It used to be that Tacoma would get enthusiastic for any new thing that sprung up, indiscriminately celebrating new music, food, and artists with the blind devotion of the culture-starved. But that era of Tacoma has passed: we’re now lucky enough to be experiencing a slow but steady creative maturation these days and there are moments, particularly when we consider beer, coffee, and rock and roll, where we Tacomans can afford to be picky.
Which is why, when I first heard that some friends of mine were planning on establishing a burlesque troupe, I was supportive but wary – I figured these sweet, enthusiastic ladies would give it the old college try, learn a few shimmies, pick up a few steps, shake some fringe, and I hoped beyond hope that no one would embarrass themselves.
Oh, me of little faith; was I ever in for a surprise.
A Stunning First Impression
It wasn’t just a surprise: it was an overwhelmingly pleasant shock when the Gritty City Sirens burst out on stage at their December 2010 debut, radiant, provocative, and glamorous in sequins and glitter, performing with the confidence, swagger, and allure of seasoned entertainers.
The Gritty City Sirens, from the beginning, have been hard at work crafting a complete burlesque package, honoring burlesque’s storied past while advancing the art with daring creativity.
Tacoma’s Gritty City Sirens are Rosie Cheex, Polly Pucker Up, Funny Face Fanny, and Ava d’Jor, four stunning beauties who are as lovely as they are diverse. The Sirens are also supported by Pretty Ricky, host, seasoned costume designer and tailor, and Dean Jameson, the newest addition to the troupe, breaking ground as Tacoma’s first boylesque entertainer.
That first show was a raucous, electrifying enchantment, complete with a rowdy audience happy to hoot and holler their appreciation for every Siren. From that first performance, the Gritty City Sirens have only improved, performing at different venues throughout Tacoma, bringing in East Coast performers to expand the audience’s appreciation for all that’s happening in contemporary burlesque, and striking out, performing as guests with other troupes in Seattle.
Rosie Cheex was the initial driver of the Sirens’ formation, having developed an affection and fascination for burlesque nearly four years ago.
Since then, Rosie has been collecting elements for costumes, planning her on-stage personality and putting out feelers for others interested in taking to the stage. Polly Pucker Up, Funny Face Fanny, and Ava d’Jor joined Rosie and the Sirens were born.
A Siren Sewing Circle
It’s been nearly a year now since Rosie, Fanny, Polly, and Ava have been performing and with each show, they learn. The four Sirens are responsible for every aspect of their performances. Not only do they pick the music and develop the choreography, they book the venues, organize the shows, do all the promotion, and make all their costumes.
These women are quintuple threats, talented organizers, performers, choreographers, seamstresses and promoters. Pretty Ricky has been a welcome recent addition, bringing an impressive theater background to assist the Sirens in the advancement of their costume design, construction, stage direction, and choreography skills.
Above all, the Sirens are collaborators and friends. They craft and bedazzle together, they present routines and workshop best ways to make each performance exciting and unique, and they support each other, making sure to say “pop a pasty!” as good luck before performances.
There are growing opportunities to build and craft your talents as a burlesque performer—the Sirens are excited to attend BurlyCon in Las Vegas at the end of October and they are continuing to develop relationships with other troupes both locally and nationally. They are particularly inspired by Seattle’s Miss Indigo Blue who founded the Academy of Burlesque in 2003 and Dessi De Vine, founder of Pinups Against Cancer.
As the Sirens work together, their alter egos develop and deepen, distinguishing each persona and bringing another magical aspect to the glamor and spectacle of burlesque. The Sirens’ stage personalities inform their song, movement, and costuming choices.
Not only are the stage names fun, they’re also precautionary. By keeping their burlesque identities somewhat separate from their everyday identity, the potential for stalking and harassment can be minimized.
Through the intricate construction of their characters wardrobes and routines, and in spending time with their fellow Sirens, the ladies engage regularly with their stage personae, brainstorming character and back story.
Meet Your Gritty City Sirens
Ava d’Jor is a southern belle subsisting on escargot and moonshine, demanding the best but never shying away from an opportunity to get rowdy.
Ava is the only black Siren and initially it was a struggle to find inspiration and to overcome both body issues and feeling very different from the rest of the Sirens. But as Ava explores the world of contemporary burlesque as well as reaching back into funk, soul, and Harlem Renaissance roots, she’s learned that there are many burlesque performers of color and that if you dig, you can find a burlesque tradition that sidesteps racism and caricature and celebrates Black American and African expression.
Beyond grasping the underlying cultural roots that can inform burlesque, Ava is working on incorporating fetish elements, blending the power of a dominatrix with the classic strip tease.
Although each Siren brings humor and fun to their performances, Funny Face Fanny is the most dedicated comic in the group.
Her routines range from a Flashdance striptease complete with welding mask, coveralls, french-cut red lacy leotard and glitter shower, to a routine performed as a chick (as in chicken) to Ludacris’s My Chick Bad, to dancing in drag as Pee Wee Herman while stripping to Tequila.
Fanny puts experimentation, surprise, and comedy at the forefront while challenging stereotypes. Not only does Fanny go after established norms of what constitutes as sexy, but she goes after accepted representations of gender and femininity.
When Polly Pucker Up decided to give burlesque a try, her biggest challenge was telling her dad.
Not knowing how he would react, she sat him down and said “Dad, I’m pregnant again—just kidding! I’m doing burlesque!” At first Polly’s dad was concerned but is now proud, as the Sirens gain popularity and respect.
Polly is statuesque, her carriage and poise revealing her early training in ballet. Polly as a character is a classy, sassy gal from Louisiana, steeped in the jazz tradition but not afraid to tackle sophisticated fare like performing to the Habanera from Bizet’s famous opera Carmen. Polly also loves turning conventions on their heads: she reimagines what would generally be the demure act of baking into a saucy, sexy, apron-removing strip tease.
Rosie Cheex is the classic burlesque beauty of the bunch, bringing a contemporary spin to the archetypal ideal of a burlesque performer.
Rosie is inspired by burlesque pioneers like Mae West and Gypsy Rose Lee but, with a prominent tattoo sleeve and a shock of platinum blonde hair, she’s not afraid to present a new vision of the classic.
Rosie likes to perform using burlesque tropes but she’ll often incorporate fun twists, like developing a routine to a song by the risque musician Peaches or performing in an outfit made entirely of blown-up rubber gloves.
Maybe a Little More Than Just T & A
For all the Sirens, burlesque is not about exhibitionism, it’s about getting comfortable in your own skin.
Not one of the Sirens will tell you they’re free of body issues and that it’s easy to get up on stage and strip tease, but the more they perform, the more gratifying, imaginative, and joyful the experience becomes.
Burlesque is worlds away from the sad desperation of a typical strip club—it’s creativity expressed through dance and titillation, a racy culture of celebration and appreciation.
Burlesque is an physical, musical opportunity to explore what makes humans and their bodies uniquely beautiful, corporeal and enjoyable, subverting stereotypes and giving both the performers and their audiences an opportunity to appreciate and revel without shame in how much fun being sexy can be.
See the Sirens in Action!
The Gritty City Sirens are an act not to be missed. Make sure to go to their next show: for more information about the Sirens, check out their facebook page.