Striptease and Solidarity: How Burlesque is Fighting for Us All

by Kit Bordeaux they/them

The bar was alive. I stood on a booth to see the stage and found myself looking out over a crowd of dancing, smiling, crying faces. My friend and fellow performer, Luna Luz, was in the spotlight. Her burlesque act was completely different from the one before her, a classic showgirl routine, and the one before that, a dive into the beautifully gothic. Luna was performing what she called her Ode to Puerto Rico, a love letter to her heritage. The music pounded, sending the crowd into a pulsating rhythm of hip bumps and shakes. Watching Luna Luz strip off her layers, becoming vulnerable in every way for all of Al’s Bar to see, was electric. Standing above the crowd on my bench, I watched as a mass catharsis swept over the room. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to being religious.

Scenes like this have become a regular, yet still magical, occurrence for myself and my fellow members of the BurLEX Collective in Lexington, Kentucky. Started by Träshique, a professional burlesque dancer and performer with The Tinderbox Circus Sideshow, BurLEX came into its infancy in summer of 2021 through two stand-alone burlesque classes and a pastie-making workshop. However, BurLEX did not have a long wait before bursting from infancy into what it is today. With its newest round of beginner and intermediate classes in full swing and an entire year of shows already planned for 2023, BurLEX is showing no signs of stopping.

While one may never know what to expect from the performers, there is one aspect of a BurLEX show that remains consistent. At the top of every show, the emcee of the night will get on the mic and lay out three rules:

  1. Cheer and tip your performers and bartender. 
  2. Have fun.
  3. Do not touch the performers without consent. Don’t touch anyone without consent. Ever. 

The final rule is needed in burlesque due to the vulnerability the performers offer up, but as we see with countless news stories, articles, and personal testimonies, we still need it in everyday life. It’s no secret that the world is dangerous for so many of us, and community is a reliable way for us to protect each other. There is strength in caring numbers. BurLEX, as a community, sees this and runs with it. 

Part of being a community and caring for each other has taken many forms in the collective. Be it personal support for individual members or raising money for the greater community of Kentucky, BurLEX is consistent in their compassion. Benefit shows have been a huge draw since the very first student showcase, and attendance has only increased as the collective has grown.

Every student showcase since November 2021 has sent all proceeds to Ampersand Sexual Violent Resource Center, resulting in over $10,000 going directly to the non-profit. In September 2022, following the fall of Roe v Wade, the collective came together again to put on a benefit show for the Kentucky Health Justice Network, raising $2,299 in a single night. The benefit included voter information, emotional acts from dancers and writers alike, and the call for a united front in the fight for bodily autonomy. When our community was in danger again in 2023 from bills such as SB115 and SB150 targeting trans and nonbinary folk, BurLEX stepped up to the plate yet again with a cast of genderqueer performers from the burlesque and drag communities. Between ticket sales, auction items, and a bake sale, BurLEX raised $6,257 in a single night. BurLEX’s total amount raised for charities to date exceeds $20,000.

Empowerment and autonomy has become a cornerstone of BurLEX. Without even taking the fundraising into account, BurLEX is steadfast in their messaging and activism. Founder and leader, Träshique, will often remind those who think they cannot perform due to who they are that burlesque is for everybody and every body. No matter the size, race, gender presentation, or sexuality, BurLEX is not exclusionary. The collective proudly platforms people across the gender spectrum sharing their burlesque, drag, and performance art. Audiences have come to shows expecting breasts and rhinestones and, while they do get that, they also will leave having experienced something entirely new and aching to come back for more.

As a member of the collective myself, I would be remiss if I did not disclose my personal experience with BurLEX. Being someone who is queer and nonbinary living in a large body, it can be quite difficult to feel comfortable in my skin. Working with BurLEX has given me a way to find that comfort and do it with intentionality. I have worked through questions of gender and identity live on stage for a crowd and come out the other side with a greater knowledge of who I am. By joining a community of people who will fight hard for those who need it, I learned how to fight for myself.

If readers would like to experience the collective with their own eyes, they can find BurLEX on Facebook at BurLex and Instagram at burlex.ky where all information about upcoming events will be shared. These include the monthly Nauti Nights, student showcases, and other special events that will be announced soon. Träshique and the members of BurLEX hope to see you there!  

Träshique hosting Nauti Nights

Photo: @madster.photo

Saturn Starshooter at Nauti Nights

Photo: @madster.photo

Kit Bordeaux at the KHJN Benefit