Dawson City did not have burlesque in its repertoire until long-time local resident Rachel Wiegers decided to take up (or off, as the case may be) the mantle and bring it to town.
Wiegers says her journey towards burlesque started when she was young and discovered her father’s girlie magazine stash.
“I was too young to understand sexuality then,” she says while we sat in a local pub sipping martinis.
It was, instead, the comfortability and unabashed nudity of the models that fascinated and intrigued her.
“And I especially loved the glamour shots with the hair and clothing,” she says.
As she grew up, she became involved with tacky pageants at summer camp, got interested in vintage fashions as a young adult, and developed a love for being on the stage. When a friend suggested trying a burlesque course in Vancouver, which incorporated all of these things, she decided to go for it.
“The course was amazing,” says Wiegers. Her graduation performance, however, was not.
“I froze on stage – I was petrified and unprepared,” she says. “It was a terrible performance.”
After she got back to Dawson, she was asked to perform burlesque at the Dawson City Music Festival. Wiegers immediately saw a chance at redemption.
“It ended up being my best performance ever.”
As more requests for shows started coming in, local women began approaching Wiegers.
“They asked questions such as: how do you have the confidence? I want it!”
Responding to the demand, Wiegers, along with local choreographer Katie Pearse, held the first burlesque class in 2014.
Wiegers says there was so much interest, they had to turn people away. The course lasted six weeks and included 12 students.
The second class went from November 2016 to January 2017, with 11 students.
Graduation for both classes consisted of a stage show for the public. Wiegers notes that students had to overcome fears not only of performing, but of being on stage with virtually no clothes on.
“We don’t address body issues in class – it’s not a self-help group – but those issues are always there,” Wiegers says. “People are scared of their bodies.”
Wiegers believes strongly that the way to get over it is by going public.
“By the end of the course, nobody cares anymore – they forget about it – they’re too busy having fun with hair, makeup, costumes, etc.”
Each student in the class picks her own story for the performance.
“It’s personal for them,” says Wiegers. “We only advise that their numbers are understandable and relatable to the audience.”
But, I ask Wiegers, despite burlesque offering the positive aspect of conquering body type fears, aren’t these girls still just playing into the women-are-sex-objects stereotype?
Wiegers has an answer for me.
“They are reclaiming their sexuality on their own terms,” she says.
“The girls are encouraged to find an alter-ego, someone who is a part of them and is their most powerful person,” she says. “Burlesque is a tool to pull that person out.”
She goes on to say that it’s about what you want, not about acting the way someone else wants you to, or how you think you should.
“When I was young, I behaved more to what I thought others wanted. Now it’s take me or leave me, and I don’t care what others want. It’s part of what makes me feel like a strong human. Burlesque helped me do that. And besides,” she says with a wink, “it’s really fun.”
Sign me up!