Tag Archives: burlesque

Women in Horror: Danica Lorer

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteStoryteller, poet, TV show host Danica Horror talks today about researching scary tales to tell and captivating your audience. From Canada, here’s Danica for Women in Horror Month.

Staged Fright

The first time I told a story in front of a burlesque audience I was terrified. New audiences always make me nervous, but this was different; this time I didn’t have the option of picturing them naked. In moments, they would be seeing the performers stripping off almost everything! It was a Menagerie Burlesque Company show called “Dirty Birds, Dirty Words” and they booked dancers and spoken word poets and storytellers. I was scared; this audience was there for the skin, I was offering raw words instead of bare flesh and keeping my clothes on. I soon learned that burlesque audiences are some of the best for story. They are vibrating with anticipation, they are fully engaged in what is going on in front of them, and they are ready to follow you wherever you take them.

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Danica performing “The Bride Wore Black.”

The Rosebud Burlesque Club also invites variety acts to perform with them. They put out calls for their theme shows throughout the year. When they advertised for their Peek-A-Boo Halloween show in 2016 I pitched a ghost story. The venue is a desanctified church now serving as a dance studio. It was perfect—what’s better than a creepy little white church with a bright red door to serve as a home for a lost soul? Out of respect I asked the owner if the church was haunted and when she said it wasn’t my imagination took over. “The Bride Wore Black” is a story with creepy sensory revelations rooted in the teenage date night memories of boys taking girls out into the country and stopping at little churches and graveyards to frighten them into their arms. As I told it to the crowd I could see the audience members’ eyes shine, the shivers, and the wariness. I played with words, appealed to the sense of nostalgia, and offered a facepaint reveal at the end.

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Danica Lorer’s bride reveals the truth of her tale.

Once you’ve scared or even unsettled an audience, they begin to expect something more. The next year I began researching local ghost stories. The Saskatoon (Canada) Storytelling Guild was moving its monthly circles from a Unitarian Centre to a downtown pub. Our first night in the new place was near the end of October and the host had chosen the theme “Spirits.” It made perfect sense. We had been meeting in a spiritual centre, we were moving into a place known for its liquid spirits, and I was pretty sure the place could be haunted. I thought about the tales friends had told about their experiences at the city’s oldest hotels and did a little research about the historic Senator Hotel. I knew that the basement, where we would be meeting, had recently been opened after years of being sealed closed. Again, the setting for the gathering made its way into the story. The basement is dank and dark, the walls are crumbling brick, there are rooms and tunnels, and strange hisses and clanks. I found out a little about Jimmy Flanagan, the hotel’s first owner and how he died young and had been very popular. I was delighted to find out he was reputed to be a storyteller himself. My google search revealed that a paranormal investigation team had spent an uncomfortable and eventful night filming in one of the rooms for their TV program. I also had a foggy memory of friends stopping over for breakfast after staying in the hotel and telling me how disturbing their night had been. I texted both of them independently to find out more. She replied that they had felt “bad vibes” in room 22, that her normally calm and loving partner woke up angry and yelling with no recollection of it the next day. “That room does not make me feel comfortable or safe,” she said. When I asked him if he had ever experienced anything spooky there, he replied, “Nope. Some evil hangovers.” I had a story for the guild and the location couldn’t be more perfect for the telling.

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Sometimes creepy dolls follow where you go.

When the Rosebud’s put out a call for their next Peek-A-Boo burlesque show subtitled “Scared Shirtless” I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. My daughter had a toy doll that talked, sometimes in the middle of the night when no one was around. It had to be moved from the toy box to the backyard.  I had seen many staring at me while visiting historical museums, and I could barely touch them in thrift stores. I decided to write a story bringing together the misplaced doll with the hotel themes. There was enough truth about our downtown core in the story that it connected immediately to the audience. I know dozens of people who are terrified of dolls and to make things even creepier I found a previously loved vintage curly-haired baby to set at the back of the performance space. I was told later that she kept several people from sitting in her section and that her eyes seemed to follow them throughout the space. I chose to dress as a creepy doll and finished the story staring ahead with a soft and high “Mama.”

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Danica Lorer becomes a doll.

It is incredibly satisfying to share something scary with a live audience, with low lights, and the naturally creepy sounds that seem to amplify when you let the silences creep in and you listen a little closer. I bring my own fears intensified by the audience, the space we’re in, and the shared contagious energy that flows through a group focused on one voice. I love to imagine how readers will react to what I put down on the page, but I adore the rush of seeing their instant reaction from the stage as we experience the story together. Storytelling isn’t just for kids and horror is an incredible genre for the art form.

