Tag Archives: dance

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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Review: Hard Times Hit Parade

Hard Times Hit Parade

It’s too bad I didn’t see this show earlier, to give a review that would have been more timely. The Hard Times Hit Parade is performed by the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret and consists of 25-30 performers. Hard Times Hit Parade This extravaganza is set around a Depression era dance marathon and begins the moment you walk in. In fact there were signs outside the building that I thought were part of the Russian Community Hall’s edifice but turned out to be the theme of the show. Entering the auditorium, we saw bleachers set up with strands of pennons coming out from a large central chandelier. As well, there were signs of the era and advertising around the benches setting the atmosphere.

Behind the bleachers was a little bar with servers dressed in 1930s clothing. Many audience members came dressed, adding to the theme. The show begins with old B&W films and the narrator talking of the times and the dance marathon that has begun. The performers, couples coming out with numbers attached, do an opening swing number to a live band that had at least six people playing saxophone, violin, cello, banjo, etc.

There are different dance numbers, scenarios that go from the emcee and the referee, the anal rulemaker who adds comic moments, to the band and all around. There were even popcorn girls in the aisles selling popcorn, beer and wine. If someone dropped their plastic cup (reusable) under the bleachers, they would incorporate a scold or a scornful look into the show. The emcee or barker was appropriately over the top and the band was excellent, with the main singer/saxophone player also doing a number in drag.

The marathon dancers consisted of about six couples and as the show progresses, various people drop out after having hallucinations or or other events that make them quit. One hallucination is a cabaret style dance sequence. Another is a man being pressured to give his dance partner a ring. He then does a spinning acrobatic maneuver in a giant ring. There is a marionette sequence as well, and when the dancers go backstage for their rest break we see silhouettes on the screen which may include kissing, sleeping. changing, washing. These are accented with shapes on cellophane to represent tears or showering or birds. Another dance number is more the contestants dragging themselves about as the dance marathon moves into its fourth month; it involves a nurse checking the exhausted dancers and focusing a light on them. This projects a large silhouette on a screen that is accented with images such as hearts or lace or fields, representing the inner workings of these people.

It’s actually quite difficult to put into words the full scope of this multimedia performance. At $25 (at the door) and three hours the performance was well worth it. I laughed, I was mesmerized. There was so much to see. There is an intermission where the audience can mingle in a party atmosphere or get more drinks. And after the show, everyone can continue to dance. I loved the creativity, the depth and the energy of this show. It was so inspirational that I think I might see how I can help out at the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret. If you can get in (last day is March 18) go and see Hard Times Hit Parade. Advance tickets are sold out but some are available at the door. This was so fantastic that I’m going to try to stand in line and see it again. Five stars!

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Modern Bands and Zombies

A new phenomenon has cropped up in the last five years that I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was slowly oozing up through the groundwater of culture before this but I never noticed it. True I don’t see a lot of live bands…well okay that’s not true. I go to one place that often has a live band that plays while people drink and socialize. They often talk through the music. There are no vocals (usually) because the band is meant to give background atmosphere.

Now bands that play in pubs, cabarets and other music venues might have vocals and the people most assuredly are drinking but the crowd could be mixed as to being there more to socialize with others or more to listen to the band. But even if the band is one for dancing to, I’ve noticed this new trend.

Zombies. Yes, zombies watch bands. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a venue with tables and/or with a dance floor, the zombies move to the front of the stage, effectively blocking the view for anyone who is sitting at a table. The zombies, in their mindless absorption and idolization, stare at the band, unmoving, often lacking any facial expression or  emotion, a drink forgotten in their hand. That’s all they do. Stare. You might see a foot tapping like some latent nerve twitch that can animate a body after death, but that’s it.Their slowly rotting brains must think they’re at an outdoor concert or perhaps they’re all on zombie drugs. It doesn’t matter if the band just crawled out of the garage or is a big name. The zombies don’t move.

Where did the zombies come from? Obviously they were animated out of music culture, some assortment of eldritch notes coming together in a way to draw the bodies close, like a Pied Piper’s enchanted flute. But there the animation stops. It’s not enough to spur these bodies (usually young and in their 20s) into actually dancing. Perhaps there was a shyness or ineptitude in movement during the zombie’s half-life that translates into the barely animate.

Perhaps there is some perceived notion still firing sporadically in the zombie brains that says it’s not cool to dance. Perhaps the band emulates some aspect of zombie worship and the sounds that emit and marry in the air are like honey to zombie bees. I really dont’ know and can only speculate. Once in a while, later in the evening, when alcohol seems to have worked some reanimation charm, some of the zombies will start to emulate human beings, leaving only the most inanimate standing vacantly in front of the band.

