Bohemian Burlesque presents a monthly show in Smíchov

Burlesque has changed into something that can be empowering for women

Burlesque has been making a comeback, but is something a bit different than it was decades ago.

Bohemian Burlesque, which has a monthly residency at Uhelna Club in Prague's Smíchov district, is putting on shows billed as Bohemian Cabaret.

Their next show is April 6 and will feature guest Adèle Wolf, along with several local burlesque and cabaret acts. Wolf is based in Oklahoma City as well as Paris and Berlin.

In May, there will be a show with a different lineup in Brno at Kabinet Múz on May 6 and in Prague at Uhelna Club on May 7.

Previous shows had guest performers from Poland, Slovakia and the UK. The shows incorporate singing, stand-up comedy and circus performers to add a cabaret aspect to the evening.

There have been significant changes to burlesque, with proponents saying that it is a feminist art form that can empower those who practice it.

“It is becoming much more mainstream and more accepted,” Lucie Čihanková said. She goes by the stage name Angelica G. L'Amour and is the director of Bohemian Burlesque.

Some of the people who practiced burlesque in the past are still around, and can explain how the art form has changed. “When you talk to them they tell you the main difference between the burlesque then and now is that before it was a scandalous business that was run by men and making money off of something scandalous, the nudity, and back then [it] was outrageous nudity. But these days it is like a step back, retro nudity. The main reason it is talked about so much is that it has become a feminist art form,” she said.

“The current burlesque has much less money. It is less of a business and more for the love of the art. You do it because you love it and it is run very much by women. It is feminist self-expression. Men are involved but in the minority,” she said.

Performers tend to come up with their own choreography, chose their own music and have a lot of input on the costumes. “The person might also be a producer of the show, which is another huge job these days,” she said.

Burlesque works best live, as it relies a lot on audience response. “One of the reasons it is becoming more popular is that people are looking for live entertainment, and it is providing this retro experience,” she said. “It is cool to go a little bit back in not exposing that much.”

L'Amour is originally from Brno but lived in New Zealand for eight years. She used to do other forms of dancing such as ballet, ballroom, flamenco and belly dancing. “I was looking for something to connect these experiences and present it in some format. I used to be a go-go dancer as well. I discovered burlesque in New Zealand. I said, 'I can do this.' I liked the style, the costumes, the fact that the woman is creating the whole look,” she said. She doesn't make her costumes from scratch but she does decorate them with rhinestones and other accessories.

She began her company in 2014 and brought burlesque to her hometown of Brno and brought international performers to the Czech Republic “We needed people to see what it is done like abroad,” she said.

Burlesque does have a history in Czechoslovakia, but like many things it fell off in the communist era. Some burlesque did exist but mostly for party dignitaries and not for the masses.

One star to come from Bohemia was La Savona, who was born in Prague in 1933 as Svetla Goode. She moved to the US in 1947 and was a star in the 1950s, known for her Scheherazade act and her outer space number. She was named the Burlesque Hall of Fame Legend of the Year 2012.

L'Amour is hoping to track down some veteran “legend” performers in Europe and bring them to Prague for the Bohemian Burlesque Festival in October, as many women are still performing on occasion in their 70s and 80s, and provide a link to that earlier era.

At the same time, she likes to give opportunities to new people emerging on the scene. “I am always looking out for new girls interested to take on burlesque and for cabaret talents, people who can sing, juggle, acrobats, stand-up comedians, new MCs. I think it makes a very nice mix with burlesque. Burlesque can incorporate all kinds of things,” she said.

“The one thing I like in my shows is the variety — variety of body types, of ages, variety of performers and styles … It is good to connect it into one nice blend,” she said.

L'Amour is also working hard to contribute to building a better community around burlesque, as there are a lot of people interested in retro clothing and swing dancing as well as tribal belly dancing. There are similarities in these interests, especially with tribal dancing, which can use burlesque props like the feather fans. “What I am trying to do is build a tight supportive community and get people to cooperate more. The scene is very small, and we need to bring new people into it … and to stick together more,” she said.

Burlesque not only gives women new freedom but it can also help women with their confidence and improve their body image, as burlesque is open to all and does not promote only body types propagated by the media and fashion industry that are impossible to achieve. L'Amour is starting beginner's courses under the new brand Bohemian School of Burlesque from April 12.

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