Happy Creepy Women in Horror Month to you all!

Danica Lorer has spent the past twenty years as a professional storyteller. She has been struck by lightning, a moose, a rogue semi-tire, vehicles, and the odd strange idea. She is a freelance writer, workshop facilitator, face and body painter, poet, and the host of Shaw’s literary arts program “Lit Happens.” She has been published in untethered, Poetry All Over the Floor, Grain, release any words stuck inside of you, and Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland.

 You can hear Danica storytelling at the beginning of this piece. Her literary arts TV show Lit Happens has 9-minute interviews with local authors.  

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Screaming Chicken’s Burlesque: How Much is Fowl?

stripping, striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque

Gypsy Rose Lee, a 1930s beauty, was the queen of burlesque, using elegance and modesty for her striptease.

The title should help in narrowing this down. Yes, it is burlesque. And screaming chickens? Not so much, but it does aid the audience n knowing what they’re getting into. Burlesque, according to Wikipedia is “a literary, dramatic or musical works intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects.” It developed into meaning a parody, farce or exaggeration and was used by everyone from Shakespeare to Strauss. Comedy, bad puns, juxtaposing modern styles against classical ones, mixing operettas and literary works and theatrical elements are all historically part of burlesque.

American burlesque involved more acts; variety shows, wrestlers, exotic dancers, magicians, singers and chorus numbers, to name a few. The exotic or cooch dancers began to become a focus. Singers showed off their shapes while wearing elaborate costumes and eventually they were supplanted by striptease. Hence, when many of us hear the term “burlesque” we think of Gypsy Rose Lee, giant feather fans and stripping. Remember that it’s striptease and not just stripping. I have seen both and there is quite a difference since some strippers are already wearing nothing and at the most brutish of the “dances” had women slide along poles and writhe on the floors in mimicry of sexual acts more than as a dance.

I included a bit of the background so that my short and somewhat tardy review of the Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society’s 10th Anniversary Burlesque show makes some sense. Not that sense is the biggest thing in burlesque. Fun and silliness is. The show was held at the end of June at the WISE Hall and opened with a long nautical number done in a great vaudevillian and 50s style. Two women first came on stage in shimmery teal shorts and tops holding fans with silk attached (favored by bellydancers, exotic dancers and others). Then two more women came out in little shimmery skirts holding long silk veils. The four danced and then created waves with the silks. Next four women with mermaid tails danced out, “swam about” and then removed their shell bras to reveal starfish pasties covering their nipples. http://

Beluga / 2013-06-29 Screaming Chicken’s 10th Anniversary Spectacular from Screaming Chicken on Vimeo.

After those four disappeared a turtle, seahorse, seaweed, jellyfish, octopus and others danced into a much more silly piece, followed by the beluga whale and two fisherman. It didn’t end with this keystone kops farce, but advanced into the stranded beluga being rescued by three save-the-whale hippie, earth flower children. This long and involved piece was beautiful, goofy,  sensual and most of all fun. Not everyone stripped and most of that involved the removing of bras.

Other numbers through the night involved songs and dance, perhaps a few more pieces of clothing coming off as in one number at the end with two men in jailhouse orange and the woman guard. They were stripped down to their striped shorts. I believe they were new members who had taken a burlesque course. A proper Victorian husband and wife stood for a portrait but she had the (fake) pubic curls beneath her dress showing. The light went out and the next was the woman standing proper and the husband displaying his waistcoat and pants that went from floor to knee and nothing in between.

One of my favorites, besides the opening number, was the dogs playing poker. We’ve all seen the poster. Well, five women came out complete with ears, tails and tufts of fur peeking from their bras. They each had a spotlighted piece and then they danced, removed their bras and had them in their mouths, shaking them like stuffed toys. If I remember their pasties were bones.

Screaming Chicken burlesque, chorus line, dancers,

E. Vans crows are depicted in many forms including burlesque. Copyright Bill Ayers

There were men in power suits who stripped down and an old lady with a walker dancing it up. Another routine indicative of E. Van with its ubiquitous avian population was titled Crows, and was a great dance reminiscent of the corvids and jazz chorus numbers. In all the routines, the point wasn’t to strip and be naked, nor was there much of the striptease though some acts were sensual. In most cases bras were removed or pants and that was it. This is what brings burlesque back to its fuller roots. Music, parody, exaggeration and comedy. Near the end there was one point where screaming chicken should have shrieked in outrage and where the essence of burlesque, and good taste, was lost.

