Ever since the gripping season finale of Walking Dead over a week ago, I have been in the throngs of a serious zombie obsession. I’ve been watching reruns of Season One on Netflix and following several message board discussions about the future of my favorite group of ragtag survivalists. On the show, zombies are not particularly sexy (although, I’d certainly make a case for the hotness of zombie Shane), rather, they wander through the streets in search of food and brains. However, what might be the most mindless illustration of man is also one of its most fascinating. Clearly, any look at pop culture will show an obsession with all things zombie that only seems to be increasing through books, televsion, stage, and film.
What does this have to do with burlesque? Interestingly enough, burlesque performers have also found inspiration in zombie lore. Bottoms Up Burlesque’s MaMarie LaVeaux recently performed a spectacular St. Patti’s Day number to the Ballad of Molly Malone where she transitioned from pretty little harmless bar wench into bloodthirsty zombie. Last year, Bottoms Up performed a number to The Devil’s Rejects that involved girls emerging from coffin’s to attack an innocent bystander, who then retaliated with a chainsaw. Sexy? You bet!
Where does this fascination come from? The concept of a zombie has roots in the Vodou traditions of West Africa referring to a dead person revived by a sorcerer. South African cultures also believe in zombies as a human body that has been possessed by a witch. Stories about the walking dead are popular in Haiti, where experimental drugs have been rumored to keep the dead alive in a trance for years after their passing. Clearly, what happens to a human body after they die is a source of much curiosity, and the idea that we can continue to be kept alive by some sort of mystical power gives the zombie a magical and powerful place in our collective story.
For MaMarie LaVeaux, the idea of zombie burlesque fit into the theme of her stage persona. “All of my routines so far have dealt with dark, sensual, and often funny themes.” Following routines based on voodoo performed to Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” and a Mrs. Clause routine over the holidays to Eartha Kitt’s “I Wanna Be Evil,” her recent Molly Malone number fit right into the onstage persona MaMarie LaVeaux has created. “I’m mainly interested in how to make the taboo and weird sexy.” For Vixen VanGogh, one of the zombies that emerged from a coffin last fall, “one of the fun challenges of burlesque is putting a sexy spin on something that wouldn’t normally be seen as sexy.”
The beauty of burlesque as performed by dancers on stages all over Indianapolis and beyond is that we can use our personas to explore themes and stories that we find interesting. Clearly, for both performers and audiences alike, zombies are appealing…fascinating, dark, scary, and above all, sexy.