MOLINE — Burlesque as therapy, self-discovery, empowerment and exploring gender will all be part of tonight’s Striptease Academy Showcase 2022, says founder Mary Francis.
Actually, she first introduces the two-hour, 10-person show in a much more low-key way.
“I hope it’s not too cheesy … but expect the unexpected,” says Francis, in her sixth year of leading Mary Quite Contrary’s House of Burlesque based in the Quad Cities.
“The Academy shows are my favorite shows of the year. It is all about the graduates. We do not perform in it at all…. You never know what you’re going to see at these shows. You’re just in for a wild ride. There is also so much love in the room because the audience is all their family friends and coworkers.”
The shows typically attract crowds of several hundred, Francis says, and capacity at The Spotlight Theatre in Moline is 500. Tickets are available online or at the door.
All performers tonight are graduates of MQC’s 12-week “Burlesque 101 Academy.” They’ve all gone through intensive classes on burlesque history, fundamental moves and techniques like chair dancing, costuming, and performing as a group.
Some are already experienced performers; some will be performing for an audience beyond the MQC teaching team for the first time ever. Here are some of the stories that showcase performers will be sharing:
- One performer who identifies as male will be presenting his first show in “draglesque,” combining burlesque with gender-bending. “He’s finally finding himself,” says Francis.
- Another is a female-identifying person who grew up in a small, conservative town and is only now finding as an adult that “making space for herself is a priority,” Francis says. She’s been studying under Francis for a year in her effort to “come out of a self-deprecating place mentally.” For this student, Francis says, “burlesque is her therapy. She says she can’t stop doing this because this where she can truly be herself and wash away what people say.”
- Another previous student and performer was a woman in her 70s whose husband passed away after a long-term illness. She took the Burlesque Academy and performed as a dominatrix as part of a newfound verve for life that also included buying a convertible, Francis says.
- Moms also find a unique form of reinvention through MQC, wrote QuadCities.com in a 2020 profile of Mary Quite Contrary’s. The story included two moms of teenage kids who found that burlesque helped them get back in touch with their own joy after years of focusing on children and youth activities. “It was fun; got me out of my comfort zone,” the article quotes Sassy LaShay. “It gave me some confidence back, after being a mom for so long.”
In addition to helping people find themselves anew, explore gender roles and feel good about their bodies, burlesque helps destigmatize nudity, Francis says. “Nudity doesn’t always have to be so sexual,” she says. “That’s (another thing) they learn through these classes.”
Francis and MQC also have a long history of connecting with the LGBTQ community, QuadCities.com wrote. This includes not only attracting numerous LGBTQ+ people all along the spectrums to the academy and troupe, but also working with drag queens like Sinaman for emceeing and other collaborations.
The group also regularly performs at all annual Pride events and Varieties Nightclub, one of Davenport’s two LGBTQ+ nightclubs.
Saturday night’s showcase is among the last major MQC events of the year and season. In addition to the Striptease Academy Showcase, MQC’s troupe members including Francis will hold a holiday showcase Dec. 10, “Under the Mistletoe,” at the Skylark in downtown Rock Island.
Mary Quite Contrary’s also striving to hold a large event around the Valentine’s season in February 2023. To learn more, go to MQC House of Burlesque’s website, or its Facebook page.
A reminder that tickets for tonight’s show are available online or at the door at The Spotlight Theatre in Moline.
(cover photo features this year’s Striptease Academy members along with Mary Francis, front, founder of Mary Quite Contrary’s House of Burlesque)