Burlesque will return to Hamilton after city approves new rules

Burlesque is back in Hamilton now that city hall has developed a new law to make way for the unique form of theatre.
Burlesque dancer Ashley Keefer was fined under city bylaw after performing a routine at Ten Decades club in Hess Village in 2016. Three years later, the city is amending its bylaw to allow burlesque. (Ruth Gillson)

Burlesque is back in Hamilton now that city hall has developed a new law to make way for the unique form of theatre.

City councillors voted Tuesday to develop a new bylaw category for burlesque. This comes after the city fined two burlesque dancers in 2016 under the hazily-worded "adult entertainment" bylaw. Since then, performer Cadence Machry says, there's been a sort of burlesque chill in the city.

With Tuesday's vote, Machry and others will plan a comeback show.

"I have something that's in the works," said Machry, who performs as Miss Cadence. "The performers who received their tickets are eager to come back."

Burlesque is an art form where dancers perform strip teases — with an emphasis on the tease. Pasties or tassels to cover their nipples. They wear g-strings and use feathers and glitter.

Uproar broke out in 2016 when city bylaw officials showed up a burlesque show at the Ten Decades club in Hess Village.

Cadence Machry says word has spread around the GTA that Hamilton isn't a good place to perform burlesque. She says that will change now. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

They fined two dancers under the city's "adult entertainment" bylaw, which prohibits "adult services appealing to or designed to appeal to erotic or sexual appetites or inclinations." That includes entertainment advertised as "sexy," and services featuring "nudity or partial nudity."

The dancers pleaded guilty in March to "engaging in the business of adult services attendant without a licence." 

Once city council casts a final vote Friday, burlesque will have its own definition. 

Burlesque, the new version says, is "a type of variety show or performance, including comic or musical sketches that may be both provocative and comedic, and that may feature minimum costuming, sexually related dialogue, witty remarks and dancing for the purpose of entertainment, ridicule, satire and humour, rather than the sexual arousal of its audience."

Machry is happy to hear that. The burlesque community, she said, fundraised to help the two dancers pay their fines.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca