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?

Lillian Bustle: 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.

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.