One of the more memorable acts began with bringing someone shrouded in black out to sit on a chair. This routine was introduced as being inspired by a US serial killer I believe. Then out came a slim woman in black jogging pants and pulled-up hoodie. She danced around and moved to a lingerie-clad woman who was tied up and kneeling. Then the person in the black hoodie slits her throat and removes the cover on the seated woman, tied, gagged and looking afraid. The “killer” proceeds to taunt and kills the other woman, tearing out her eye. She then removes her hoodie and long pants and tada!

I’m pretty sure the audience was quieter for this piece. I know I was. It was vulgar and horrid in all the wrong ways. Burlesque is also about celebrating our bodies in all shapes and sizes and not being critical that we aren’t all perfect models. It’s not just bad that the true essence of burlesque was not attained (where is the comedy in this) but when women are already victims of domestic, religious and other violence how does having a sexy serial killer equate to entertainment?

Besides the always-sucky sound system at the WISE Hall (making it difficult to hear what performers said or sang) this routine was the only other foul note and Screaming Chicken members would be better off to bury it forever. Still, I very much enjoyed most of it and would definitely go to be entertained again.

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Body Adornment

The other half to yesterday’s blog on camouflaging the true shape of our bodies is one of adornment. People are like crows. We have always been attracted to shiny and colorful objects. Ever since Grog the caveman noticed the bright blue stone, we’ve been collecting these things. The best way to store such objects, if you were an itinerant caveman, was to wear it. And look, that blue stone brought the sky back again or slowed the mammoth down so we could kill it.

Body adornment covers jewellery made of glass, metal, clay, wood, stone, feathers, bone, etc. strung or worn in many ways across different parts of the body. As well it has been stuck through and pierced into whatever piece of flesh could be pierced. From lip and nose discs to rings on fingers, toes, nipples, to pieces of wood or stone or metal punctured through chests, backs, arms and other fleshy bits–if it could be done, someone has done it.

Jewellery has as many uses as clothing does. In many cases such adornment started out as a ritualistic aspect with Grog, perhaps a dedication to a belief or god or path. As well, certain body markings indicated tribal/familial affiliations or ranks of authority. A pope would wear an amethyst ring that the faithful would kiss. A particular group in the jungle may have their noses pierced while their neighbors had their eyebrows be-ringed. Whether a fashion trend in that area or a mark of community, these regional differences served the purpose of identifying one group from another.

Facial and body makeup also came along, where applications may have been used for special occasions, rituals, power or to enhance characteristics, such as outlining the eyes to make them look bigger; but also the kohl liners worked to reduce sun-glare into the eyes. There have been practical applications for some body makeup and painting, such as coatings to keep sun off, or insects from biting.

Tattoos and scarification are other ways in which the body has been marked for centuries. Piercings can be temporary, as in the sundance done by some plains nations in North America, where the man’s chest is pierced for the (up to) four-day sundance. But permanent marks are part of identification, authority or belonging to a particular group. Scarring the skin with ridges and whorls, along with embedding items under the skin have been done in some areas for quite a while. Sailors were long known to pick up tattoos on their travels. I’m not sure of the reason why and that would take a bit more research. Some I believe had to do with visiting foreign countries where some of these practices were more common.

Tattoos are big now in parts of modern tribal culture as well as the resurgence of the burlesque dance style. Dancers often have designs that are reminiscent of the 50’s and the earliest North American white tattoos (I say white because I’m not sure if any First Nation groups did tattooing like the Maori have done). Maori tattoos served several purposes including looking fierce in battle, along with the facial gurning.

But last and probably the most popular reason for adorning one’s body, whether with rings, earrings, necklaces, piercings, makeup, tattoos or scarification is for the sheer enjoyment of decoration. We have not traveled that far since Grog started smearing red clay handprints onto his chest, tying a blue stone about his neck and piercing his ears. Though he may have decorated some for superstitious reasons or protection from spiritual or real elements, there came a time that it was just cool and fun to decorate himself. And let’s not forget the status symbol of having the brightest colored rocks or the largest gems in the whole tribe. That hasn’t changed much. If it had, we wouldn’t pay through the nose (does that term come from jewellery?) for precious gems and gold. As long as there are humans we will be given to adorning ourselves and structures around us. If you don’t like a particular fashion of body decoration, be assured that within a hundred years it will change again.

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