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Fluffgirl Burlesque

     Below is an excerpt from an exclusive back-stage interview with Cecilia Bravo of the Canadian troupe The Fluffgirl Burlesque Society conducted before a rather rowdy show in Charleston, Illinois on April 23, 2005.

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Cecilia BravoJava's Bachelor Pad: Tell me a little about the Fluffgirl troupe.

Cecilia Bravo: Well, recently, since my focus has been on touring, I try and seek out other performers who have that same desire to perform and travel. So, we're all based in different cities.

JBP: Really?…How difficult is that to get everyone together?

CB: Well, everyone is so fabulous that after a couple of shows it's like we've been working together for years. It's difficult to arrange, but I think if everyone has the desire to do it...I guess it's just a matter of arranging your own personal life and committing to it. But, getting together is just the matter of a plane ride away.

JBP: What I'm always interested in is how gals nowadays get introduced to burlesque. And not only that…take that next step and want to do it themselves. Where did you discover burlesque and what made you want to do it.

CB: Basically, through the sort of culture I was involved in. I was involved in the lounge and rockabilly scenes and I had an affinity to the fashion of the 30’s and the 40’s and the music. I was record shopping one day and I found a “Las Vegas Grind” record. This was in ’96 and I came across this record. And the art attracted me to the album. I think it was COOP, and I was like “whoa…cool art.” Then I looked at it and it was “Las Vegas Grind…1950’s striptease music.” I thought that sounds interesting. I flipped over the back and they had these old photographs of striptease artists in a cheesy 50’s Las Vegas club. So, I took it home and I had a girlfriend of mine there and we're just listening to the record. I was like, this is so cool. I'd love to dress up and go see a show like this. Sit down and watch these girls shaking it while I was having a drink wearing some lovely gown and gloves. That was another thing, there was just not enough places for me to go. I had a lot of vintage dresses just because I love these clothes, but I didn't have anywhere appropriate to wear them. I had a friend who started putting on lounge nights and that was the only place I would go out to. It got to the point I'd even go to punk rock shows with beehives from the night before…from the lounge night. I guess I'm the type of person if something is not happening and I want to do something, I take the initiative to do it. And it took a while. My friend said why don't you put on something on like this. This is your thing. I used to, more in a private setting for my boyfriend, I'd do my little stripteases (laughs) in vintage lingerie and things like that. So, I had the idea in my head and I just started talking to people and it literally took a year for me to do this. Originally, I didn't even want to perform because I was just terrified of stage. I would never speak in front of a microphone in front of people. I couldn't even do interviews or anything. I just wasn't my intention. I thought I would produce this and create this environment so I can just sit there and enjoy it.

JBP: But something pushed you onto the stage.

CB: Yes. The fact that we had two performers and someone bailed out and I had commitments. I thought, well, I have to come up with some routines to create a show and that's why I did it. That kind of pushed me to emcee as well. (laughs) Just out of necessity. So I did it and I was scared to death. I watched my first video and I'm looking at the ground but I performed a routine and people were screaming. I can't remember what I did. I took one thing off and everyone went wild. It was just such a rush. I guess that adrenaline rush of being on stage and having people scream at you. That was exciting. After that I just kept working at it and it motivated me to continue on with it. And I've been doing it ever since.

Cecilia BravoJBP: Well, the interesting thing about the modern burlesque gals, what you read in books and what you get when you talk to them, is this real sense of empowerment. This personal empowerment that they find doing it. 

CB: Yeah. It feels good. I don't know…everyone has a different motivation, but people like to be center of attention. Like I said it's an adrenaline rush. You can put whatever label you want on it, but that's how it is being in control. You're doing something. You have control over you acts and what's happening as opposed to like in strip clubs. From what I know about strip clubs, a lot of stripper that I know they'll say they need to do the 15-minute…the three songs and it leads to the throwing the blanket on the floor and rolling around. It's more of a time thing. They don't really have a lot of artistic or creative control in their acts. I've known burlesque performers who work in strip clubs and they were literally like told not (to)…one girl she would go down completely naked but she would go out in burlesque costumes and pasties. She was told she couldn't do that. You can't wear those things on your nipples and all that. That's not very empowering when someone is restricting your creativity and your personality. So, I guess in that sense, yeah it is empowering to go up (on stage) and do you thing. The only restrictions I have in my show is that I want it to be burlesque. It's not like you can go up there and do whatever you want. I've gone to so-called burlesque nights in New York and saw a guy reciting poetry as he's shaving someone's pussy. And I'm just thinking that's performance art and it's really New York. Don't call it burlesque. If I'm going to a show to see something that's burlesque I'd expect to see (burlesque). There’s a fine line. I like the more avant-garde, modern takes on burlesque. I like the traditional acts. But it got to the point where I used to be very traditional with stuff but you get to the point after eight years you get bored and you expand your ideas. Also, we're in a different time. Burlesque from the 20’s and 30’s is not going to be same now because there are different points of references…politically, socially…the humor back then just doesn't work. If you use those old burlesque skits now they just wouldn't be funny. Because we're touring we don't have this 15-person show. It's not impossible; it's just extremely expensive. But we in incorporate all those elements of traditional burlesque into the show that you'll see tonight with just the four of us. So, I guess you could say less is more. (laughs). Less is more…so that's why we take it off!

