The Montreal burlesque scene is a burgeoning endeavor by many who helped to make the city’s burlesque festival a world-renowned event. Montreal has long been known as a colorful party city offering a huge array of unique venues, shows, and performances that entertain the masses. The history of burlesque shows in Montreal began with the initial stages of their very own vaudeville circuit, a scene only slightly behind larger cities like Chicago and New York. In the early 1940s, entertainers arrived in Montreal in droves, (think Armstrong and Sinatra) performing shows and enjoying entertainment at the once-famous Montreal nightclub Chez Paree.
Jazz pianists, singers, and other performers crept onto a bustling scene in the early 1940s as it picked up speed. A few well-known clubs harnessed their popularity with plenty of pretty showgirls and Montreal burlesque dancers. This scenario eventually led to the city’s famed topless dancers and strippers. One of the legendary Montreal burlesque dancers was born in Minneapolis, but did so well as a dancer in the city, she performed for years. Lili St-Cyr was a professional, 1940s-era burlesque dancers hitting the stage all over North America including Miami, New York City, and Las Vegas. Yet Montreal has a certain air about it that attracted hundreds of girls during the burlesque era which lasted only one short decade or so.
The Montreal Burlesque Festival has put this sexy, savvy dance form back into the mainstream. Or at least, it has begun to. The festival hosts a cabaret-style event that features some of the best dancers from around the world, from Montreal burlesque dancers to Japanese dancers. The festival has, with only one year under its belt, established the most successful burlesque shows in Montreal, witnessing a new revival of this classic, sexy stage dance.
The Montreal Burlesque Festival is hosted by Lhotel Hotel in Old Town where the Old Port, or Vieux-Port, is located. This part of town is a tourist target because of the many historical sites and interesting attractions within it. Lhotel is one of Montreal’s boutique hotels and offers an ideal, historic backdrop to the Montreal burlesque event. The festival kicks off on the Thursday of the opening weekend. A vintage fashion show, and the introduction of the main burlesque dancers are main events. Club Soda is the official venue of the shows and tickets are available directly from the club. It is also pretty much the only club that presents burlesque shows in Montreal outside of festival dates.
The Friday evening begins with an international exhibit with dancers from all over the world including Europe, Asia, and North America. The after-party is hosted each of the three nights by a local club or bar named when the event is publicized. The first Montreal Burlesque Festival hosted after-parties at Jello Martini Lounge, a club celebrated for featuring exceptional live blues, jazz, soul, and rhythm.
The shows are ritzy, humorous, and emphasize the playful and fun side of a tease show rather than the often raunchy and racy strip show. The emphasis is most definitely on the tease. These shows attract men and women alike for a look at the masterful moves of the best dancers around. Saturday is the main night for the Montreal Burlesque Festival. This night features the best dancers, the headliners, which show off their burlesque acumen through three major shows where glamorous costumes are as much as part of the show as the dancing is.
Traditional Montreal burlesque dancing has, in essence been left behind yet still retains its 1930s and 1940s flavor. The foundations of burlesque are clearly evident yet the revival has sparked a modern twist that includes a wider scope of approach to performances. From the quintessential strip tease to theater-based dramas, to modern moves to comedic playfulness, modern burlesque is as surprising as it is entertaining.