Adorned in sequins, feathers, satin and the biggest smile you’ve seen lately, Toledo’s only burlesque troupe, T-Town Tassels, surrounded themselves around Barry “Zaddy” Aslinger, producer and founder.
“I always cry when I see them get on stage,” Aslinger said, as he looked around the Tassel’s practice space in the Collingwood Arts Center. “We’re not just a troupe, we’re a family. They aren’t strangers, they’re sisters.”
Watching the Tassels practice for their upcoming production, I was impressed by both the Beyonce-level hip movements and the infectious energy that the group shared. Their upcoming show, “Burlesque Through the Decades,” will celebrate T-Town Tassel’s first birthday, as they perform a variety of styles, and give the audience a history lesson in the art of tease.
Primp and proper
Not all Tassels had dance or theater experience prior to joining. When asked if she’d been onstage before, new member Abbey Lane laughed. “I mean, at home.. yes. [Burlesque] was just something I always wanted to do. I was like a kid in a candy store, saying ‘give me my fluffy ears and a bunny tail,’” she said.
For others, stepping onstage was more difficult. Many of the dancers discussed how the group has helped them get past self-confidence issues. “When I came in, I wasn’t the most confident—but you get so much support and positivity,” said Ruby Jade. “These people are telling you the truth when they say that you’re beautiful. It’s a family, and when you trust them, you start to believe it yourself,” she said.
To prepare for the shows, the troupe utilizes the upstairs studio at the CAC, dubbed “The Lab,” where fur flies and sequins twinkle amidst rich and sensuous fabrics.
Phoenix Amore, an original member, helped provide some context for the ladies’ alter-egos. “Yes, our individual selves are not so confident, but you let your alter-ego take the stage, and be as confident as your individual person may not ever be,” she said.
All of the members have developed their own personas for the stage, allowing them to step outside of their comfort zone. This empowerment is extended beyond the stage, to the audience.
“Burlesque isn’t just for us,” Hawk explained, “it’s for the outside world, too. This is about showing an example of someone who is liberated and free. If we are ballsy enough to do this, it gives other people a chance.”
“The confidence is contagious,” Aslinger said, laughing. “It’s a happy virus to catch, and we’re glad to spread it.”
Leaving the dressing room
The Tassels, which started with seven girls, has blossomed to a 20-person army of corset-clad, diverse and empowered women. They are also the first Burlesque Troupe to offer American Sign Language translation during performances, which further bolsters their sense of inclusivity.
“This group is a safe haven,” Star Ridgefield said. “We’re a very empowering group of women. We are all shapes, all sizes, all colors, different denominations, and we can rely on coming to this group and there being peace amongst us.”