Discordia Days Burlesque Festival returns to Greensboro
A festival centered around the art of the tease is set to take place at two Greensboro venues for four days at the beginning of August. The Discordia Days Burlesque Festival is put on every year by the local burlesque troupe, the Discordia Dames.
According to the website (www.discordiadaysburlesquefest.weebly.com/), the Discordia Days Burlesque festival first began in 2012 as the Purrrlesque Follies but was rechristened as the Discordia Days Burlesque Festival in 2015, with performer and Discordia Dame Memphis Muerte taking over production duties. Also in 2015, the troupe moved to the Community Theatre of Greensboro’s Star Theatre (520 S. Elm St.), where they will perform two of the four nights of this year’s festival. The other two performances will take place at the Dames’ usual spot, Shiners (435 Mapleleaf Dr.).
The Discordia Dames are composed of Memphis Muerte, Allison Wonderland, May Hemmer, Sadie Mae Hem and Lux Valentina. They will be performing along with the headliner RedBone and the festival will also feature performances by Kat De Lac, Ellie Quinn, and more than 30 performers from all over the country. “This year it was really weird,” Memphis Muerte said. “Normally, we have to reach out and find someone within the budget to be the headliner. This year, we had people emailing us asking to be the headliner.”
According to the Discordia Days website, “internationally known, Minnesota grown” RedBone “was voted No. 19 in 21st Century Burlesque Magazine’s Top 50 of 2016, one of The National Top 8 by Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in 2013, Judges Choice 2016 and had the honor of competing for Queen in Miss Exotic World at the 2015 and 2017 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender.”
RedBone is known as “The Cyclone of Burlesque” because she combines all of the cultures she was raised with and displays them for a “one-of-a-kind whirlpool performance.”
The Duchess of Dork, Ellie Quinn, is from Virginia and “uses her innermost fangirl to tease and tickle your funny bone.” Ellie Quinn has performed on stages both nationally and internationally including being the headliner for the NOLA Nerdlesque Festival in 2015, performed two “avenging acts” for the 2016 London Burlesque Festival, and performed at the 2017 Geneva Burlesque Festival as well as the 2017 Como Lake Burlesque Festival.
“There is actually a pretty broad burlesque presence in Greensboro,” Memphis Muerte said. “This is just us and we took the name ‘Discordia,’– who is the goddess of chaos–and if you are around us for more than 20 minutes that pretty well encompasses who we are. The reason why we took that particular name for it was [because] we wanted it to feel like what we feel backstage at every show. Where it is just us goofing around and having a good time and everybody is just friendly and supportive, and making friends and inside jokes. And really that is something that we have accomplished.”
The burlesque festival began with a goal to use “shakes and shimmies for good,” the website stated. The festival showcases talent while also raising awareness for local charities.
“Every year we give everything outside of our production cost to a local charity and we try really hard to make sure it is centered around [the Triad],” Memphis Muerte said. “This year we are going to be giving to the Gate City Legal Services.”
The past beneficiaries have been the Sherri Denese Jackson Foundation, Merit Pitbull Foundation, Girls Rock NC, AIDS Care Services, North Star LGBT Center and the ACLU of North Carolina.
“We’ve tried really hard to try to encompass different communities in need and also different communities that we are apart of in one-way shape and form,” Memphis Muerte said of the different nonprofits they choose to be beneficiaries of the festival. “There are people in this troupe who are very passionate about animal advocacy and queer activism. We try to pick something that we have an overlap with. When people leave the festival on Sunday we want to make sure that they are going to see the direct benefits.”
The newest member of the Discordia Dames, Allison Wonderland, picked Gate City Legal Services, Inc. as this year’s nonprofit beneficiary. According to its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pg/GateCityLegalServices/), Gate City Legal Services, Inc. is a firm that provides affordable legal fees for people with low to modest income.
Allison Wonderland said she chose this nonprofit because she believes that this service is essential for people in the current political climate.
“We felt like it was a good opportunity to give back to our community and they were willing to accept the help we were able to provide,” Allison Wonderland said.
Memphis Muerte said that the burlesque art form is very misunderstood and is often misconstrued. “You would be surprised at how many charities say ‘Thanks for the interest, but we can’t accept money from a burlesque festival,’” Memphis Muerte explained. “That is always kind of a struggle every year. To find a charity that is willing take the money and willing to help us promote.”
Memphis Muerte said that one of the things that the Dames rely on with the beneficiaries is cross-promotion.
“When we can’t have a charity’s insignia on a flyer and we can’t tell people where that money is going, it does kind of hinder the amount of money we are able to raise,” she said.
As for production costs, those include the cost of the headliner, rental and venue fees. Lux Valentina said that no one in the troupe gets paid, and the only performer that gets paid is the headliner.
“The headliner we are willing to pay for because they bring the big [crowd],” Lux Valentina said.
Memphis Muerte said that she had to take a second job this summer to help pay for the expenses up front.
She said that the Dames have been fortunate enough to be sponsored in the past, “But this year has been a bit more difficult,” she said. “The economy isn’t going so great.”
The Dames are hoping for a great turn out for this year’s festival so that they can give the most they can to Gate City Legal Services, Inc.
