiar with these titans of tassels, Zeila won 2019 no.1 burlesque performer in the world and often works with Dita Von Teese. Bella is a former Miss Australia Burlesque winner and now is a renowned artist in Melbourne. You could certainly say that Lila’s students are being well looked after in the absence of a studio. Sadly, the choreography, props and social aspect are all vital parts of the academy and the unclear nature of restrictions for the arts is not helping matters.
“A studio owner I was talking to was in South Australia and their regulations are changing and you can only have 10 people inside but must be socially distanced. But at the same time, competitive contact sport games can now go ahead. I don’t know how you would maintain a two-meter distance playing rugby or soccer. I don’t know how that actually applies and there’s the discussion of ‘well if it doesn’t apply in a game of rugby does it apply in a dance studio? Does it apply when you’re doing circus work and you need to spot someone? Where does it apply?’ It’s very very difficult.”
A year or so ago I worked for a company that sold vintage clothing and I regularly met students of the Bombshell Burlesque Academy. I remarked to Lila how vastly varied the students were. From young women with dark hair and pinpoint perfect make-up to middle-aged mothers in cardigans and comfortable shoes. Burlesque isn’t just for Dita Von Teese-esque brooding beauties but for anyone and everyone. As Lila said, “All bodies are burlesque bodies”. We also discussed the gender aspect of burlesque and though Lila said it wasn’t common for men to attend she also told me that, “…we do have people who identify as male who attend and we generally give them an option of costuming. If they want to wear something a little more masc or they can pop on a corset and heels as well.” Burlesque isn’t all fem feathers and suspender belts, it can change to accommodate anyone who wants to be a part of it.
While fabulous classes and positive body image are fantastic aspects of the Academy, there’s more lying below the beautiful veneer.
“I put a post up not long after this all happened. Any group of people you want to call a community, I tend to want to roll my eyes pretty violently. But I can’t describe what happened in the first few weeks as anything but community, it was incredible. When everything had to close down, it was literally overnight, we didn’t know what was happening there was no sign of government stimulus or anything like that it was just ‘you can’t work anymore’. That was really terrifying for a lot of us. Contracts cancelled, people having to fly home from interstate or overseas, trying to find funds for that, and what was absolutely incredible was seeing the people within the Brisbane burlesque community really rally and help people and in super practical ways. One of our gorgeous ladies Cece Shabam organised a Showgirl Chef initiative so you could nominate people who had lost a lot of work, who had lost all of their work or some of their work, and they were cooking and doing grocery deliveries, doing weekly drop-offs. I don’t really know how to classify that other than community.”
From mums to architects, to lawyers, to accountants, to girls who work in strip clubs, to retail workers. Lila told me that “any job you can imagine, odds are we have someone who does that job in our ranks”. These people all came together to look after each other during a time of crisis for the arts, and of course for the planet, which is pretty damn heartwarming. Cece’s initiative took off immediately and helped a good deal of people out of a difficult spot. This kind of thinking is what we need at the moment, reminding us that we aren’t really isolated.
As the conversation was inevitably bound to, because I ask the questions and decide where it’s going, the chat turned to body image. Listening to Lila talk about the social injustices of body image and how burlesque opens doors to the representation of all body types was fascinating. So fascinating in fact that I will be providing you with a rather large quote from the inspirational diva. I tried to edit it down but I felt it was just all too important;
“The reason we did a sexy chair dance this week is because I feel that burlesque may be one of the last bastions of inclusivity, in terms of body image at least. Because I feel like every generation has an ideal body type, and it changes and shifts. When I was a kid it was either heroin chic or an unattainable fit 90s models with no hips or bust. It changes all the time, at the moment it’s Kardashian slim thick, super flat toned tummy but giant bust and bottom. Which, I’m sure there is someone in the world where it’s like yes that’s me. I’m sure they exist somewhere. But I feel like for the majority of us, and frankly, even for the f***ing Kardashians, it’s not achievable without surgery, botox and a tonne of money. I feel like why I get passionate about people and everyone being able to be involved in burlesque is that we are creating representation for ourselves. Being able to see yourself back, or someone who looks like you, on a screen or on a poster or on a stage or whatever, there’s something really powerful in that. And allowing yourself to be powerful and be expressive and be feminine and feel good about yourself even though you don’t look like whatever is in a magazine or whatever is on Instagram. There is something intense and wonderful about taking back that power. I feel like the feminine ideal is more and more warped, I’m sounding like an old lady now, with these incredible perfect bodies that are still being edited. Edited to something that’s not natural and not human anymore. None of us can achieve that. So being able to see and being able to be the representation you want to see in the world, there’s something really powerful about it. If you look at the photos and the videos we post we have all different body types. All different body types are beautiful, all different genders are beautiful, there is really not one ideal. I feel like that’s why, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in the UK as well, the people in the upper echelons of burlesque are all different people. You know, there’s men, women, tall people, short people, all different sizes, all different races and there is something powerful in that.”
The extent of my input during this section of the conversation primarily consisted of awed nodding, because Lila pinpointed exactly why I adore burlesque. She hit the glittery nail directly on the head. As women, we are forced into this unnatural and painful mould that doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes you just want to be yourself, celebrate yourself and feel damn sexy without anyone commenting, sneering or grimacing. Pop on your stockings and dance you beautiful creature! You deserve it!
If you want to become a part of the fabulous Bombshell Burlesque Academy their online courses have just started! Here’s a little promo info straight from Lila:
•••Four week online courses start next week!•••
Chairdance, Rhythm Nation, Bump Grind & Shimmy and 1960’s GoGo Dance are all open level courses so they’re perfect for anyone wishing to join in from the comfort of their own home!
Check out all the details at www.bombshellacademy.com.au/timetable for more info and join us for some (virtual) glamour, giggles and glitter!
In-studio classes are also about to be released alongside online workshops! Head to https://www.bombshellacademy.com.au/ for more information.
Lila Luxx is also running a free online workshop that can be accessed with a donation to any charity supporting Indigenous Australians on Tuesday 9th June. You can view more information here.
If you’d like to learn more about the vivacious CeCe Shabam and all of her amazing work you can visit her website.