Burlesque can be a hobby, but rarely a career. You won’t rake in serious cash the way a talented stripper might; but then again, burlesque is more sophisticated and distinctive. It’s about teasing, not pleasing. It’s an art form, personal and particular to every performer. Plus, it’s empowering for women. Historically, burlesque wasn’t tailored to skinny bombshell types, but instead celebrated the fuller, curvaceous feminine figure. Corrina Llopart (stage name COCO BLU), a burlesque dancer based in Taos, New Mexico, periodically visits Durango to teach classes and perform (she says she gets great feedback here). Llopart has performed with Jesse Ogle and Ashley Edwards of Hello, Dollface, and will be featured in the band’s upcoming music video.
For Llopart, burlesque is more than just taking off your clothes, which is a common misconception; it also involves props, costumes and a creative narrative. Burlesque is traditionally intended to be humorous, parodying or caricaturing more serious work, so Llopart’s routines are part-erotica, part-comedy. Her outfit removal depends on her routine; sometimes she’ll only take off her gloves, and other times she’ll strip down to pasties and a thong. In the coming year, Llopart hopes to start a burlesque troupe in Durango, where women of all sizes and ages will be welcomed. (And don’t worry, guys – apparently “boylesque” is a thing, so you just might get your chance to climb on stage and shake what your mother gave you).
How did you get involved with burlesque?
I didn’t know about burlesque until I moved to Taos four years ago. I joined roller derby first, and one of my teammates was doing it. I started going to some classes, and began from the bottom up, with no dance background. You don’t need any dance training.
What makes burlesque different or more highbrow than stripping?
Nowadays, there are certain styles of burlesque where it’s hard to tell the difference. One of the jokes I like to tell is: “Exotic dancers make money, and burlesque dancers make costumes.” A lot of the difference lies in having a storyline to your dance or skit. Burlesque isn’t necessarily removing clothes all of the time – you don’t have to get down to pasties. You have room to make it your own. There was a routine I did a few years ago that was a magic show, where I only took off my gloves and a [small sweater]. That whole thing was interacting with the crowd, and making them feel included. You have a different personal experience with the crowd than an exotic dancer on [someone’s] lap might.
So burlesque is about entertaining an audience, not merely arousing them. What makes people go see a show?
A lot of people are confused, and think they’re going to see naked women. But keeping an audience entertained and teased is a big part of it. We bring variety; each show has a different theme. This past New Year’s, our theme was musicals. We’ve done a circus theme and a time travel theme. Our audience is getting more of an adventure, not just ladies stripping.
How does burlesque empower women?
You have the freedom to do whatever you’re comfortable with. Not everybody is comfortable stripping down to nothing but pasties and a thong. You can be as covered up as you wish, and still have a fantastic piece. Even though I’m a slender woman, I have a lot of issues feeling comfortable with my body; and being able to be on stage, and take an article of clothing off, and knowing in my mind I am doing this for me, I’m showing you this because I’m choosing to, can help you feel more comfortable in your skin. And maybe even try something a little more risqué the next time.
When people are watching you perform, you don’t feel objectified because you’re calling the shots and deciding how much you want to take off. Strippers have to follow certain guidelines for pleasing their customers.
Exactly. Of course, we’ll still get people in the crowd who are there to ogle us. But as long as you know that’s a small percentage, and the rest of the crowd is appreciating what you’re doing and not objectifying you, that makes a bigger impact.
How would you encourage women who want to try burlesque, but feel silly or unsexy or insecure about their bodies?
In the group I dance with, we have a couple women who are in their 50s and 60s. They have their own following! But I’m probably the smallest person in my group. Burlesque was intended to celebrate all figures. Nobody ever has to be on stage alone, either; you can always do a group dance, and not take a lot off. It’s more practicing how to take off certain things. I’m bringing a bunch of props to my classes in Durango; small feather fans, boas. Props make it a lot easier … when you have a prop, there’s something for the audience to constantly look at.
Strippers do some incredible athletic feats on the pole. Is burlesque less of an intensive workout, or can you break a sweat?
You can get a good workout. I’m at the point where I’ve made my group dances a lot more challenging. There’s even some classes called “burlesquercise.”
Is burlesque different in America than in other countries?
It’s probably a lot harder here to be racy. Not just in getting down to nothing, but in a comedy skit – a lot more stuff is considered offensive here. Other countries can be more loyal to burlesque’s roots. It mainly started out as the poor making fun of the rich, and then it turned into song and dance. Only within the past probably 30 or 40 years has it turned into people asking, “What is the difference between burlesque and stripping?”
Do you make your own costumes?
I make 50 percent of my accessories. A lot of us tend to make our own. I’m a seamstress, so it’s fun for me. It’s sometimes cheaper to make your own, but more time-consuming. We don’t really make money, so it’s hard to buy a $50 jeweled bra.
Burlesque dancers don’t get paid? What about tips?
You can definitely ask for tips, I’ve done that. I’ve also produced a lot of the shows my group puts on, and so much goes into that. We end up spending more on the studio space, the stage sets and our stage hands. When it comes down to it, the dancers and choreographers can walk away with maybe $50 to $100, depending on the night. It’s hard to cover all of your costs with that.
What’s the appropriate age level for your classes and shows? Can kids watch?
Our shows haven’t been that racy. There are only a couple of us who are comfortable going down to pasties and shaking everything. With the way burlesque is often done now, it’s almost a race to take off what you have, and I don’t think that’s appropriate for anyone under 18. But with our shows in Taos, even youngsters want to come, and many of their parents know how to explain it to them. Our venue is family-friendly.
Can men participate?
Oh yeah. It’s more women-specific, but I’ve had my partner do a “boy-lesque” dance. Men performers can be even more popular than the women. People go nuts for the guys out there!