Jigglewatts Burlesque Troupe Shakes Pasties, Stereotypes
The women of The Jigglewatts Burlesque Revue may be best known for the gravity-defying ways they make their pasties move, but there’s much more to the group. Burlesque is the performers’ full-time job – they choreograph dance routines, make costumes, perform around the country and, beginning Friday, will perform a weekly show in Downtown Austin.
The Jigglewatts consists of five women with performance backgrounds in theater, dance and singing. They got their start when founding members Ruby Joule and Coco Lectric (both women predominately go by their stage names) were involved in the making of a film about singing, dancing zombies called “Z: A Zombie Musical.”
“The subject of burlesque came up while a few of us were sitting around between takes, and we recognized a familiar mischievous twinkle in one another's eyes,” Joule said. “Turns out we all had dreamed of performing burlesque, so we decided then and there to put a show together.”
Fast-forward six years, and the women practice once or twice a week and perform a live show several times per week, in addition to touring and competing nationally as soloists. Beginning Friday, Nov. 16, The Jigglewatts will have a weekly performance at The Gibson Lounge above Maggie Mae’s, at 6th and Trinity.
Burlesque, as we think of it, got its start as a variety show popular from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century in cabarets and clubs. Shows featured female performances that incorporated singing, dancing, humor and strip tease, as well as comedy acts. Audiences often included both men and women.
Since the 1990s, and especially in the last decade, a renewed interest in burlesque has been making waves across the United States. Troupes, festivals and solo acts have popped up in areas far from Las Vegas and Reno. Joule attributes this resurgence to a variety of factors.
“It’s accessible, so anyone who dreams of performing can make it happen,” she said. “Its resurgence was very DIY in spirit; you didn't need an agent or manager or to go through an extensive auditioning process. You just decided to do it and did it.”
Performances by The Jigglewatts at a recent show ranged from a dominatrix-type act performed with a chain, to a Nutcracker ballet-influenced routine. Audience members sat at attention, hooting and hollering and also laughing.
“Some people come out of curiosity,” Joule said, “and some fans have been attending shows for years because they love the glamour, the creativity, humor and sensuality of burlesque.”
Lynn Raridon, the director of the Texas Burlesque Festival, has been watching this resurgence grow for years. She has a background in choreography and dance and performed burlesque in the 80s and 90s and helped resurgence burlesque group Kitty Kitty Bang Bang with their choreography and stage management in the 00s.
Raridon was involved in the first Texas Burlesque Festival in 2007 and was asked to take over production the following year. She has been organizing the Texas Burlesque Festival since 2009 and said it’s only been growing. The first festival was held in the old Emo’s. The 2013 festival, April 11-13, will be held in The Marchesa Hall & Theater’s 500-person room.
“Interest in burlesque is exploding everywhere because people just see the value of this entertainment,” she said. “We’re going to a pretty old art form and what people don’t realize is that this was originally couples entertainment. This is the bathtub gin set for sure. It’s not just a bunch of men smoking cigars, it’s a mixed audience.”
Of course, not everyone embraces this performance form. Raridon said that PayPal, who had previously been the preferred form of ticket payment for the Texas Burlesque Festival, pulled out this year. She said she believes it’s because burlesque is considered “adult entertainment” with which the online financial transaction company didn’t want to be associated.
“There is still a stigma,” Raridon said. “Most of the women who are doing this, it’s empowering – embracing aspects of our sensuality and sexuality.”
Additionally, in a turn of events that has become famous in the burlesque community, The Jigglewatts were once banned from a venue. The group was scheduled to do a Bettie Page tribute at an Alamo Draughthouse in a Houston mall. When mall management got wind of the plans, they banned The Jigglewatts from entering the mall. For the most part though, Joule said Texas has been pretty welcoming of burlesque.
“Burlesque has been huge in Dallas since 2008, and Corpus Christi has a wonderful regular show. We've been invited to perform in Mission, TX; Alice, TX; and even Terlingua,” she said. “Aside from the one incident in Houston, everyone’s been very excited and gracious.”
Still, there are stereotypes to overcome. One of the most bothersome, Joule said, is that burlesque is just “fat chicks taking off their clothes.”
“It’s true that you are likely to see women of all different sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities performing burlesque, and I think that variety is one of this art form’s greatest strengths,” she said. “Burlesque isn’t just any one thing.”
Catch The Jigglewatts weekly beginning this Friday for two shows, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., at The Gibson Lounge above Maggie Mae’s at 6th and Trinity. Tickets will be available at the door and online through Front Gate Tickets and Maggie Mae’s.