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Burlesque 101 with Ophelia Flame: Pasties secrets, choosing a costume, and performing on a bad day

Ophelia Flame

Ophelia Flame Jenn Kelly

Burlesque dancer Ophelia Flame has been tastefully undressing in front of audiences for almost two decades. In addition to winning numerous awards, the curvaceous, vivacious ginger has performed across the globe, and is the founder of the Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy in Minneapolis, which offers classes and workshops on the art form.

Minneapolis Burlesque Festival

The Lab Theater
$30 per show; $50 VIP

We spoke to Ms. Flame in anticipation of her headlining performance at the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, a four-day extravaganza that kicks off this Thursday with the Gilded Lily Gala.

City Pages: What differentiates burlesque from stripping?

Ophelia Flame: There’s a joke in burlesque that the only difference between burlesque and stripping is that people don’t ask what the difference between burlesque and stripping is in a strip club.

It’s a hotly debated thing. There are people who have said, “Burlesque is more classy.” Or, “It’s vintage.” And, “Stripping is about the money and it’s more naked and sort of desperate.” I happen to be fascinated by both.

I think there are a lot of lonely people in the world and they go to strip clubs for companionship. Those people are referred to as “customers.” People who go to a burlesque show go to be entertained and they’re referred to as “audience members.” They both have their place in the world for whatever reason. The difference is intention.

Ophelia Flame

Ophelia Flame Emma Freeman

CP: Who gives dancers their names? Or do they pick them?

OF: Most of them pick their own. Burlesque is sort of kissing cousins to the drag world.

CP: When choosing a costume, what elements are important?

OF: It depends, because there are so many different kinds of burlesque. There’s classic burlesque, there’s theatrical, there’s political. It’s relative to the act. For me, the transitions are the magic. Every time there’s a clothing removal, I call that a “transition.” It has to be intentional and it has to make sense. The biggest mistake new performers make is they throw in everything and the kitchen sink.

I sometimes have an internal inspiration -- a color or a life experience -- that maybe you don’t glean from the actual performance, but it’s my running inner dialogue. Because I am a full-time performer and I travel internationally as a teacher and a performer, it’s like, “What does my repertoire need?” If I just did a classic act, I’m going to do Led Zeppelin, something super rock 'n’ roll. It’s based on the individual and what their style is.

CP: How do you apply pasties and make them stay on?

OF: You have to come to Playful Peacock! We teach classes on those. It’s not a secret, though. Everybody’s different. There are a couple of methods. Double-sided tape is what some people use. Some people use medical adhesive, but that requires a solvent to take off. There’s also liquid latex.

CP: What’s the highest pair of heels that you’ve worn onstage?

OF: I usually rock about a four-inch heel. It’s really not about the height. It’s not like “the higher the heel, the closer to God.” I like to have an open-toed shoe. I like to have an ankle strap. Ballroom shoes typically fit that. Sometimes, I just buy something off-the-rack and make it mine, customize them.

CP: Do you have any trouble with creepers?

OF: I don’t. I’m always happy to meet our audience. You have, certainly, the adoring fans that sometimes are a little more chatty than you have time for or you’re tired.... I’m very clear about my own boundaries.

CP: If you’re having a bad day or feel off when you have to perform, how do you get in the mood?

OF: It’s really hard to have a bad day. I posted a photograph on Instagram the other day when I was tired and crabby, and I looked down at all my materials, which consisted of an extension cord, a lawn vac, a helium tank, some chiffon, and balloons, and I went, “This is my life. This is ridiculous. This is awesome.” It’s hard to take yourself too seriously.

CP: How do you get your students to come out of their shells?

OF: Gina [Louise, founder and artistic director of  the Peacock Showgirls] has a great line: “We’re not trying to make you fabulous. You already are.” Our job is to foster that confidence. We realized really early on that the classes were less about picky choreography and were really about confidence. I think that a little trust, a little guts, is what it takes to come to us, and then we just try to pull out the best of what’s already there. We encourage people. They do the work. We guide the way.

IF YOU GO:

Minneapolis Burlesque Festival
Oct. 6 – 9
Performances and other events are scheduled at Lush, the Lab Theater, and Hell’s Kitchen.
For show times and tickets:
www.minneapolisburlesquefestival.com