Smile Politely

Slut ‘n strut

Laure Robertson, center with James Haas left and Jamie Hines right

I love a double interview. It’s good to get a couple of different perspectives on the same subject, especially one as titillating as burlesque. In this case, I was able to chat with Laura Robertson and Jamie Hines, two of the feautured dancers in Carnivale Debauche. As Champaign-Urbana’s only vaudeville burlesque troupe, Carnivale has its dirty work cut out for it. 

Smile Politely: What is Carnivale Debauche? How did you get involved?

Jamie Hines: Carnivale Debauche is a burlesque and vaudeville troupe that has been performing in Champaign/Urbana since 2010. We combine burlesque dancers and comedy with hoop, poi, and fire artists. We currently have about 17 people total involved with the troupe either as performers or working behind the scenes. I have been involved from the very beginning. I was still living in Bloomington/Normal, getting ready to moved to Champaign, and I came over to do hair and makeup for CUTC’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. During that show, I met Matt Fear [one of the founders] and Whitney Havice [the choreographer]. I auditioned and was offered a spot in the troupe as a dancer. Four years later, I continue to dance with the troupe and have becoming a co-director with Whitney Havice.

Laura Robertson: If I remember correctly, I joined up in 2010 (I can’t even believe it’s been that long) and I am currently one of the main burlesque dancers.

SP: What is you favorite part of performing with Carnivale Debauche?

Hines: The family we’ve created. Some of my best friends are in or have been in the troupe. Much like other theatrical productions, we spend a lot of time together rehearsing for shows, but it doesn’t stop there. We go out together, watch movies/TV together, gossip, and we love and support each other just like family. And the cool thing is, it’s always ongoing. There’s always another show to work towards, new ideas to hatch, new choreography to learn, new costumes to sew. Sometimes it’s like herding kittens, but dang it if they aren’t the cutest and sweetest kittens ever! When I moved to Champaign four years ago, I never thought I would create so many friendships that will last a lifetime. I am so thankful for them and the support for artistic endeavors…in our community. 

Jamie Hines as Betty Leigh

SP: What is burlesque? How is it not just stripping?

Hines: Burlesque, stripping, and even pole dancing, while all different, still live in the realm of the exotic arts, I’d say. We all aim to entertain in seductive ways but, for each, the method is different. With burlesque, we focus on the dancing, costuming, and, most importantly, the art of the tease. While those elements are present in the other performances mentioned, it is the major focus of a burlesque performance. The anticipation of the final reveal is what builds and drives each performance. Personally, we try to balance the classy and slightly raunchy elements that make burlesque beautiful and work within an artistic and theatrical mindset. You won’t see dollar bills hanging from our costumes, but you may see a harmless lap dance…every now and again.

Robertson: I think we…manage to keep some of the humor and irreverence alive and well within Carnivale Debauche. The glittering costumes, the bump-and-grind, the nudity…this is what people think of when they hear the word “burlesque.” Personally? I don’t agree with distancing ourselves with stripping or other forms of exotic dance. Our context is simply different. I think you could say that burlesque is more geared toward the women in the audience rather than the men.

SP: Are there male burlesque performers? Is that different?

Hines: YES!!! In the four years Carnivale Debauche has been performing, we’ve had many! It’s the different and it’s the same. It’s the same in that the end goal and the method of getting there remains the same -the tease, the reveal, costuming, dancing, and so on. It’s different in that you get to experience and gaze upon a different physical body. We play with gender expression a lot in the troupe, so it’s not accurate to say that we have a divide between females and a feminine performance and males with a masculine performance. It literally just boils down to the different parts of our bodies we show to the audience. We firmly believe that all bodies and all styles of performance can be seductive. We LOVE that we have varying gender identities, ethnicities, body types, and ages in the troupe. Not everyone likes the same flavor, so we present many different flavors.

Robertson: There are absolutely male burlesque dancers. Boylesque is one of my favorite things to watch. It can be cheeky, gender-bendy fun. It can be dark and sexy; it’s another wonderful facet of the art form.

SP: What’s your specialty? What’s your act?

Robertson: Slow peels and some classic bump-n-grind -we’ve termed it “slut and strut.” I’ve recently started working fan dancing into my routines as well, so that should be a fun new trick.

Laura Robertson

SP: What do you enjoy about performing?

Robertson: It makes me feel strong. Being able to captivate a whole group of people by just walking…feels pretty awesome.

Hines: I tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen: I love doing burlesque because I love the body positive message I can send with my performances. You can have any body shape or size and do burlesque. It takes a whole lot of confidence combined with grace and passion. Sure, not everyone is going to want to see a plus sized person taking their clothes off, but that isn’t the point (and I don’t care, ’cause screw ’em). It’s the whole package that should matter; the whole performance. That’s the entertainment, not just the ending naked part. I am constantly rewarded by the interactions I have when the shows are over. The compliments are great, but the good stuff comes when someone says, “I totally want to do that now” or “You have given me such inspiration.” I know I have shared a message more powerful than just the seductive side of burlesque with those people. I’ve shared that you can be YOU and be you with CONFIDENCE and people will still love you.

Syd Hastings and Laura Robertson

SP: Do you ever feel nervous? I imagine most of our readers would be rattled by the idea of dancing, juggling, etc in little to no clothing! 

Hines: Each show I feel more and more pressure (of the good kind) to really make sure that I’m representing the embodiment of body positivity. I will love me and I will not hide me. If you don’t wanna look, go get a beer. Your friends will probably tell you when you return that you missed one helluva performance!

Robertson: Nervous, yes, but I’m more afraid of tripping on my heels or forgetting choreography. The fact that I’m either losing clothing or wearing very little to begin with doesn’t really cross my mind. It’s part of the job, and I wouldn’t have signed up for it if I didn’t want to do it.

Carnivale Debauche will be at Mike ‘N Molly’s on Saturday, August 2nd at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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