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UA Dance alum finds success in burlesque

Michael Luna

Matt Finish is the reigning Mr. Arizona Entertainer of the Year. The burlesque performer is co-founder of Don’t Blink Burlesque and runs the Arizona Burlesque Festival.

Matt Finish was first attracted to the world of burlesque in November 2011, when a friend of his insisted that he attend a show with her. Despite his disinterest, he went to a Black Cherry Burlesque performance at the Surly Wench Pub.

“I thought it was horribly depressing,” Finish said. “I didn’t understand when I was younger. I thought they were showgirls.”

However, the show, which took place on a tiny stage in the bar, immediately drew him in. He decided that he had to do burlesque. 

Lucky enough, one of the performers, Fanny Galore, announced she was offering classes. 

“They were beautiful; they were gorgeous; they were sexy,” Finish said. “They were just having the time of their lives and the audience was there for it. It was a different way of being sexual; it was a different way of being glamorous, and I really appreciated that.” 

That was just the beginning for the performer. 

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Finish is a UA School of Dance graduate and an internationally known burlesque performer. He recently won the Arizona Mr. Entertainer of the Year 2017, a pageant-like contest held nation-wide. He will advance to the national competition in July.

This isn’t the most prestigious title awarded to Finish. In 2014, he was named the International Master of “Assels,” an award aptly named for dancing with tassels on a certain spot. He was also named Mr. Exotic World in 2015, or King of Burlesque, the highest award for a male burlesque performer. 

“Once you win that award you stop competing, so it was kind of sad,” Finish said. “I liked competing. It was a natural progression to branch out into pageantry, and that’s what this is.”

Finish has been a classically trained dancer for most of his life, so structure was a big part of his skill. Following the completion of his undergraduate degree at the University of California Irvine, during which he also gained experience dancing in the Disneyland parade and working as a go-go dancer, Finish moved to New York City to pursue his dream.

In a sort of fairytale combination of luck, opportunity and hard work, Finish booked a job after four days in the Big Apple. On his 21st birthday, he signed a contract to dance with the all-male comedic ballet troupe, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. In 2008, he decided to go back to school at the UA School of Dance for his masters degree.

“The environment at the university was so creative,” he said. “There were people 10 years younger than me who could run circles around me as far as creating movement. I took that with me into burlesque, even though I hadn’t done it there [at the university].”

After graduating in 2011, he discovered the world of burlesque at that one fateful show and joined Black Cherry Burlesque before starting his own company, Don’t Blink Burlesque, with a few other performers in 2012. Since then, he has produced his own shows and competed in several pageants and festivals.

Now, Finish is still booking tours through 2018. He is also the production designer at Pima Community College, runs the Arizona Burlesque Festival, dances with Don’t Blink Burlesque and runs Downtown Burlesk: Strip Local.

Don’t Blink Burlesque is a world-famous group, competing for the fourth time this summer for the Best Large Group at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. 

Downtown Burlesk: Strip Local is a show specifically for new local entertainers to gain experience onstage performing in front of an audience. Finish provides his performers with photoshoots and videos to advance their careers to the next level. He started this show with his rent money, hoping to return a favor to the community that had given him so many resources. 

“It’s kind of my passion project; that was my way of giving back,” he said. “It’s me giving them access to resources that I have now that they might not have.”

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One of Finish’s hopes for the future of burlesque is to find an Arizona legend, someone who was a burlesque performer in the 1940s through the 1990s. They are responsible for the revival of burlesque and its vitality today. Every year, legends still come out to perform and strip—some even in wheelchairs. 

“They are sacred in the burlesque community, and the community is very tightknit, but we don’t have any in Arizona. … I know we must have some,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing what we are now. Burlesque would be dead. They don’t know that they are so beloved.”

Finish said he hopes to be a role model to those aspiring in the performing arts, especially burlesque. He is refreshingly confident, extremely hard-working, open and friendly. 

“To an aspiring performer, you can’t do it wrong,” he said. “It is literally impossible for you to do it wrong; that doesn’t mean it’s good, but it’s not wrong. Make mistakes. Do it. Why wouldn’t you? And you will find an audience for what you are doing.”

Don’t Blink Burlesque performs on Second Saturdays at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave.

Follow Breagh Watson on Twitter

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