Once upon a time in 2011 when I still went by the stage name Iskra Valentine, the burlesque beauty with the Bollywood booty, I had the privilege of being invited to judge Miss Burlesque WA. It was then that I first laid my eyes on her:
Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl.
She strutted her stuff on stage in a pair of denim cutoffs, a plaid shirt and a can of VB to an AC DC song. In a sea full of classical peelers and rhinestoned queens, Lola Cherry Cola delighted the burly misfit in me. There was a fire in her that I had once seen in my tired, exhausted, burly retired self. “This girl is a powerhouse” I said to one of the judges next to me “She is going to do great things”.
As the years rolled by she did go on to do great things. A great many “great things”. She started her own performance company, she taught dance classes, she did bucks nights, hens nights, birthdays, and apparently even a wedding. She toured Bunbury with me in 2011 and the last time I saw Lola Cherry Cola, she was dancing on stage in my place because I had managed to dislocate my knee. “I got this” she assured me “I always have a spare routine and a spare costume packed in my cardrobe”. Classic Lola. She was always prepared, always full of energy, always on the go.
I envied her fire, her ability to juggle workdays with show girl nights. As my Burlesque days were drawing to a close, Lola’s burly star was rising. Until one day, a couple of years later, I scrolled past a selfie she had posted on facebook.
It was Lola. She wasnt a showgirl.
She was sans makeup, wearing a hospital gown. Something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong with my friend.
It took me nearly 2 years to find out exactly what happened to my Burly sister Lola Cherry Cola and i found out in the most unlikely of ways. Through her Fringe Show: Lola’s Showgirl Smear Campaign. The start of the show brought me back to her glory days on stage, just where I had left her before I had made my burly exit. She was glorious in her beautiful costume, brightly coloured wig and animated facial expressions. Yet as the opening number progressed I realised what I was watching was the ghost of someone I used to know.
The show picked up pace, deep secrets (and so much more) were revealed and I saw a side to Lola Cherry Cola that us women in burly seldom showed our audiences or each other.
My strong, energetic, clever friend had been hiding things because she was frightened. Sometimes it was easier to avoid facing reality than admitting we cannot control every aspect of our lives. This show was her way to make peace with a life and secrets that had almost destroyed her.
Seeing her stand less than a foot away from me baring her soul to an audience full of strangers about the test that changed her life was hard. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to cry with her. I wanted to yell profanities at the sky. How is it that we can live in a society that sells our bodies in good health yet looks away in disgust and shame when the very same bodies break down. Why is it that our bodies are only desirable and worthy of the space they occupy when they are in a constant state of “doing”.
I could go on about the theatrical aspects of the show, the exquisite costumes, the beautiful dance numbers but I have seen Lola do all of these before. I have seen her grow up in Perth’s Burlesque burlesque scene, from cheeky Bogan Burly Princess to the Raunchy, Rhinestoning Queen. What stood out for me this time was Lola Cherry Cola herself. Despite using her burly name, she was telling a story beyond her burlesque persona. She was there in all her butt naked, glittery titted, wonder Vag-ed glory and she was asking us to get on board and talk about reproductive and sexual health and to make time for ourselves.
Her name is Lola
She is a tough bitch
And I am proud to call her
my showgirl friend.
Lola’s Showgirl Smear Campaign closes tonight and you can buy tix to cheer this badass bitch here