Hannah Rudderham
Hannah Rudderham
March 16, 2020

Creating a Sense of Family Through Burlesque

Photo by Hannah Rudderham

I think everyone should experience a burlesque show. Before Friday night, I never would’ve thought that to be true, but here I am, a girl with absolutely no body confidence, feeling utterly empowered.

“Being in such a consistent, positive environment really just helps build up your self-esteem over time,” said 22-year-old dancer Thalia Ackroyd.

Before being invited to this show by my friend, I thought, “Burlesque? Like the movie? Or that Cher song?”

Nope. 

This show was less about the revealing clothing and sensual dancing and more about the family, the community, the giving back, the building each other up, and perhaps most importantly, the healing. 

Saints and Sinners is a not-for-profit Fredericton burlesque troupe owned by Amanda Steeves that dedicates each show to giving back to a different charity. The music in their shows varies from old school burlesque to more modern stuff. The group believes strongly in inclusivity with dancers of all genders and dancers of all shapes, sizes, heights, sexual orientations, nationalities and dance abilities—it doesn’t matter, you will be welcomed.

All the proceeds from the silent auction at this show went towards OPAL Family Services, a group dedicated to offering support to families who have a dependant with a disability.

The theme for the show was Angst, not just the type of teenage angst we associate with My Chemical Romance and Green Day (although the music choices were along those lines) but more about anxiety.

“So many of us use [burlesque] as an outlet to release our anxiety and we all deal with anxiety. So, this was just a great theme to draw attention to that,” said Ackroyd. 

Between some of the numbers, a dancer would come out and talk about a personal experience. Some of them spoke about their anxiety and panic attacks, one spoke about her body dysmorphia, someone talked about exploring their feminine side again after top surgery, some people talked about their chronic illness.

“I decided to join because I used to dance when I was younger and then I got diagnosed with… Fibromyalgia,” Ackroyd explained. “I wasn't able to dance anymore at a competitive level.”  

“I heard about this group and I heard that there were a lot of other people in it with illnesses and disabilities, so I just wanted to give it a shot.”

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain with other symptoms like fatigue, memory issues known as “fibro fog,” headaches, anxiety, and depression.

But Saints and Sinners is for everyone. Some dancers have autoimmune conditions—one of the dancers even opened up about performing during a Crohn’s disease flare up during Friday night’s show.

As an audience member who also has autoimmune conditions and Fibromyalgia, it’s comforting to see the widespread acceptance and open encouragement that poured from this group.

The performers really exposed themselves, and were beautifully vulnerable with themselves and their personal struggles during dance numbers to songs like “Girl Crush,” “I Write Sins not Tragedies,” and “Mein Herr.” Some numbers even featured group members singing short solo pieces. 

“Everybody is always there to hear us if we need it,” Marie Filion, one of the dancers said.

You know, at intermission, I went to the little beach bar outside the performance room at the Ramada hotel. These guys drunkenly deciding what they were going to drink next came up to me and started joking around. Then one of them looked at me and asked if I was watching the show and I said yes. He then told me that him and his buddies had no idea what to expect from a burlesque show, but they were so pleasantly surprised.

Because it was open and inclusive.

While wearing very little clothing and performing sexy dances is part of it, the performance felt more like a labour of love created by a group of individuals who accepted each other and who were working towards embracing their sexiness in their own, unique way.

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