Hot New Quad-Cities Troupe, Taboo Burlesque, Debuts Saturday!
Karen Westmoreland and Andrea Stueve are super-friendly moms, who have regular jobs and kids, but when they get on stage, they literally become someone else – uninhibited, unpretentious, fun-loving burlesque dancers.
Westmoreland, 45, who performs as Kinky Taboo, and Stueve, 40, who is Kitty Bardot, are burlesque veterans who are leading a brand-new troupe – Taboo Burlesque. They make their debut Saturday, June 12 at 8 p.m. at the Village Theatre, Village of East Davenport. The 100-capacity in-person show is sold out, but you can livestream it for just $5 – reserve your ticket HERE.
“There’s a market for it, especially after the pandemic when everyone was locked up,” Bardot said recently. “It’s great to be back in the theater; it’s amazing.”
Taboo joined the Q-C Misfits burlesque troupe right before the pandemic, in February 2020, and hasn’t performed since then. The Misfits is disbanding and will do their last show at Village Theatre in July.
Taboo has performed with Bottoms Up Quad City Burlesque and the former Moonshine Misfits, and has done solo guest performing around Iowa. Her last solo show was in Des Moines in January 2020.
Bardot’s last performance was with Mary Quite Contrary’s House of Burlesque at Moline’s Spotlight Theatre last fall for their “Supernatural” show, with just 50 people in person and streamed on Facebook.
“It’s such a beautiful theater, it was phenomenal,” Bardot said. “It was weird; we do it for applause. There’s no money in it. It’s all about the energy of the audience. Such a big part of burlesque is the people.”
Taboo is close friends with Lilith St. Scream, a veteran burlesque performer who has headed Misfits and is planning to move out of the area.
“So, instead of trying to take over someone else’s troupe,” Taboo said, she wanted to start over fresh. “I figured if I was going to do that, I wanted to do it for myself. And there hasn’t been a classic burlesque troupe here. The Quad-Cities is very theme heavy for shows. Every show has a theme.”
She said that is “so limiting to what inspires you, what you’re wanting to do.”
Mary Quite Contrary’s last Spotlight show May 1 was “Alice in Wonderland” themed, called “Down the Rabbit Hole.”
Bardot did her first burlesque with the former Burlesque Le Moustache (founded by Danielle Colby), and her act was escaping from a straitjacket, at Davenport’s Capitol Theatre (which was built in 1920) in 2009.
“They’ve done classic shows, but not just a classic troupe,” Taboo said. “As long as it falls under the beautiful, glamorous, rhinestone umbrella of classic burlesque.”
Her new troupe aims to blend the art of Classic Burlesque with “nods to Neo to provide a unique experience featuring stimulating individual and group performances,” according to www.tabooburlesque.com/about. “Taboo Burlesque proudly proclaims that science is real, Black Lives Matter, no human is illegal, love is love, and that women’s rights are human rights.”
“It could be from your clothing, or your movement styles, or your music,” Taboo said, noting “classic” to her means classy and glamorous. “The first time I saw burlesque was in New York and my eyes just lit up,” Taboo said of 2008. “I want to do this, oh my God.”
She started performing with Bottoms Up in 2012, when Bardot was in the troupe as well.
“I already know how she works; she knows how I work,” Taboo said. “We both know what to do together to make it. She has experience that I don’t have.”
Bardot saw the first Burlesque Le Moustache show, at the Capitol, when she fell in love with it, and got to be in its second one (and last one) there. “I would not leave her alone until I got an audition and I got an audition,” she said of Colby (who’s become famous on TV’s “American Pickers”).
“I had an idea for a show and Danielle loved it,” Bardot said of the straitjacket routine, done before 1,500 people. “I’d never danced on a stage; I’d only been in old school productions. The straitjacket escape was really appropriate. You have this opportunity to break free, and it changed everything for me.”
The troupe then moved to RIBCO in downtown Rock Island, a much smaller space.
“Those were sold out, packed,” Bardot said. “Then we went to the Speakeasy.”
Bottoms Up first formed in early 2012, as a breakaway troupe from Burlesque Le Moustache, and has continued to perform at The Speakeasy, next to Circa ’21.
“We wanted to get out and create the way we wanted to create,” Bardot said of Bottoms Up. “It’s kind of a common theme in burlesque.”
