Annual burlesque festival draws together community of dancers

James Rodriguez

Surrounded by feather boas, pasties and walls lined with sex toys, UT alumna Lynn Raridon reclines in her chair, as if to signal that she is at home. Forbidden Fruit, the sex shop she owns and runs, is known around Austin as a longstanding purveyor of pleasure. But after hours, Raridon turns toward another passion: organizing and cultivating Austin’s thriving burlesque scene.

As the director and co-producer of the annual Texas Burlesque Festival, which celebrates its ninth anniversary this weekend, Raridon will bring performers from around the world to Austin for a three-day celebration of burlesque and vaudeville. Raridon, who earned a BFA in dance, said she was originally set on performing and choreographing jazz or modern dance. Those dreams took a turn when she choreographed a musical about Gypsy Lee Rose, one of the original burlesque icons.

“Up until that point, [burlesque] was one of those things where, yeah, I kind of knew about it, but I had never really pursued it,” Raridon said. “I was much more interested in all different kinds of modern dance and ethnic dance. It was on the radar, but it was really just a blip. [After that show], I became an absolute fan, but at that point in time, the ’80s, there was no burlesque to be had in Austin.”

Raridon said burlesque can be summed up as the “art of the tease,” a performance that combines dancing, elaborate costuming and a transformation. Usually the transformations revolve around removing articles of clothing, but not always. Instances in which performers begin near-naked and proceed to clothe themselves onstage, known as reverse-strips, are not uncommon. Neither are transformations from man to woman, or vice-versa.

According to Raridon, the “Burlesque Renaissance,” as she terms it, did not begin until the late ’90s and early 2000s, when rockabilly shows began incorporating dancers and troupes such as Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, which made waves in the Austin burlesque scene. In the interlude, Raridon began working at Forbidden Fruit and continued to dance and choreograph.

“Austin is really a great place to be doing burlesque right now because it pretty much is enveloping all aspects of it,” Raridon said. “It’s people of all genders and gender identification, it’s burlesque, it’s boy-lesque, its queer-lesque. But it all involves this kind of transformation that’s going to happen with that performer.”

When Kitty Kitty Bang Bang needed an artistic director in 2002, they turned to Raridon. Several years later, Texas Burlesque Festival began, and Raridon joined as a stage manager. Soon she took over as the producer and has been working to educate audiences about body images and sexuality ever since. 

“Anything that gives us an opportunity to expand people’s mindset about something, to destigmatize something, to help them learn a little bit more and grow, that’s definitely a positive for me,” Raridon said. “Burlesque, it’s just so natural for us to be involved with it because it’s also out there destigmatizing how people think about their bodies and what is sexy and sensual. You’re gonna see 200-pound people up onstage, getting sexy, really feeling so confident and comfortable in who they are.” 

Coco Lectric, co-producer of the festival and burlesque dancer, said the acceptance of the burlesque community drew her to the art form. 

“You can’t be a size 8 ballerina,” Lectric said. “That’s just not how the world works. In burlesque, with all that training, you can be the best at all of the stuff you’ve studied your whole life and bring that to the stage, and audiences appreciate that. They appreciate being entertained and they don’t really care what size you are.”

Texas Burlesque Festival 2016

  • When: Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Marchesa Hall, 6226 Middle Fiskville Road
  • Admission: $15 on Thursday, $35 Friday and Saturday, $5 discount with valid student ID