Ms. Judith Stein is returning to where she belongs — the spotlight.
Stein will join 43 other performers this weekend for the first annual Kootenay Burlesque Festival. The event, which runs Friday and Saturday night at the Capitol Theatre, features acts from as far away as New Zealand, Australia and New York City.
Standing among, and above, them will be Stein, a 70-year-old Nelson resident who first started dancing in the early 1970s as a way of making money while attending the University of Oregon. Over 40 years later, she matter-of-factly refers to herself as “internationally renowned.”
She’s not wrong. Stein, who also goes by Mama Beaver (the younger performers refer to her affectionately as Mama), was one of the stars of the documentary League of Exotique Dancers, which opened at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival in 2016. She’s also an inductee in the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, who dubbed her the Canadian Legend of Burlesque.
In burlesque parlance, the word legend is not just a title.
“Usually you’re a headliner if you are a legend,” says Stein. “A headliner is someone who’s basically earned (it). She’s done enough shows, she’s put enough work into it, she’s a top entertainer.”
And here, Stein wryly adds a clarification: “When I use the word entertainer, stripping is not the ballet. It’s a low-brow art.”
Sherry Perry, a.k.a Vesper Valentine, is the festival’s producer and one of its performers. Nelson has held burlesque shows before, but none of this size. Perry said she had 92 applicants for the festival, with several big stars taking on smaller performances just so they could participate.
“Maestro Maestra is out of New York City and he is a professional ballet performer,” says Perry. “He applied just because he wants to come to the Kootenays.”
The festival boasts international acts including MisRed Delicious and Foxy Tann, while B.C.’s Sasparilla Foxx and Silk E Gunz are also among the headliners. Perry hopes the level of talent draws interest from people who have never been to a burlesque show before.
“With the burlesque festival, it’s more like going to Vegas and taking in a show. You can expect the full-on showgirls, you can expect the rhinestone costumes, big fabulous boas, feather and silk fans, ballerinas. It’s going to be a sight for the senses.”
For Stein, burlesque is about so much more than putting on and, to the audience’s delight, taking off elaborate costumes.
The well-timed wink, a grin, a suggestive joke, it’s all part of her craft, one she is still happy to practise among performers more than half her age.
“I think probably because I don’t really care about being hot,” says Stein. “I don’t really care about being sexy. I just think being me is good enough, and I like to play. I like to tease. The fact that I’m playing makes people more comfortable.”
Tickets are $31 for the shows, which begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Capitol Theatre. Workshops meanwhile are $20 each or 100 for all six classes. Workshops run 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at The Moving Centre, 533A Baker St.