“Everybody has their own idea of what it should be,” Taboo said. “In the Quad-Cities, it often showcases neo more so than classic. If you go to Chicago, New York, or anywhere, it’s just a show. You send them your videos, a description, and see when you can get in. But it’s not a collective storyline that has to tie everything together. It’s just beautiful burlesque.”
After 10 years, “it gets exhausting, and so limiting,” she said of themed shows. “You want to do a big, beautiful dance, but it doesn’t fit – your song, your costume has to fit into a superhero theme or something.”
Misfits has not been a classic style – instead, “raunchy, fun, dirty, cool,” Bardot said. “It’s been so much fun to perform with Misfits.”
“Lilith is amazing, when she’s hosting,” she said. “That voice – I just heard it in my mind and it gave me goosebumps. She’s magic.”
The Misfits shows were themed as well, Taboo said. “They started at Rascals and had begun transitioning to the Village Theatre, but then Covid hit and changed all of our plans, especially through the next year.”
The new troupe has two co-hosts – Jasmine Ashcroft and Matt Nicke, who will provide comic banter between routines.
Taboo also will have comedian Wayne Lyter (a burlesque veteran) perform at intermission.
“He is our intermission entertainment, and after like 10 minutes, he’ll hop on stage and start working the crowd, getting them back into their seats,” Taboo said. “Then the emcees will come out and we’ll start again.”
“If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Wayne perform, you’re missing out,” Bardot said. “He’s just incredible.”
“He had zero plans on being part of the troupe, but he came and watched and said, can I come back next week?” Taboo said. “He’s hilarious.”
She started performing in 2012 with Bottoms Up. This Saturday’s show focuses on the glamour and sensual aspects, Taboo said.
“Everybody went with real classic songs,” she said. “It’s all layered together beautifully.”
They’ve also learned how to create costumes that look expensive without breaking the bank, Taboo said.
Her initial goal for the new group was to “merge solid creatives, working together in a non-toxic and supporting environment to create the sensual burlesque troupe of our dreams.”
Supporting each other while exposed
The Taboo Burlesque website already has a shop with branded merchandise, where you can get everything from coffee mugs to shirts. Troupe
member Lindsay O’Brien (Bebe Latoosh) designed the items, and will perform Saturday for the first time in years. As they progress individual members will have their own merch, Taboo said.
She hand-picked several members of the new troupe, including O’Brien and KJ Washam (Gem Fatale). Taboo also has some dancers new to the genre, and everyone is from the Q-C area.
“Everybody said yes. It’s a wonderful group of people,” she said. “Everybody on there – there’s a reason I asked them. Just people who support each other.”
Compared to Bottoms Up, which has rehearsed twice a week every week, Taboo usually meets every other Tuesday.
“To me, it shouldn’t take over our lives. It should be a hobby,” she said, noting she and Bardot have children.
“It should be fun. It should be place you look forward to going.”
“Anyone who’s going to be on stage can practice at home,” Bardot said. “You don’t have to be in the theater to practice.”
They also have an opening and closing group routine for the show.
“I love group routines,” Taboo said. “I am a preacher’s kid – I wasn’t allowed to dance. It was literally ‘Footloose.’ We lived in a small town in Indiana. My dad was the cop and the preacher. They used to call him ‘Reverend Revolver.’”
“To me, how crazy is it that dancing itself is a form of rebellion?” Taboo said. “It makes no sense.”
“Children dance from the moment they’re born,” Bardot said.
“Dancing naked is literally my version of jumping out of an airplane,” Taboo said. “It was the most terrifying thing I could do, but also unbelievably exhilarating. As soon as you did it, you were shaking to the core because it was such a scary thing. But the audience feeds off it, and it’s like, oh, I can do this. It’s beautiful and it becomes an addiction.”
“The rush from the live audience, and the energy – there’s nothing like it,” Bardot said. “I think about The Speakeasy shows and we would sell out every time. You could feel like – it felt like the walls were shaking. It was just that energy, it was amazing.”
Bardot gave Village Theatre owner Matt Moody mad props.
“He’s the first theater owner we’ve ever worked with that said, ‘You need more. You need more glitter, more sparkle, you need more water,’” she said. “He’s watching our practices and saying, how can we make it better? It is beautiful.”
