Lovey Goldmine struts across the stage in a white sequined bra and corset, a G-string and feather boa draped from her arms. She runs her hands over her body and through her hair, moving to the beat of Right Said Fred’s ’90s staple “I’m Too Sexy”—the perfect anthem for her burlesque performance. That is, until she declares “I’m too sexy for this song” and slows the whole show down. She sits on the chair at centre stage, stretches a leg into the air and makes a show of removing her stockings. The audience is rapt. And then she flips her hair back, grinds on the seat and folds herself over the chair in a manner that would make Beyoncé proud. She’s feeling herself.
She’s also 68 years old.
Goldmine’s performance at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas was her first time onstage in more than 30 years, captured by director Rama Rau for her new doc, League of Exotique Dancers. The film follows legends of burlesque, some of whom are now in their 70s and 80s, as they reflect on their careers and prepare to take the stage once again.
While the film provides a history of burlesque over the years as told by the fantastic women who lived it, Rau’s work also confronts society’s deep-rooted ideas about beauty, sexuality and aging.
“You have no idea how many times single, straight men have told me, ‘Oh my god, you’re making a film about older women stripping? I can’t bear to watch,'” Rau said over the phone from India, where she’s filming her next project.
Reactions like this, while openly ageist, aren’t uncommon considering we’re rarely presented with images of older, sexual women that aren’t meant to be comedic relief. But as you watch Marinka, Kitten Natividad, Toni Elling and other legends of burlesque sashay around their living rooms in barely-there costumes and hear them speak about how sexy and powerful they feel, their confidence in their own bodies is infectious.
“In today’s world, when Hollywood thinks 28, 30 is old, and all commercials, all the ads, all the posters you see are Photoshopped, it’s absolutely important for us to see women in their natural beauty,” said Rau. “When I say natural, I don’t mean without makeup. It’s whatever you want to be. Confidence is sexy and I think mainstream television doesn’t tell you that because a lot of products are sold on insecurity.
“The more you tell women that they are fat or saggy, the more products you sell. But you need this kind of counterculture where older women are celebrated. There’s no real standard except your own, and beauty is just something you decide upon.”
League of Exotique Dancers is the opening night film of the 2016 Hot Docs Festival and screens on April 28 and 29, followed by a theatrical run in Toronto beginning May 20.