What a Burlesque Dancer Taught me about Love, Life and Owning It

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Ican’t remember a time when I truly, fully loved my body. I was a studious girl with a heart that was tender and read too many books not meant for her age. When I was 8, I yearned for boobage. For far too many nights than logic should allow, I slept strategically propped, leaving a welcoming space in case God or preferably, my hormones happened to answer my fervent prayers in the night. Fast forward twenty odd years and three kids later (still weird, still reading books, and still not much boobage) I realize that I am stuck in the plight that many girls and women are… I feel less. I feel less for what I think I see and for what I do not see in the mirror. If only. If only I had this or didn’t have that, things would be better, I would be better, life would be better. But it’s not, and I, later rather than sooner decided to stop this thought process. Get unstuck. So to kickstart my journey for self love and my authentic self, I decided to reach out to who seemed to be a verifiable expert on the matter, the lovely, incomparable, Vesper Valentine.

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw her post for the Boudoir Noir Cabaret & Burlesque Show, and the photo’s that they showcased struck me. Women, real women, beautiful women celebrating themselves, as is. I was floored. I had to meet her.

Vesper Valentine is a burlesque dancer based in majestic Nelson, British Columbia. She greeted me with a giant hug, her warmth and good vibes were palpable at the coffee shop on Baker street. She suggests the London Fog, and we wait for our teas as the sun streams through the windows, a welcoming break from a week of rain, rain and more rain.

After we were seated and sipping our teas, Vesper candidly opened up about what got her started in the world of burlesque. Years ago, experiencing grief, loss and on the cusp of not quite knowing what to do, a friend was teaching a burlesque class and she threw out some bait to Vesper. The bait was love, acceptance and a veritable force of sisterhood. As Vesper said, she was caught hook, line and sinker.

After three years of dedicated hard work, gigging the hell out of Nelson, networking and attending workshops and seminars, she took the next step and utilized her background as an event coordinator and started producing her own sellout shows.

Her 1st Annual Tease If You Please Burlesque Fundraiser Show debuted at Bloom Nightclub and the community rallied around Vesper with mad love. With the popularity of the show and the generosity of fans, Vesper was able to secure tickets for herself and her troupe The ShowCats to attend the coveted Burlycon, an educative weekend long festival, based out of Seattle, Washington. This festival is aimed at providing artists in the burlesque community a chance to showcase their skills, attend workshops, network and hone their personal artistic genres.

Vesper Valentine dressed up in a pink and black feather ensemble. Her arms are stretched above her head and she is smiling broadly

Vesper’s next show was the Delight Before Christmas again at Bloom Nightclub where the lovely, Canadian Legend of Burlesque, Judith Stein performed. Throughout these productions she continued to connect and interact with the artistic community, and thus Vesper saw a need. The Kootenays is a hotbed of artists of every conceivable genre, but somewhat lacking in venues and outlets to showcase themselves.

Vesper dedicated herself once again and branched out from the traditional burlesque show with her Boudoir Noir Cabaret & Burlesque Show. She was determined to build an accepting, supportive and inclusive artistic venue that showcased local artists.
She succeeded.

The Cabaret, hosted by the Civic Theatre was a delight to the senses. Attendees were welcomed by a complimentary candy bar and featured a customized drink menu and cold spirits, I opted for lime slushies infused with Jose Cuervo, delish! The Australian born beauty Arabella Allure, also the reigning Caribbean Queen of Burlesque, headlined the show with her fierce sexiness. Among the many other beautiful and amazingly talented performers were the Kalliope Dance Troupe, showcasing a beautiful dance depiction of the natural beauty that surrounds us in the Kootenays. The other worldly Lola Lane stunned in chiffon with a sultry, soulful rendition of Whatever Lola Wants, by Sarah Vaughan. Hoola hoops swirled coquettishly courtesy of the The Kootenay Hoop Troop and Shawna the Hulagan.

