Lillian Bustle Displays Body Positivity Through Burlesque

Lillian Bustle is a Jersey City gem. She is an outspoken advocate for body positivity and uses burlesque to promote her ideals. Jersey City Independent caught up with her to learn a little more about the art of burlesque, how she brought it to Jersey City, and the message it advances.

Educate us. What is burlesque?

My stage name is Lillian Bustle, after Lillian Russell, an American opera star at the turn of the last century. I’ve been performing for 4 years, on stages from New York to Montreal. Burlesque’s basic definition is parody or exaggerated imitation, but burlesque performance as we know it today is a short-form performance art that involves striptease. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules. Burlesque can be political, funny, provocative, nerdy, gender-bendy, moving, beautiful, and shocking. It usually involves music, movement, and taking off clothes.

How did you bring burlesque to Jersey City? 

I’ve wanted to produce a monthly show in Jersey City for months, but it was tricky to find a venue that was a good match. After I took a look at Miss Wong’s Lounge, I pitched the idea and Speakeasy Burlesque was born. I also produced The Drawing Room Revue at the lovely Jersey City Art School, which was a night of burlesque performance and art modeling where audience members brought art supplies to sketch during the show. That was a big hit. I hope to produce another like it in the fall.

Why this medium?

There’s camaraderie in the audience of a burlesque show, and the creativity of the acts blow my mind. Taking a three to six minute song and then telling a story with your body on top of it is so personal, so nuanced. There’s no other style of live performance like it. I get excited about the diversity on burlesque stages, seeing a glorious variety of performers, and then creating innovative performance pieces.

When I’m performing, I thrive on the energy of the audience and of my cast-mates. I create acts that are as sparkly and glamorous, as political, or as ridiculous as I want. I love seeing the faces in the audience when I perform, and talking to folks after the show.

Do you have a signature performance style?

My acts range from classic to bizarre, but my signature numbers include YES, a performance art piece that confronts body image issues, and my Turducken act, both of which you can check out on my site lillianbustle.com. I hope to keep exploring all kinds of styles. I’m working on a couple of sing/strip numbers for a show with The Corsettes at Roxy and Duke’s in Dunellen, and that’s been a fun exercise in multitasking!

What can audiences expect?

Speakeasy Burlesque is an evening of live burlesque and cabaret-style acts in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. If you’ve never been to a burlesque show, you might be surprised to know that the audience is typically about 75% women.

As your host, I strive to connect with the audience and relax first-timers. Each month I invite a different cast of my favorite performers to bring acts that they’re on fire about, so every show is a brand new experience. And yes, people do remove clothing!

Speakeasy Burlesque is a celebration of all kinds of bodies. It’s incredibly positive and affirming. I want this show to be an incubator for new ideas about art, risk-taking, and pushing boundaries. And making sure the audience is having a blast!

I’m sold. When is the next one?

August 2nd Speakeasy Burlesque is the first Tuesday of every month at Miss Wong’s Lounge below Talde (8 Erie Street.) Doors open at 7:30 and the show starts around 8 pm, addmission is $15.

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Photo credit David L. Byrd

Mel Kozakiewicz

is a writer, performer, and professor. She lives in the Heights section of Jersey City and she is a former editor for Jersey City Independent.