The queen crawled across the floor oh so slowly, a blue feather boa wrapped around her body as she slithered under the gaze of the entire room.
She had emerged on the stage to the song “Glory Box” by Portishead, a personal favorite, wearing a floor length gown but had long since left the gown on the stage to reveal not much underneath. Under the colored lights, her blue glitter nipple pasties sparkled.
Poison Ivory is a New York City-based burlesque performer and the 2016 Queen of Burlesque, a prestigious title awarded after an annual competition at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. She was one of six performers at “Singe’s Summer Simmer,” a burlesque show Saturday night at the Back Door that included burlesque, boylesque and drag performances.
Singe, a Bloomington-based burlesque show producer and educator, organized and hosted the show, which was her 20th burlesque production. She started in burlesque in 2011.
Singe credited the 2008 documentary “A Wink and a Smile” for a part of her interest in burlesque. When she mentioned the film in a crowded back room before the show, another performer chimed in, “Me, too!”
Burlesque started as a parody of musical theater in Victorian England before becoming a vaudeville-competitor striptease in the late 1800s. A modern revival caused the genre to focus less on pleasing a male gaze and more on creativity and performance, the theater and the narrative of the routines themselves.
“I’ve seen people do it for fun, and I’ve seen people use it as a growing process after trauma,” Singe said.
She also has taught at BurlyCon, a Seattle convention dedicated toward burlesque, for multiple years. That’s where she met Ivory, who was pregnant and in need of a room to crash. Singe offered and asked if she would ever want to perform at a show in Bloomington. Ivory said yes.
Ivory, who is 36 and used to work in television production, has been touring the country doing shows for the last five years. A friend gave her the stage name “Poison” — her real name is Andrea Ivory. She also saw the documentary that inspired Singe and started taking classes at the New York School of Burlesque for fun.
“It felt like I found a new addiction,” she said.
Her Bloomington performance was one of her first after giving birth to her daughter Audrey in April. She only stopped performing when she was eight months pregnant, and said she looks forward to showing her in-utero “duet partner” videos of the shows when Audrey grows up.
Ivory’s show marks the first time a Queen of Burlesque has ever performed in Bloomington, Singe said. Most of the other performers were Indiana-based, including Bloomington-based drag performers Mocha Debeauté, Jaimee Spangle, local burlesque performer and host of the “Showgirl Sunday Dinner” podcast Twirlisha Devine and Indianapolis resident Juju Bone.
Bone, who is 35 and works in food service management, carefully brushed a pink heart onto the tip of her nose as she sat at a desk crammed with items: dry shampoo, makeup, setting spray, an apple, Elmer’s adhesive spray and the heart-shaped pink pasties with tassels she later attached using said adhesive spray.
Most of the performers did two numbers, and Bone’s first one was all bubblegum and bounce. The look was inspired by a 90s themed birthday party she went to. She dressed as a Care Bear and decided to incorporate it into her act.
Her second look for the night was leather and fishnets, which she wore for a routine involving an apple moving from her hand to her hair to between her buttcheeks to the mouths of audience members vying for attention, hands outstretched.
“I do not subscribe to a look,” she said. “I shoot from the hip. Variety is the spice of life.”
The night’s acts ranged from the sultry to the silly.
Bloomington-based drag king Jaimee Spangle dangled from chains suspended from the ceiling, spinning in a red glitter harness matching his glitter beard.
Bazuka Joe, a Chicago-based boylesque dancer, graced the stage in only a towel. He slowly stripped the towel to reveal a slightly smaller one underneath and continued down the matryoshka route until finally only wearing a small towel over his genitals.
For his second act, he strapped a large puppet named Mortimer the Monster to himself and gave a classic burlesque routine complete with feather fans as Mortimer.
Singe’s burlesque shows usually have a theme, but this time the performers were told to do whatever they wanted. Part of the appeal of burlesque for the performers is that ability to express whatever they want on stage, be it through strapping yourself to a large monster puppet or crawling on the floor.
“You can do anything, feel anything,” Singe said. “You have the ultimate freedom to create.”