Toronto’s burlesque scene is blowing up! The Canadian cultural hub has always been known for producing great art and its contributions to the burly world are certainly no exception. Some of the best performers that I saw at the Great Burlesque Exposition back in March hailed from Toronto and I was especially taken with St. Stella, who performed an amazing routine with James and the Giant Pasty at the Rhinestone Revue, the weekend’s opening show.
What set Stella apart for me was her obvious dance experience. While many burlesque performers have dance backgrounds, I’d never seen a performer incorporate classical dance moves so seamlessly into a burlesque routine. It gave her routine a sense of sophistication and grace that set it apart from anything else in the show that night.
I caught up with Stella for an interview about her experience, influences, the Toronto scene and her upcoming show Meet Me Under the Bleachers. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me and she even offered some advice to burlesque performers just getting started.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to present the lovely St. Stella. Enjoy!
I first saw you perform at The Great Burlesque Exposition and was impressed by your dance skills. Obviously you’ve had some training. What led you to burlesque?
I actually took dance my whole life. I started in ballet when I was three years old and stayed in it until 15, when I switched to modern dance for a couple of years. Dance was truly my first love. I only quit when I was informed my body wasn’t ‘right’ to be a professional dancer, a common plight for dancers. Then, in my early twenties – I was asked to be in my first burlesque show. It was a release of a fashion line through burlesque performance. I fell in love! From there I started researching the art, as well as volunteering at local shows and auditioning for local troupes.
Your routine also included Toronto boylesque performer James and the Giant Pasty. Have you worked together much? Is boylesque taking off in Toronto as much as it is elsewhere? What are your thoughts on men entering the burlesque world?
James and the Giant Pasty and I met at a show co-produced by BoylesqueTO and Skin Tight Outta Sight – Toronto’s first burlesque troupe. We’ve created a couple duets together since then, but our so-called ‘Art History’ act is definitely something we are both extremely proud of, having been invited to perform it in Ottawa, Montreal and New York.
As for men in the burlesque world, I couldn’t be more supportive! I recently attended the 2nd Annual Boylesque Festival in New York where all the members of BoylesqueTO performed both solo and as a group. I think part of the beauty of burlesque is that it embraces all kinds; men, women, and everyone in between.
You and James are also performing together for your upcoming show “Meet Me Under the Bleachers.” Can you tell us a little about the show?
I’m extremely excited for Meet Me Under the Bleachers! This show is produced by ‘A Platinum Production’ – consisting of myself, Belle Jumelles and Johnny B. Goode. We pride ourselves on presenting theatrical burlesque shows, featuring singing, dancing, storyline and of course striptease! We’re especially pumped for this one as we are at our favorite venue (3030 Dundas West), and we have a couple of VERY special guests.
You’re performing to a live band at Meet Me Under the Bleachers. What are the advantages to performing to a live band as opposed to canned music? Any disadvantages?
We are so lucky to have New Orleans style jazz/blues band Red Hot Ramble accompany us for this show. Having live music to perform to elevates the show to a whole other level. You really feel like you are in an old fashioned variety show. It charges the performers and the audience alike with a special energy – it’s a truly one of a kind experience. I embrace the spontaneity that live music can provide, though you definitely need to leave room for improvisation in your act!
What, do you feel, sets the Toronto burlesque scene apart from other scenes around Canada and the U.S.? Any other performers or troupes in Toronto that you feel really stand out?
Toronto is a truly special scene. Wherever we travel, I find people are so excited to have performers from Toronto. I think that our scene is one of the most diverse I’ve had the chance to witness. We have everything from great classic performers, to strange and fantastic ‘nouveau’ burlesque, to incredible group acts. Not to mention, a number of schools, a world-renowned festival and handfuls of great shows every month.We’re super excited to have one of the premiere performers in Toronto featured in Meet me under the Bleachers. Coco Framboise is one of the original innovators of the Toronto scene, and is a world-class performer. She is also headmistress of the Coco Framboise School of Burlesque – the ultimate in burlesque learning in Toronto. There wasn’t a question on who we should cast as our sexy principal for this one!
Who are some of your influences?
My influences definitely come from ballet (I worshiped Karen Kain as a young girl) and modern dance. I also love to incorporate elements of musical theatre, pop music videos, and my (not-so) secret obsession; 80’s dance movies, into my work. My burlesque heroes are definitely Dirty Martini and Michelle L’amour. I also adore the partner work of Trixie Little and The Evil Hate Monkey.
Do you have any advice for any dancers that are thinking of entering the world of burlesque?
I think that it’s important to remind people that come from a dance background that burlesque isn’t ONLY about dance talent. Burlesque is about the tease, about the story, about entertaining and leaving a little something to the imagination. Of course, it always helps to ‘have a gimmick’ – if you can bring your talent in dance, theatre, comedy, magic or costuming with you the the burlesque stage – you’re already one step ahead. To me it’s about being unique, about being you… but of course, the most glittery version of you.
Thanks Stella for taking the time to talk with us! If you’re in Toronto be sure to check out her upcoming show Meet Me Under the Bleachers on Friday, May 24. You can get tickets for this stellar (pun intended!) show right over here.
If you’re not in Toronto, don’t fear. Stella performs at burlesque festivals all over Canada and U.S. so she may be coming to one near you. Keep your eyes peeled for this up-and-coming burlesque star. See you all next week on the Tuesday Tease!
Photo of St. Stella by Toni Wallachy – Orangeroads Photography