The first thing you notice about Brett J. Hopkins is his mustache — a striking feature, perfectly sculpted, neatly twirled at the ends, and slightly reminiscent of Salvador Dali. Behind the mustache Brett, or Brettzo, as he’s known on stage, is apart of the roaring Philadelphia subculture known as boylesque.
Boylesque, or the male version of burlesque, has been popping up all over the neo-burlesque scene. Since the art form’s comeback in the mid 90’s, entire festivals and shows have been dedicated to the pursuit of manly thrills and frills, like Burlesque-a-Pades and the New York Boylesque Festival.
Traditionally, burlesque has been a female dominated world filled with busty vixens with seductive hourglass figures, and precisely placed pasties and tassels. The art can be traced back to the early 16th century. After gaining popularity in the late 19th century, the show was carried across seas to America. Since then, burlesque has evolved to include a wide variety of styles and themes, and draws in everything from cabarets to striptease.
Like the art itself, the taboo that surrounds burlesque has changed. The shock of seeing a woman nude on stage has dissolved, at least in comparison to the 18th century, and now it is the men that evoke jaw dropping for unsuspecting audience members.
“We’d get that feeling where you’d come onstage and all the guys were nervously shifting in their seats,” boylesque dancer, James Ferguson told to the New York Times in November of last year, “The guys were so used to seeing the women as the object. But by the end of the show, those same guys were buying us drinks.”
Hopkins, who’s known as one of Philly’s first boylesquers, has experienced a similar hesitancy from audience members while performing. From ass grabbing to being told to put his pants back on, “there have been a variety of reactions from people who haven’t experienced boylesque before,” says Hopkins. But before people accept boylesque dancers a certain stigma about burlesque has to be put to rest. “People think that burlesquers are just glorified strippers. It’s more about titillation then it is about the tits,” Hopkins explains.
Burlesque, is no stranger to Philadelphians. In fact, its roots can be found early in Philly’s history. The Trocadero Theater, located in Chinatown, has served as a host to famed burlesque and vaudeville performers like Mara Gaye who paved the road for the present’s male and female performers.
Today, the tantalizing art has birthed numerous local troupes that are welcomed at mainstream venues like World Café Live and the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts. Troupes like Bravissimo and the Peek-A-Boo Revue have captured Philly’s attention one article of clothing at a time, regardless of gender, because as Hopkins puts it, “burlesque itself has no gender”
Experience the phenomenon of boylesque for yourself at Center City’s The Raven Lounge on August 7th. Performer Keycifer Blakk, Yareli Urbina and Moflow of Fire and Flow, will accompany Brettzo on stage at Beauty + Brains / Burlesque + Variety.