British Columbia

Legendary burlesque performer Pillow in Vancouver for festival

Pillow, who is also a bodybuilding champion and Klingon speaker, is the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival's legend of burlesque.

Pillow, who started dancing in 1976, is also a bodybuilding champion and Klingon speaker

Pillow says she's been a Trekkie since Grade 4. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

Some people become dancers. Some become award-winning bodybuilders. And some people learn the Klingon language. It's the rare person who does all three, and that person is Pillow.

Pillow — yes, full legal name — is this year's legend of burlesque at the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival.

"Pillow was my stage name from a long time ago when I was doing rock and roll equipment handling and I looked like a great big squishy pillow, like the Michelin tire gal with a goose down jacket with feathers leaking out of it and duct tape patches," she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast. 

Listen to the full interview with Pillow:

It was when she was handling equipment that she got a job at a strip club. 

"The dancers were making five bucks a night more than me and I said, 'Well I can do that.' And that was in 1976 and San Francisco," she said.

Eventually, Pillow came up to Alaska. As she tells it, she fell in love, started bodybuilding, had a couple of careers, a couple of marriages, all the while working at  PJ's nightclub in Anchorage from 1978 to 2000.

Die-hard Trekkie

Pillow — who had always been a die-hard Trekkie — started incorporating elements from her favourite science fiction shows into her routines.

Pillow, who is also a bodybuilding champion and Klingon speaker, is this year's legend of burlesque at the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival. (Vancouver International Burlesque Festival)

The Klingons —  a fictional species with their own language from the Star Trek TV and movie franchise — had always fascinated her. She picked up the invented language, and says she has been known to strap on the ridged forehead typical to Klingons in some of her work. 

"And people go, 'Oh God, there she goes again. She's playing alien!' "

The technique of mashing nerdy subject matter with burlesque made her one of the pioneers of "nerdlesque."

"I've been doing cosplay before it was cosplay when it was called dressing up funny in public when it's not even Halloween," she said.

The Vancouver International Burlesque Festival runs until Saturday, but tonight's gala is sold out.

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