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The art of burlesque dancing for Standing Rock

Kanien’kehá:ka performer Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière will hit the stage tonight at the Wiggle Room. (Courtesy Lauren Jiles)

Across Canada and the United States, Onkwehón:we have organized events to raise funds and supplies for water protectors in Standing Rock opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

There have been donation collections, comedy shows, powwows, and even t-shirt and tattoos for sale with proceeds going to the cause.

Tonight, Indigenous burlesque performers are banding together to show support for the cause by doing what they do best: the art of the strip and tease.

Indecent for the Indigenous” opens tonight at the Wiggle Room featuring Kahnawa’kehró:non Lou Lou la duchesse de Rière, Onkwehón:we performance artists Kitty Kin Evil, Harlow Holiday, Ivanie Aubin-Malo, Marie-Celine Einish, as well as Montreal burlesque dancers Elle Diabloe, Sugar Vixen and Baron von Styck.

“It’s going to be a really unique show. We have a lot of different types of performers coming in from all over,” said la duchesse, who goes by Lauren Jiles by day. “Every once in a while we get to do fundraisers. We have a pretty unconventional profession – we’re burlesque producers and dancers, but we felt it was an opportunity to give back.”

Jiles is co-producing the show with Montreal’s Baron von Styck. They said 100 percent of the show’s profits would be donated to Standing Rock.

“We’re really in a time of change right now. Just to see the strength of our brothers and sisters going down, fighting for this cause, is so moving,” said Jiles. “It is something that is crucial for our survival on this planet because the preservation of clean water sources is beyond important. To contribute and to support that is super important.”

The show is also an opportunity to showcase several First Nations performance artists. In addition to Jiles, the bill includes two other burlesque performers, as well as two contemporary dancers Jiles met on the powwow trail. 

“If we’re going to be supporting and raising funds for a First Nations cause, I would like to showcase as many First Nations artists as I can and we’re not that many in our industry,” said Jiles.

“We’re sprinkled all over, so I was really adamant about pulling our resources to try to bring as many women here.”

Kanien’kehá:ka Talia Shenandoah, who goes by the name Harlow Holiday on stage, said she was honoured to be asked to participate.

Talia Shenandoah brought her glamour and feminine ferocity to the Empire Burlesque Festival in Ithaca, New York last March. (Courtesy Peter Korolov Photography)
Talia Shenandoah brought her glamour and feminine ferocity to the Empire Burlesque Festival in Ithaca, New York last March. (Courtesy Peter Korolov Photography)

“It’s also very important to advocate for Indigenous rights and I think it’s amazing that there are people who not only continuously support No DAPL but find creative ways to do so,” she told The Eastern Door.

Shenandoah, whose family is from Kahnawake, lives in Syracuse, New York and has been in the industry since traveling to New Orleans for their annual burlesque festival in 2014.

“I took my first few workshops and witnessed high-end burlesque productions live for the first time. Immediately I was hooked,” said Shenandoah.

“Knowing that there wasn’t much a scene in my hometown of Syracuse, New York, I sought out the advice and guidance of someone who ran a troupe and had built a scene in the past, thus the burlesque revival in Syracuse was born and I had found my ultimate passion.”

The 34-year-old said she was drawn to the art form because it allows her to be “free to learn how to face and conquer fear.”

Her day job, working with people living with HIV and Hepatitis C, also had a lot to do with it.

“My experience with burlesque would not be what it is today if not for the learning experiences provided in my work. I have spent the last approximately four years learning about different forms of trauma and how to heal from it, as well as hopefully inspire other people to do the same,” said Shenandoah.

“Burlesque allows you an opportunity to reclaim your power, your body, your sexuality. It allows the opportunity for expression and healing, and every time I step on the stage I learn something new about myself and what I am capable of.”

Audiences tonight can expect Shenandoah’s signature act, a classic style burlesque inspired by “glamour and pure feminine ferocity.”

“When I’m on stage I’m able to transform into the big personality I don’t always allow others to see day to day. It’s my release. Ultimately I am a big bold Mohawk woman and I’ll be bringing and giving my all!” she said.

“Indecent for the Indigenous” starts at 9 p.m. and doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($20 pre-sale or $25 at the door) can be purchased at the Wiggle Room’s box office online or by phone at 514-508-9465.

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