Vesper Valentine has been a mainstay in the classic good girl style of burlesque, but that night she debuted a different persona. A darker, vulnerable Vesper that some may not have recognized. Utilizing visually striking props and black bondage style lingerie, her arms were encapsulated and winged with black feathers that marked a different level of artistry for Vesper that was met with roaring applause.

Celebrating the sultriness of the Kootenay summer was Vesper’s latest production, Sirens of Summer Cabaret & Burlesque Show held at Finley’s Bar & Grill. We enjoyed some amazing fish tacos and devoured the smore’s dessert and strawberry cheesecake. It was an intimate venue, complete with a catwalk that all performers strutted with fierce confidence. Lisel Forst engaged and guided us through the sultry evening, surely one of the best emcee’s I’ve had the delight to see. April O’Peel, the Vancouver Burlesque All Star delighted with her Bad Blood routine, a sparkling ode to that time of the month. Vixen Von Flex captivated and inspired with his visually stunning super bendy performance. Marloe Blu was true art onstage. Bold, sexy and deep, his vision was an absolute force on the Sirens of Summer stage.

Vesper once again wowed with a high powered performance, a straight up sexy boss woman. She rocked it, strength, poise and steam on stage. A side that railed against her good girl persona with devil horns and clad in provocative satin. She embraced all that she has become. Sexy, voluptuous confidence.

This is where Burlesque is completely unique, and to me, intensely magical. It is an art form that is completely accepting of every single one of your flaws. Whether you are overweight, have scars, cellulite, big boobs, small boobs, anything and everything. Burlesque accepts it. And then it celebrates it. And this is where the magic is. The magic of self love. The magic of accepting your authentic self and creating art that stirs, irregardless of who you are, or what you look like, or how society has defined, dictated and possibly shaped your life. Vesper elaborates, you are never who you don’t want to be in Burlesque. You can change, you can transform. Society projects and usually demands that your voice is in line with what it dictates. Burlesque allows you to make that voice loud as hell. And you can yell whatever you want. Whether it be political, decrying social issues, satire, classical or working through your inner turmoil. You are with your sisters, and you are loved.

For Vesper, burlesque is her authentic life, it is an extension of who she is. Being loud and vivacious and strong and confident, celebrating every inch of herself. You can see that she loves who she is and what she is doing, and the audience has responded adoringly.

I asked her about the first time she went on stage and she said she almost puked, right behind the curtain. She was good right up until that moment, until that little voice we all have chimed in and said you’re too fat, you’re not good enough, you’re an imposter. You. Can’t. Do. It.

Behind that curtain she breathed and told herself, you got this. You worked hard, you trained hard. You put your soul into this. Do your best, even if you make a mistake the audience will still love you. And so she breathed deep and went on stage and they did love her, in abundance. To this day she struggles with coming up with words to explain the wave of energy coming at her onstage. The love, the radiating smiles, lit up and shining adoringly at her. At the end of the performance, they get up and applaud and love so hard, it’s tangible. She always pauses at the end. To be still and grande. The pause allows the audience to give back the love that she just gave them. She also thanks the audience for their gratitude as she is resplendent in theirs.

It takes guts to get up on stage and take your clothes off, huge guts. Especially if you are not exactly the status quo societal norm of beauty. Self love is created by self care as Vesper explains. Stop caring about other people’s opinion of you. It frees up your soul for a deeper emotional experience and spiritual growth. Vesper self love’s herself like nobody’s business. And it radiates off of her. She schedules it in on her calendar, Tuesday night, a candle lit bath and a good self talk in the moist mirror. Tell yourself all the amazing things you have done and make plans to do more of that. Making yourself a priority is crucial. Life is a journey as is learning to love yourself. Dedicate time to your kids and your job and your significant relationship, but you have to dedicate time just for you. Read a book, drink a cup of tea. Knit or sew, write or workout. Activities like that build up self love. Nurture yourself and your self love will grow and everything around you, your relationships, your friendships, your heart, will bloom.

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