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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Tucson becomes a stage for international burlesque dancers

Courtesy Bea Trouble
Matt Finish ‘Mr. Exotic World’ 2015, Producer and host of The 6th Annual Arizona Burlesque Festival.

The sixth annual Arizona Burlesque Festival is strutting over to Fourth Avenue with two days of competition, variety acts and workshops featuring performers from all over the southwest. 

Matt Finish, producer of the festival and University of Arizona alumnus, is hosting the event at The Hut on Oct. 11-12. 

Finish has professional dance training and a master’s degree in dance at the UA. He performs all over the world for different shows and festivals.

“It can get very insular in a small community, everyone performs the same way and Tucson was very much rhinestones and fishnets, very controlled, very classic,” Finish said. “As I personally started doing festivals around the country, I realized that burlesque really took on a lot of different forms and I wanted to introduce that here as well.”

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According to Finish, there will be many performers traveling to Tucson from all over the world. They will be visiting from places like Russia, New Zealand and Canada. 

This year’s featured performers include the previous “Best Burlesque” winner Zyra Lee Vanity and headliner Kitty Von Quim.

Zyra Lee Vanity (Toronto, CAN), was the winner of The Arizona Burlesque Festival 'Best Burlesque' 2018
Zyra Lee Vanity (Toronto, CAN), was the winner of The Arizona Burlesque Festival ‘Best Burlesque’ 2018

Quim has been involved in the burlesque world for about a decade and had performed in the Arizona festival before. Quim caught Finish’s attention with her famed Lady Pacman act at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2018 and was asked to headline the Arizona Burlesque Festival.

“He wanted to bring me to Arizona because of how I incorporate camp and drag influences into my burlesque,” Quim said. “The idea of bringing in this kind of over-the-top kind of humor and drama and that kind of energy [to the festival], which is definitely my particular style of burlesque.”

The festival not only includes variety show acts, but there are also workshops the featured performers and judges teach during the day, offering a closer look at the burlesque scene and community. 

The head judge of the competition is local burlesque legend and a Burlesque Hall of Fame board member, Desiré d’Amour.

For around 20 years, d’Amour has been in the burlesque scene. She has been involved as a performer and a judge with the Arizona Burlesque Festival for all six years.

When discussing her judging methods, d’Amour went into how she teaches beginner burlesque students and what she thinks is key to a good performance.

“What I think is successful is when every woman in the crowd, you know, wants to be like you, wants to be you, and thinks that they can because you make it look so easy,” d’Amour said. “And every man in the crowd feels like he wants to be your girlfriend.”

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An Eller College of Management alumna, d’Amour is a seasoned performer by night, and a CFO and accountant by day.

According to d’Amour, there are only about 10 people she knows that work in burlesque for a living, and most of them don’t make their money off performing alone.

“Very few people can make a living out of it because, you know, it’s still a very underground scene,” d’Amour said. “It’s kind of like being a band, you know. Very few people make it to the top.”

Kitty Von Quim (Audtin, TX), Headliner at The 6th Annual Arizona Burlesque Festival.
Kitty Von Quim (Audtin, TX), Headliner at The 6th Annual Arizona Burlesque Festival.

Purina Meowmix, the head stagekitten (stagehand) for the festival, has studied under Finish for dance at Pima Community College but is now studying to be a teacher at the UA. They spoke heavily about how difficult it can be to obtain a professional persona while participating in burlesque.

“With burlesque, I had to take a step back because I want to work with kids in the future,” Meowmix said. “A lot of people have lost their jobs because they came forward and said they wanted to do burlesque.”

According to her, it has been a really great experience to work as a stagehand for the festival because she can get to know the performers.

“The wonderful thing about burlesque [is] it’s not about looking a certain way, it’s not about being able to do the best tricks or afford the best costumes,” Finish said. “It’s about going up there and putting on a good show and taking off your clothes while you do it.”

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