Two hundred aspiring burlesque starlets, notebook-wielding producers, stage kittens (aka "pickup artists," aka "the people who pick up discarded clothing"), and sage sex workers swarmed the downtown Quality Inn & Suites last week for BurlyCon—the third annual international burlesque convention. Founded by Miss Indigo Blue (Academy of Burlesque) and Jo Boobs (headmistress of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook), the conference is both a mixer and serious business. Registration fees start around $100—not outrageous, but not cheap, which helps discourage the gawkers and glamour girls. Unlike other international burlesque events, BurlyCon has no pageant or titles to compete for, which removes performance pressure and allows participants to roll up their sleeves and choose an agenda. Performers from Portland to Australia wandered the hotel's dingy halls in bandannas and sweatpants—their faces scrubbed clean, schedules in hand, eager to learn the business of being naked.
In a lively, 20-point lecture on how to work the stage, Tigger! (NYC) called for a moratorium on kitsch (specifically, Styx's "Mr. Roboto") and admonished entertainers who blame the audience for lackluster shows: "Your audience is a bunch of eager bottoms—they want it!"
During the four days, show people mingled with curious newbies and women less interested in seducing a crowd than in elevating their own self-confidence. Learning that elusive quality from those who project it—seemingly at all times—can be transformative. "Every year, no matter what level you're at, you get something out of it," Seattle soloist Iva Handfull explains. "I did a peer review last year, knowing my act wasn't very exciting. It wasn't... holy-shit good. I came away realizing I didn't have to fill every beat, every syllable of a song; I learned how to stop and really let the audience see me."
"BurlyCon gives you a real sense that the people involved in the neo-burlesque movement really think about their art," says Heidi Von Haught (cofounder of the now disbanded Von Foxies and a BurlyCon programming-committee member). "I'm always blown away by how much it gets my brain working."
BurlyCon 2010 reached maximum capacity; the next BurlyCon will be held at the Sea-Tac Doubletree, Oct 20–23, 2011.