JBP: You said you've been doing this for eight years. How long has the troupe been together?

CB: It's kind of a rotating troupe. I was based in Vancouver and I had a regular cast for years. I moved to Toronto and when I decided I wanted to break some ground in touring and recreating the old-style burlesque circuit all the people I was working with just weren't able to commit to that. Or the people that I'd know for years, I'd go out on tour with them and they just couldn't handle touring. They couldn't handle the schedule, the drives, and the performing late, or the being away from their boyfriends or whatever the case was or work commitments. A lot of the performers were either students or had really intense jobs that they couldn't take time away from. If you look at my website, there's a mission statement. What we do is seek out performers who have the sort of same motivation to tour and travel and perform. They are people who will call themselves performers but just to go out and perform a few times a year in your own city. But real performers in the heyday of burlesque toured and there's a big difference. You can be in your comfort zone. When I was having my regular burlesque night I developed this crowd. People would go there expecting to see a certain thing, so there would always be a packed house and everyone would always be cheering. I find now I've been working with much better, more skilled performers that have been doing it for so long. Obviously, you doing it after eight years you're going to be better. I just find you go to all these different places. We've gone to the U.K. and to small areas where people have never even seen burlesque and you get a completely different reaction to the same show in every city. It really teaches you a lot about what it takes and it brings you down a notch.

JBP: You hone your craft.

CB: Exactly. It's really interesting. I think those are the real burlesque performers in my book. I have a lot of respect for people like Indra (editor's note: A fellow Fluffgirl troupe member). She sings. She emcees. She's funny. Well, I think she is, but we're weird. (laughs) We have a bizarre sense of humor. Indianapolis was the first city that laughed at every single one of our jokes…even when they weren't suppose to laugh. We have little set-ups where everyone is silent and then we say this…and they would laugh. So, I don't know what happened. Something just clicked. Maybe they just get us. I don't know. But, it's a different level of performance and performer and that's what I want to be around and create. In that sense the troupe (works with) different performers. We work with the same people, but like I said it's really difficult for people to commit to a month of touring…going away from their jobs, their homes, their mortgages, or whatnot. So, we're just sort of leaving that open and trying to find a certain type of person or performer as opposed to having this regular troupe.

JBP: Who inspires you? Who do you look on to get inspiration from? Both, I guess, modern and classic.

Cecilia BravoCB:I look to a lot of people. With a lot of old burlesque performers I will like their image or something like that, but I don't really know them personally, so that doesn't inspire me. I'd have to say Indra inspires me because she is able to do so much. I can see how she works and it's something that inspires me to be more creative because there's someone I can bounce off of. 

JBP: So, you're just finding your own style. You're just taking it all in.

CB: Yeah. I like the fact that Gypsy Rose Lee was a burlesque performer yet she very business-minded and very intelligent and she crossed over…crossed that boundary from the world of strippers to high-class society. She bridges a gap there. So, I respect that and I thought that was cool. She wasn't the most beautiful burlesque performer or anything like that, but she really accomplished a lot. So, I'd say I find that really inspiring because that's what I would like to do. Lili St. Cyr…I just love her because she's gorgeous. She looks like a cat. That doesn't really inspire me. I just love the way she looks (laughs). 

JBP: She was always big with the over-the-top glamour.

CB: Yeah, I just love that. I like glamour. I think everyone likes to see the full package. Like with Gypsy Rose Lee, she had something else. She had other kind of presence. 

JBP: She would actually talk to her audience during her routine.

CB: Yeah. She would do a little monologue and poems and take the pins out of her dress. And she wrote books…G-String Murders. I have one of the original copies and I actually like the story line. So, yeah. To me what I'm trying to promote burlesque performers as classy, intelligent women…not little girls…just real women who have this life experience and are doing something else in their lives. 

JBP: So, where do you see this going? Where do you see the continuation of this?

CB: Depends on the day you ask me (laughs). 

JBP: Some days you just want to pack it up…

CB: Yeah…After every tour we're like this is the last tour, but then it just gets bigger and bigger. In the end, I think everyone loves to perform and loves to be on stage and that's all our motivations. In the end that's what drives everyone. 


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