“The priority of the festival I think, and this is my first year doing it also, is bringing people in the community together, performing and then giving to a good cause,” Allison Wonderland said. “The performers that are coming from all across the country are doing it because it is a passion project of theirs because they believe in what the Discordia Days Festival is doing.”
Memphis Muerte said that burlesque back in the day was meant to be satirical of current culture and politics.
“The way it has shifted to the modern American kind of usage is it is more about the art of the tease,” she said. “Sometimes it can be political satire, sometimes it can be straight sexy, sometimes it can be very character-based. The wonderful thing about North Carolina is that we are very heterogeneous, we have a little bit of everything. Asheville is a bit avant-garde and artsy, we are a little bit of traditional and neo in this area, you get to Raleigh you have fetish and a lot of nerd-based stuff. We do a lot of nerd-based stuff as well.”
Memphis Muerte said many people get burlesque confused with stripping, which is valid to an extent because both essentially involve taking off clothes for money.
“The difference between a burlesque dancer and a stripper, is a burlesque dancer will go on stage in a $2,000 outfit and make $50, and a stripper will go on stage in a $50 outfit and make $2,000,” Memphis Muerte said with all the Dames laughing and agreeing with her. “Where they will dance for three and a half minutes naked and we dance for three and a half minutes while getting naked. They may not be twins, but they are sisters.”
Each performer has their own niche in the burlesque scene. It can range from anything classical, nerdy to adventurous and everything in between.
Lux Valentina is into fetish and neo-burlesque and can do fire poi, fire-breathing, pole dancing and flow arts during her performances.
“I am very bedroom performance oriented,” Lux Valentina said. “EDM, not classic at all.”
May Hemmer is a “nerdlesque” dancer, which means she prefers her acts to have a nerd-factor to them. She is also the current reigning Miss Montreal Burlesque.
“I didn’t know what nerdlesque was until I got into my first thing and I was surrounded by a bunch of Sailor Moon characters and Futurama people,” May Hemmer said. “The bulk of my repertoire is [nerdy]. Like, I have a Lando number, a Lady Deadpool number- I can do the classical stuff because my background, I am trained as a ballerina– but like, I prefer my weird stuff where I flailing around on stage in my Psyduck costume with no common sense.”
Memphis Muerte said she tends to lean toward neo-style numbers but her body moves in classic-style. Allison Wonderland is more of a “bump and grind” type of performer and prefers to do slow songs.
“When you look at the four of us, we are all polar opposites,” Memphis Muerte said. “There is not a cookie cutter amongst us. A lot of troupes, especially in bigger cities, everybody kind of looks the same. It is like Barbies, you have the same bodies but different heads. I think that is something that we use to our advantage,” added Lux Valentina.
Lux Valentina is from the Raleigh/Durham area and said she drives an hour each month (and sometimes multiple times a month) to perform with her fellow Dames.
“Family, this is what you do for family,” Lux Valentina said about why she comes to the Triad instead of being apart of the Triangle burlesque scene. “This is what you do when people have shown you loyalty. You show it back.”
Lux Valentina said she has done a lot of sex work such as stripping, webcam-work, custom photos and working at an adult boutique in Durham. Lux Valentina said that there are a couple of stigmas that come with the sex work medium.
“The first [misconception] is, sex work is dirty and grimy and gross and sleazy and you feel awful about yourself and your soul dies,” she said. “The second misconception is you know, strippers we are all catty and dancers and divas and we are all mean to each other and are just trying to climb to the top. Like that has been the opposite of my experience here.”
She said when she first met the Dames, she was coming from an abusive relationship and was shown kindness by Memphis Muerte, who helped her with gas expenses because she was filling in for someone else.
“We are family with loyalty and we always have a good time, we vibe really well together,” Lux Valentina said. “That is the thing when you become a Dame, the first rule when you walk through the door is drop all those misconceptions about female performers, about cattiness, competition. Memphis has made so many of my costumes. All those [affirmations] we need as women and performers to really bolster ourselves is what [Discordia Days Festival] provides.”
Lux Valentina said the festival is a labor of love and is just “straight up labor.” With the addition of an extra day to the festival this year, the Dames will surely be even more busy than usual.
“We are exhausted by Sunday,” May Hemmer said. “We do nothing but sleep and eat. This is my first time being on the production side of it, and it is a lot.”
May Hemmer lives in Sanford, North Carolina, and is from New Orleans. She met the Dames when she was six or seven months pregnant (unknown to her at the time) and was auditioning to be apart of the Discordia Days Festival. She ended up performing at the festival three weeks after her baby was born.
“Where I came from, which is part of the stereotype, some of those backroom scenes were like ‘girl, you are on your own,’ but it depends on the group of people,” May Hemmer said. “These were people I didn’t even know. They just pulled together and made sure I was comfortable.”
These performers think their festival stands out from rest because there is so much positive camaraderie among them.
“One thing that kind of makes us stand out from other festivals is we don’t do a competition,” Memphis Muerte said. “When festivals do a competition, it can get very catty backstage. This year we are going to do awards, but they are for fun and to build people up.”
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.