Burlesque collective offers night of risqué thrills

by Daniel Bayer

‘“Zelda Foxworthy’” cuts an imposing figure in her black corset, fishnet stockings, platform boots and black leather jacket as she strikes a lip-pouting pose for a photographer from YES! Weekly.

‘“Dahling, this isn’t leather, this is real human flesh,’” drawls Foxworthy.

In the world of the Greensboro Burlesque Collective, such flamboyant pronouncements are just part of the group’s outrageous mix of late-1800s era French burlesque, striptease, Betty Page-esque mock bondage and 1970s glam rock gender bending.

Foxworthy, aerial acrobat Chaunxie, dancer/singer Courtney and dominatrix ‘“Ruby’” are just four members of the diverse group of entertainers who will debut Saturday at Lyndon Street Artworks off of East Market Street.

‘“There’s going to be aerial acrobatics, the hoochie-coochie, orgasmic singing, belly dancing, sexual skits of a highly erotic nature, sensual sounds that are guaranteed to thrill your ears, fire dancing that hopefully won’t burn any hair off certain areas, contortion, dirty exhibitionists, carny festivities, past life reading, Tarot reading, can can thrills, sex addicts, rave dancing, a hula hoop contest, strip-off and prizes,’” says Foxworthy.

Foxworthy claims that while she and local activist/provocateur Alistair McQueen share the same school, height, weight, age and eye color, he’s merely a ‘“dear friend.’”

‘“We met in a hoochie bar one night,’” says Foxworthy, who then becomes suspiciously silent about the details of the relationship, except to say that McQueen played an instrumental role in the formation of the collective.

‘“My dear friend Alistair got this crazy idea from another friend about a burlesque troupe in, I believe, Charlottesville, and he said he wanted to start something like that here,’” Foxworthy says. ‘“So he called me up and said, ‘Girl, get those thighs over here and do some dancing.’ And that’s what I did. I got my mega-thighs over here and started dancing.’”

McQueen/Foxworthy says that the art of burlesque can be traced back to the Middle Ages, a time in pop culture more usually identified with men in heavy iron suits bashing each other with sharp objects.

‘“Burlesque started around 1340, when Chaucer published The Canterbury Tales,’” McQueen says. ‘“That was literary burlesque. Burlesque later became dancing of an erotic nature. In France you would see ballet dancers with skirts above the knee, a classic burlesque trick. Then the can-can started in France around the 1830s.

‘“Burlesque came to America with Lydia Thompson and her group of British blondes who dressed up as men on stage and acted out erotic fantasies,’” continues Foxworthy, who obviously feels a great affinity for the subject. ‘“Its golden age was the 1920s through the 1950s, when there was a burlesque club in every city of America. Girls were out there dancing every night. You saw some of the most beautiful women in the world. Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee, Lily St. Cyr, they were all there.’”

In a society where abstinence-only education is the rule in many places and media portrayals of sexuality, hetero and otherwise, frequently come under attack from religious conservatives, Foxworthy’s open embrace of carnality and its visceral pleasures is enough to give many a conniption. Not that Greensboro or the surrounding area has always been kind to theatrical expressions of sexuality. In the late 1990s the Guilford County Commissioners cut art funding after some citizens objected to a local theatre group’s production of the cross-dressing play La Cage Au Folles, supported in part by government grants, despite the fact that the film adaptation, The Bird Cage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, was doing booming business at area multiplexes.

‘“They’re uncomfortable with showing their erotic fantasies, their erotic feelings,’” McQueen says of those who might be unsettled by the collective’s in-your-face displays of sexuality. ‘“Life without sex? Why, that’s just dull, darling.

‘“When you go to a burlesque show, sex is the attraction,’” he continues. ‘“You go there and you want to get lucky, but when you get there, all they give you is a tease where they slowly take off their clothes and play with your mind, but you want to make them your baby!’”

McQueen hasn’t had any trouble ‘– ‘“yet,’” he says ‘– with the guardians of public morality, ‘“but there’s always a few decency laws that I’m prepared to break.’”

Residents cutting their lawns in this bohemian neighborhood on the western fringes of Greensboro’s downtown, however, seem oblivious to the provocatively dressed quartet having their photos taken on the front lawn, though one woman can be seen mouthing ‘“What in the . . . ?’” as she gawks from a passing car.

‘“Hey, where’s your helmet?’” Courtney, another performer dressed in a green corset and skirt with purple thigh-high stockings, shouts at a child skateboarding across the street, indicating that some of these creatures of the night may lead somewhat more mundane lives than they let on.

‘“I heard about it and figured it would be a lot of fun,’” says Courtney of her involvement in the collective. ‘“I’ll be dancing the can-can. I’ll also be doing another performance that’s a little more conceptual. It’s not a lot of movement. It’s more of a stripping of labels, and I’ll be singing at the end of it.

‘“I’ve grown up as a singer, doing show choirs and choruses and ensembles,’” she says. ‘“Now I’m hoping to do some of my own original work in Greensboro.’”

Not all of the acts will be focused exclusively on sensuality. Chaunxie, the aerial acrobat, will be performing on suspended ropes made of silk.

‘“Aerial acrobatics involve silks that would hang from a beam or a circus tent,’” says Chaunxie. ‘“You do contortions or dancing or both while you’re using these silks.’”

His interest in one of the most physically active of arts began, ironically, with that most physically passive of activities, watching television.

‘“I’ve been doing it for about five years,’” Chaunxie says. ‘“One day I was looking at TV and a show called ‘Cirque de Soleil’ came on and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that was beautiful.’ Ever since then my infatuation has been aerial silks.

‘“It’s very flamboyant,’” the performer continues. ‘“Sometimes the music you put with it can make it very sexy and emotional. A lot of people throw emotion into it.’”

While professional acrobats work as high as 80 feet off the ground, Chaunxie so far hasn’t gone higher than 30.

‘“Tents are really tall, believe it or not. They’re actually about 75 to 80 feet tall,’” Chaunxie says. ‘“The performers are supposed to move up and down on the silks. They can go anywhere from twenty-five up to seventy-five or eighty feet.’”

There’s an element of danger, too, Aerial acrobatics, after all, is where the term ‘“without a net’” came from.

‘“Because of the difficulty of the act, you can’t [use a safety harness],’” Chaunxie says. ‘“The aerial silks will get tangled up with the safety harness, so usually they don’t use anything. ‘“It’s one of those acts where you just have to say ‘It’s my art and I’m going to do it.’ You just got to have balls.’”

Because of the safety issue, the Burlesque Collective show will be the first time Chaunxie has performed his art in public.

‘“No one in Greensboro will let me do it,’” he says. ‘“They say I’m a ‘risk.’ I tell people I’m willing to sign a waiver saying that they won’t be held responsible for what happens to me.’”

Whip-wielding Mistress Ruby (who says she’s always in control) gets in the last word on the collective:

‘“It’s about the bold expression of sexuality.’”