Kiva Siani learned to love herself through burlesque performances and exotic dancing, even if some people see her art forms as titillating or scandalous.
“I’m not saying kids should come to all these shows,” Sinia, 43, said of the separate but parallel worlds she’s danced in through her career. “But it’s so normal to show them violent scenes of other people getting beat up and bloodied, and it’s considered OK because it’s in superhero movies. Why can’t we allow more displays of love to be normal?”
That’s her mission this weekend in the tiny town of Manitou Springs, population 5,300. She’ll be joined by dozens of other performers and, ideally, rapt audience members during the Thursday, Aug. 18-Saturday, Aug. 20 Golden Legends Champion Challenge. The touring competition combines internationally headlining and award-winning burlesque artists to Colorado to reinvigorate an important event more or less crushed by the pandemic.
“Three or four years ago we were selling out the Oriental Theater in Denver, which seats about 600,” said Colorado Springs-based burlesque dancer Romeo Uncaged, who describes himself as The Bad Boy of Burlesque (a.k.a. the Lord of Lust or Antichrist of Ass, according to his Instagram). “When we decided to move around during the pandemic, we did not do so well in St. Petersburg, Fla., or Utah. There were like ten people in the audience in Utah.”
This time, Golden Legends will be welcomed by Lulu’s Downstairs, formerly the Red Room, where the ghosts of past performers such as Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner and Ray Charles hang heavy in the air. The venue was chosen for both its history with the event, having first hosted it in 2016, and because it’s a proven stage for burlesque performers.
“I hadn’t sought out burlesque, but the room is unbelievably suited for it,” said Lulu’s owner Marc Benning, noting the intimate vibe (300 to 500, depending on a seated or standing setup) and its steamy, red color scheme. “What they do is really fun and positive and artistic.”
Romeo Uncaged hosts his monthly Champagne Cabaret burlesque show at Lulu’s and further praises Colorado Springs as one of the country’s best burlesque hubs. He came up at Lulu’s and in the Golden Legends competition, having grown from performer to behind-the-scenes producer over the years.
He’s this year’s co-host of Friday and Saturday shows, along with Madame Gem — who runs the largest burlesque troupe in the country, Colorado Springs-based Burly Scouts, which counts nearly 130 members.
The Springs also boasts Peaks and Pasties, “Colorado’s Burlesque Super Troupe” that also features both women and men, and the new (as of December 2021) burlesque bar and venue La Burla Bee, run by Bunny Bee, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported. Nationally touring shows such as Red Velvet Burlesque also stop frequently in town, amid regular club nights at bars and other venues.
The legends this time around include Golden Legends founder Gabriella Maze, lording over performers such as locals Bee and Foxy Dreame. Trina Parks is another indisputable legend, having been the first Black Bond girl (in 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever,” as Thumper). They’re joined by the original Miss Hollywood Burlesque, Siani, who most recently won Miss Exotic World Burlesque; past GLCC Champion and burlesque ambassador, Ivy Faerie; and others.
The event allows them one-on-one mentoring, but also audience meet-and-greets and other networking opportunities.
“Each pair has the chance to bond in a way unique to GLCC, with the end goal of enhancing performance skills and making lifelong friendships worth their weight in gold,” organizers wrote online.
Like Romeo Uncaged, Siani started as a performer at the event (nabbing first runner-up in her initial foray) and is now a mentor. She’s flying into Denver on Thursday from Southern California to begin the process anew.
“With burlesque, we’re often giving people something they never knew they wanted or needed, so a lot of people don’t even know what to expect,” Siani said. “Drag has kind of taken the spotlight in terms of performative sexuality and gender lately, but it’s not just about that. It’s sensuality. Even when Beyonce’s grinding it’s often sensual, not sexual, because it’s a performance of femininity.”
Traditionalism feels a bit more pronounced in burlesque than in other forms of dance, but compared to the longtime conservative culture of Colorado Springs, it’s a flesh-based world of indulgence. That’s changing in Manitou Springs, at least, Lulu’s owner Benning said.
“It’s not the same town it was five years ago, and certainly not ten years ago,” said Benning, a former restaurateur, musician and music producer. “The conservative stereotype that’s been here for long is starting to fade.”
If you go
Golden Legends Champion Challenge and Variety Showcase. Aug. 18-20 at Lulu’s Downstairs, 107 Manitou Ave. in Manitou Springs. All ages. Tickets: Single-night passes ($30-$50) and three-night passes available via ticketweb.com. Visit goldenlegends.org for more information.
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