Kahnawake woman crowned Queen of Burlesque in New Orleans
1st Indigenous woman and 1st Canadian to win title
Lauren Jiles has been performing burlesque for more than a decade, but her latest win as the 2018 New Orleans Queen of Burlesque is extra special.
Jiles, or as she's known on stage as Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière, was not only the first person from Canada, but the first Indigenous performer to win the coveted title.
"I have a real love affair with the city and it has such a big prominent place in the history of classic burlesque. So winning this title — it's such a big deal in my industry," she said.
Jiles is Kanien'kehá:ka from Kahnawake and is well-known in Montreal's burlesque community. When she started her career 13 years ago, she was one of only a handful of Indigenous performers across Canada.
"Every time I do these competitions I get messages on my page or Instagram from other Indigenous performers," said Jiles.
"There was definitely a personal win factor but then I'm more of a global community level, I also felt that this is a big accomplishment for First Nations women."
An edge over the competition
The international festival, which is in its 10th year, is known for crowning the top classic striptease dancer. Jiles was crowned on Sept. 22 at New Orleans' Civic Theatre.
Rick Delaup , founder and producer of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, said Jiles had an edge over other contestants.
"All seven of the contestants are really established burlesque performers who are very skilled at what they do," he said.
"But when you have them all at one showcase where only one of them wins the title, you have to stand out among the others. She had everything in that performance. She had a really stunning costume. It was more original and it was just really noticeable."
For Jiles, her spider-inspired performance was an opportunity to have fun and unleash her inner goth.
"It is still very surreal," she said.
"I was telling my husband that this year, I just want to go out and have fun. I did an act that was very much me and less what I thought the judges would want. It was so much fun. I don't think I've performed with that much energy and just kind of pure joy ever."
Inspiring other Indigenous women
Jiles's win is more than a title and crown for Talia Shenandoah, an emerging Kanien'kehá:ka burlesque dancer based in Syracuse, N.Y.
Shenandoah, who goes by Harlow Holiday on stage, has been performing for four years and views Jiles as a role model and source of inspiration as a successful artist in an art form that doesn't have a large Indigenous representation.
"She has entered into an arena that was largely white or white-presenting classic artists and dominated the stage with an alternative appearance and proven that the best entertainers truly are the most passionate ones, regardless of intersecting identities," said Shenandoah.
Shenandoah, along with a group of friends, eagerly watched the live stream of the competition to root for Jiles.
"We now have our first Indigenous Queen in the history of burlesque, a platform to bring awareness to Indigenous issues, and an opportunity to discuss reclaiming sexuality and what that means as a First Nations woman."
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