“It’s such a collaboration,” Taboo said. “Everybody so far who’s experienced it, wants to be a part of it. Everybody keeps wanting to help. It’s so exciting.”
“I was waiting my whole life for the opportunity to show everybody my naked body,” Bardot said.
“It’s more nervous when we show each other our routines at first,” Taboo said. “We’re showing our brain babies to each other. This is my imagination.”
Bardot agreed that this group is very encouraging and supportive of each other.
“Everyone tells you how great it is, and then they offer help – what if you did this?” she said. “It’s very exciting to watch all the support of this company, the encouragement.”
Burlesque as fiction
Among merch for sale Saturday will be copies of Bardot’s three novels – “Burlesque River,” “Burlesque on Bourbon” and “Burlesque Baby.”
The first – a 173-page debut novel – was released in April 2020 by Boroughs Publishing (which specializes in romance fiction), and lovingly
reveals a lot of heart, soul and sex through a central, sensual relationship.
“Kitty Bardot was the first warm, welcoming hug of burlesque family I experienced many years ago,” her friend Lilith St. Scream, another Q-C burlesque vet, said last year after the first book came out.
“She is – without a doubt – the most grounded, practical human I’ve ever been around, but in the same breath this beautiful dreamer of all things sparkling and uplifting,” she said. “She has a very captivating way with words, both in person and in print, which reading her book and knowing her in life created this hyper-realistic vision page after page.
“It’s an amazing journey to take with such a close friend,” St. Scream said. The book is not so much about burlesque but “the relationship dynamics that can develop between people over time, and what happens
when personal strength, empowerment and growth is achieved,” she said. “It’s a fun read for sure, and I am beyond proud of her.”
Bardot said she hated her plain given name while growing up, and re-named her burlesque self after famed French actress and sex symbol Brigitte Bardot.
Kitty is the idealized version of herself. “She’s the essential oil of me, if you would,” Bardot said last year. “She’s that part of me, just intensified. It’s really amazing to have a stage persona and at times, I wish I hadn’t made her so much who she is, because it kind of keeps me from being able to be more dark.”
She is already working on the fourth and last book in her burlesque series.
“I’ll never sign a contract to do a series again,” she said. “Because I have two dozen other books I want to write, and I have to write this book I have to write before I can move on to the books I want to write. The books that are yelling to be written.”
Bardot also wants to write science fiction, fantasy, thriller, alternate universe, and other romance. “There’s so much in there and I have to get this last one out,” she said.
She has three children and Taboo’s kids are 10 and 12. “It’s not really awkward for them,
because it’s always been part of their lives,” Taboo said of her burlesque hobby. “I’m a very liberal parent and I talk to my kids a lot.”
Witchy women in troupe
After being an atheist, Karen is now a witch, and said the majority of troupe members are witches as well.
“There is a rather large Pagan/Witch/Spirituality community in the Q-C area. For me personally, being an atheist left me feeling empty and disconnected from the energy within myself,” she said in a Thursday Facebook message. “Practicing witchcraft empowered & enchanted me, and connected me to the Earth and her Energies. A local Facebook witchcraft group is how I met three of our four apprentice performers during quarantine.
“We respected each other as witches, then became friends. And tonight is a New Moon, which is a time of manifestation. Exactly 3 months ago on the New Moon is when I manifested Taboo Burlesque. I cast my spell, put it into the Universe & the next week was a whirlwind of magic. Everything perfectly aligned and Taboo Burlesque was birthed.”
“Really all it is, is appreciating energy,” Taboo said of being a witch, a powerful woman. “Science has also taught us, energy can’t be destroyed. It goes somewhere.”
“You learn what you can, and take what you need to grow,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing to me. I do believe there are ghosts – there are energies we can’t see. You learn how to use the energy to manifest what you want.”
With purple-tinted hair, Taboo said she loves life more every year.
“I fully blossomed into my true self in my 30s. In my 40s, I began to create my new world that is now thriving. I actively teach other women how to embrace themselves at all ages. I’m 45, and literally living my best life.
“I wish I could have known this version of me earlier in life, so it makes me happy to help other women find their strength earlier than I did,” the Kinky Karen added.