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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Weekender Feature | Tufts Burlesque Troupe

A new performance group clad in black tights and a few pink boas will slink onstage this Saturday night. Their debut performance in Alumnae Lounge will reveal the efforts of the brand-spanking-new Tufts Burlesque Troupe (TBT). While the show features a wide range of dance styles and personalities, it still remains true to the vaudevillian performance style from which it takes its name.

The art of the tease

Burlesque dance is often associated with something akin to striptease, but TBT is more interested in showing off talent and hard work than skin and lingerie.

"It's not about stripping; it's about being sexy and demonstrating sexiness in a way which has unfortunately become outdated. It's about keeping things covered and still being attractive, and that's what we want to recover," sophomore Jessica Snow, TBT's co-director and choreographer, said, "It's about bringing sexiness back to having clothes on."

TBT's routines might take inspiration from historic vaudeville, but members aren't afraid to be creative or put a modern spin on an antique style of dance.

"Burlesque, in the way we're choosing to present it, is more like an attitude," sophomore Marissa Oberlander said. "Jessica calls it 'the art of the tease.' The idea is to put confidence and empowerment in dance."

The pieces in Saturday's show all embody the burlesque attitude, but remain stylistically varied. They range from sultry hip-hop and energized tap to a "lyrical jazz ballet" arranged to Michael Bubl?©'s seductive "Feeling Good." Though the show is most heavily focused on dance, it also features song. Snow will sing a rendition of Norah Jones' "Turn Me On."

Emcees for the event will introduce the dancers, provide comic relief, and even give a history of burlesque followed by a piece entitled "Hot Sex: A History of Burlesque." In a tribute to tradition, TBT members will form a chorus line during the history.

"[The dancers and the emcees] complement each other in an important way," said sophomore emcee Harry Waksberg, aka Muffin MacGuffin, who is also a Daily Staff Writer. "So much is about the tease, and I think the pauses and the jokes help prolong that."

One routine to look for is the dance to AC/DC's "Back in Black" featuring the co-directors and their vision of modern burlesque. During this performance, the dancers are commanding, seductive and playful. They incorporate finger pulls, hip thrusts and a few slaps to demonstrate their comfort with this genre of dance.

The beginning of burlesque

TBT has tried to distinguish itself from other dance groups on campus since its inception late last semester. It strives to be different both stylistically and through the opportunities it affords its members. For sophomore Julie Kaviar, co-director and co-founder of the group, TBT fills a sensual gap in the Tufts arts scene.

"Tufts is lacking in the sexy," Kaviar said. She feels that students can express their more intimate sides in a warmer and more comfortable setting through the medium of burlesque dance.

The group also acts as a "middle ground" between Tufts Dance Collective and the time-intensive Sarabande. Sophomore Mary Von Rueden feels that TBT is perfect for students who can't commit to an intense schedule, but who want something more serious than TDC.

"We wanted it to be a new opportunity for people of all artistic talents," Von Rueden said, "It's really hard work. You aren't just there to jump around."

The tight-knit community of TBT allows performers to take risks that they may not be able to take in other groups. At the same time, members are looking to improve their personal level of performance, so they are open to constructive criticism. TBT promises to provide a forum for artists of all types who have been frustrated in the past by the excessive audition and rehearsal processes that keep people from performing if they don't have the time, yet still want their performances to be of a certain quality.

"It's about letting people who are really talented show off their stuff," Kaviar said.

Saturday's show was put together in a month, but Snow would prefer the group had at least double that time. Ideally, rehearsals would be only one hour per week, making TBT perfect for dancers who already feel that their schedules are overwhelmed with other activities.

Fitting in and standing out

Filling the creative gaps in the Tufts dance scene wasn't easy. TBT has struggled to get recognized and receive adequate funding.

"We didn't get recognized until a month ago, so it's been kind of a rush to the finish line," Snow said, "The hardest part has been the logistical problems with funding. We didn't know if we were going to have the money until a week ago."

TBT received money for their upcoming performance from the Tufts Community Union Senate, in addition to a grant from the Alcohol and Drug Program of the Tufts Health Service that financially supports student activities that promote a social life without drugs or alcohol.

"We're proving that you can have a fun, edgy, sexy environment minus drugs and alcohol," TBT Treasurer Oberlander said.

The group's members seem to feel that the challenges TBT has overcome have only made their upcoming performance that much sweeter.

"As a whole it's been really hard getting off our feet, but the most rewarding thing is that we succeeded," Von Rueden said.

Bringing up 'the sexy'

TBT has very few rules: Anyone can join the group and put together their own piece, even if they are virgins to choreography. But this doesn't mean that the group is slack about member participation or performance quality.

"It's a really thought-out process," Snow said. The directors review all the routines twice at showings they schedule halfway through the semester and before the final show. They offer their troupe critiques, but by Saturday night it will be the dancers' responsibility to perform at their very best.

Snow said that there have not been any problems with this set up. Almost organically, their show, "Speakeasy," has formed out of this creative process.

"This was the first time that I've ever helped choreograph a dance, and it was really cool to see people do something that came out of my head," Oberlander said, "Also, since it's a small group we've built friendships, and [we] are really close."

After this weekend's performance the group hopes to gain enough recognition so that their already varied portfolio can expand to include more dance solos, singing and comedic work while maintaining the fluid and suggestive atmosphere of a jazz club.

"We have a really good group of dancers who are really talented, and we're hoping that number will get bigger," Von Rueden said.

As they gear up for this weekend's debut the girls tell each other to "bring up the sexy" and remember their "faces." There is no doubt that these dancers are looking to momentarily transport the audience to a club scene where everyone is feeling as good as the dancers are.

This is an impressive first year for the troupe, and Snow is excited about the troupe's upcoming performance. She is pleased with the level of support from her peers she has received.

Regardless of the logistical difficulties, Snow believes that "if you have a vision for yourself at this campus, you can always make it work."