It used to be that it wasn’t cool to show such mindless adoration but in the absence of modern gods, this is where the zombies go. But don’t worry, they won’t clutch at your head trying to gnaw your brains and they won’t drop gory body parts all over. They lack the life to do that, even in front of a hugely noisy, raucous punk rock band. Yes, I saw zombies in front of the Little Guitar Band, which really only hurt my ears and left me guessing at lyrics that could not be heard by anyone. At one point I think they sang, “I have a hernia and lost my shoe,” which oddly might be appealing to zombies. But the zombies never moved.

The most these zombies will do is annoy you. After all, zombies aren’t really alive and no longer have the common courtesy that might have been exhibited in live humans. They’ll stand in front of you, disregarding that perhaps you arrived early enough to get a seat and a view. They’ll take over the dance floor, not understanding that perhaps you want to dance. Zombies after all, aren’t exactly models of society and they sure don’t exhibit culture.

Will they go away? I doubt it, until the next wave of animated humans realizes zombies aren’t dangerous and sweeps them off the dance floor with…well, dancing. I do wish, however, that zombies would go back to the graveyards and gnaw brains like they’re supposed to. There, the rudeness of zombies doesn’t matter.

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Dancing and Its Allure

I’ve been dancing or taking dance lessons in one form or another for many many years. When I was a wee child of four I took tap dance for a breath or two, enamored by the colorful outfits more than anything. I barely remember it and my mother had some health issues then and couldn’t keep me at it.

At various times as an adult I took jazz dance, Afro-Brazilian, samba and many years of belly dance. I’ve taught belly dance for the past year and a half and am accomplished enough, though I would not consider myself excellent. I would need to be much more fervent about practising every day and taking advanced workshops, which are often too pricey for me. But the moves are second nature to me and no matter if I’m dancing in

The thing about most of these dance styles above is that they are performance dances. You don’t dance with a partner and they’re meant to be watched. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t dance them with others and sometimes this has happened in belly dance, where musicians will play a piece, several women come out and dance and sometimes mimic each other’s moves. A dance can also be choreographed for a group of dancers in any style, whether ballet or belly.

Though these dance forms can be choreographed but overall you learn various moves and then can mix and match as you please. Put a shimmy after a chest drop, or go from a hip circle to a chest circle to snake arms and back to a chest circle. There is no set routine and move.

I took a dance step into the unknown this year and have just completed a beginner’s class in Argentine tango. This is like all dance, a dance to be enjoyed and of course one that can be performed and watched. Where I went from formulating my own moves I was now learning to follow. Of course, I could have learned the lead part but chose to stick to one. And tango is indeed always a partner dance. It’s as far as you can get from belly dance.

Tango involves subtle but clear movements by the lead with a hand and palcement of the foot. And it is mostly if not all about the feet, the step and the movement of them in tandem or separately. What I find interesting is that the lead chooses what step you might perform but the follow gets to do the more elaborate steps.

For many of us it was our first time but it seems that quite a few had taken at least beginning tango before and some were intermediate dancers. There were some leads who moved too fast, some who didn’t indicate the move clearly enough and follows who would anticipate or not follow. That was my biggest problem; I tended to try to anticipate the move. If you’re learning one step, that’s fine because you’re just repeating the step. But if you’re learning to dance tango, which means the order of the steps can change, then anticipating will have you going in the wrong direction from your partner.

Only a couple of the leads (all men in this case) were arrogant about their knowledge, which ticked me off. They were intermediate dancers and I was a beginner for the first time. It’s one thing to ask your partner to relax and let you lead; it’s another thing to keep correcting in an arrogant voice and then tell your partner that she’s nervous. I wasn’t nervous but I was learning and trying to memorize the step, try to get the tempo right and try to follow.

The instructor, Peter, of Dance Addicts (in Burnaby) is a good instructor, funny, relaxed and easy to approach. Because he is such an accomplished dancer and lead, following him is a lot easier. When I can afford it, I’ll take more tango. It will take a while to become accomplished enough at it. Like belly dance, or any other style, all dance takes practice.

Dance is always about flow (whether it’s jerky, stop and start or like water pouring) and grace. Belly dance and tango have a commonality in that they are both sensual dances. The accomplished dancer doesn’t just have feet being placed in the right spot tot he right style. They also have a particular style and grace, which is shown throw line of body, personalizing/flair/sensuality, tempo, movement of feet, hands, arms and head. Dance is always about the whole body, whether part of it is active or passive.

Only the last two classes of the eight-class session in tango started to feel like dance. We weren’t just getting the steps down, but putting them together to music. I closed my eyes for several dances, trusting in my lead and did find it made it better. Instead of anticipating  I tried to feel what his body was telling me in the direction to move. It was fun, it was work. I have a ways to go yet but it’s another form of dance and one thing I do love, it’s dance.

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