By Aya Al-Hakim
Life’s seriousness disappears once the curtains rise, the knickers fall and the glamour of burlesque lights up the stage with its world of feathers, tease and grinds.
Kay Licious is a premier burlesque dancer and instructor at Serpentine Studios in Halifax. She has been dancing for eight years and teaching burlesque since 2012.
She keeps her real name separate from her life of burlesque.
Herald Kay Licious
A burlesque show back in 2003 produced by the Halifax Burlesque Society paved the way towards the birth of Kay Licious onto the stage of glamour and tease.
“I loved the show, I thought it was fantastic and I wanted to get involved, but I wasn’t living in the city at the time,” says Kay Licious.
The Halifax Burlesque Society, founded in 2003, was the first burlesque community in Halifax. It was disbanded in 2005, but the performers were still committed to spreading the art form.
“I found out through a friend of mine that one of the members of the Halifax Burlesque Society, Cadence MacMichael (Miss Cadence) was starting her own burlesque group called Pink Velvet Burlesque so I offered to help them out on their first show.”
She didn’t perform that night, but had already prepared a stage name for herself. It wasn’t very long after that she started performing.
A brief history of burlesque and body
The art form became very popular in the 1840’s in Europe, but also in the United States and Canada. By the 1880’s Burlesque had taken its solid form that expresses the concepts of seduction, humour, glamour and sex.
“Burlesque has become my passion and obsession. I love people’s reactions to my show and the fact that I’m not a skinny, perfect looking person which bestows confidence onto the audience.”
The word burlesque means mockery or ridicule and it is meant to cause laughter and force people to get out of their comfort zone.
“Burlesque is very accepting of body types” Kay Licious says, “I think one of the main things is that burlesque doesn’t take itself too seriously so I don’t take myself seriously when I perform or teach. I emphasize ridiculousness.”
Kay Licious has performed wearing fisherman clothing and on one occasion, as a sheep.
She teaches her students that a body may be different from another, but it is still a good body that is able to do fun and sexy moves.
“The thing I love the most is when I see a shy student come to me saying that they have taken my burlesque classes to get out of their box and I see that over the ten weeks and that makes me feel so excited.”
One of the things she teaches in class is tassel twirling where tassel pasties are put on the nipples in order to twirl them. Something that can definitely make people get out of their box.
“People would complain about having a big chest or how they can’t do it, but even flat chested men are able to. I encourage my students to push themselves a little bit.”
There are no rules when it comes to burlesque. Many dancers are bringing different art forms into it like tap dancing, playing an instrument or singing.
“Its very open to creativity, you bring new things to burlesque and it simply gets built.”
She sometimes even balances a sword on top of her head while belly dancing in burlesque acts.
“It gets trickier coming up with new ideas nowadays because burlesque has become popular so it’s hard to find something that hasn’t been done.
“There are a lot of great minds out there in burlesque and great minds tend to think alike so it’s hard to come up with concepts that are unique,” says Kay Licious. “I try to stay original and get inspired by music that will spark something in my brain.”
Kay Licious sees burlesque as a big tree that branches into different types of performances.
“There is the strip classic burlesque of the gown and glove, the performance art side of it which is the weird and wonderful, people doing strongly political things or the mainstream burlesque like the pussy cat dolls and the movie Burlesque which is the sexy dancing side of it.
“There are so many branches in burlesque that I don’t really know where it is going to end up in the future or if it will keep sprinting out.”
One thing that’s certain Kay Licious is going to keep on performing and teaching. She hopes to travel more out west and to the U.S.
A year in the life of Kay Licious
This year has been very busy for Kay Licious.
In January she did a fundraising show for Habitat for Humanity. She was also the opening act for Roxi D’Lite at the Everything To Do With Sex Show.
Roxi D’Lite is a headlining performer and the first Canadian to be crowned the Queen of Burlesque by the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
Right now Kay Licious is putting up the Great Canadian Burlesque Brunch that has already performed in November and February. “Those been my first producing events,” she says.
In April, she’s going to perform at the Capital Burlesque Expo in Ottawa. It is Ottawa’s annual event that unites performers all over Canada to celebrate the art of the strip tease.
Kay Licious really enjoys doing burlesque and finds the reactions of the audience satisfying, but there is a downside.
“It is not a widely accepted performance type because it involves striptease so it has a lot of stigma to it that you have to deal with at times.”
“It took me years until I told my parents. They never came to my shows, but they haven’t disowned me.”
The burlesque community in Halifax is fairly small, but despite the art’s stigma, new dancers are coming to the scene because of Kay Licious’s classes and expertise.
“I find that over the years Kay Licious’ confidence and outgoingness seeped into my real self,” she says. “She’s not a very strong character like some of the burlesque dancers out there. Mine is just the more confident version of me.”