How Lou Lou fell in love with burlesque

An interview with Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière, one of the only First Nations burlesque dancers in North America.

Lou Lou

Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière

If you’re looking for a new way to heat up your autumn, this week’s Montreal Burlesque Festival offers up plenty of opportunities over three nights of cabaret performance, live music, risquée fashion and a Speakeasy Electro Swing dance party. Some of the performers you can expect to see during the festival, running from Oct. 15–17 at Club Soda, include headliners Scarlett James, Albadoro Gala, Raquel Reed and Miss Sophie Champagne, plus favourites Billy L’Amour, Lady Josephine, Ruby Rhapsody and many more.

The festival’s closing show on Saturday, Oct. 17, hosted by Benjamin Marquis, will feature 17 different burlesque performers, including Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière, who was voted the #2 Best Burlesque Performer in the city by Cult MTL readers in this year’s Best of MTL readers’ poll. At that time, we checked in with Lou Lou about her love of burlesque, costume and connecting with her audience.

FilmNoir1 Andrea HaussmanLisa Sproull: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in the burlesque scene?

Lou Lou: My mother is Mohawk and I grew up in Kahnawake. I’m one of the only First Nations burlesque dancers in North America. When I talked to my Mohawk grandmother when I was 18 about doing burlesque, she said, “I remember when I was 13 I was living in Buffalo, NY and I snuck in to see Gypsy Rose Lee perform.” She had a real love for burlesque and a real understanding for what it is. I have a real appreciation for classic burlesque, for the grit and grime of it. A lot of that has to do with my grandmother’s connection to it and her stories, so it’s kind of fun to be able to start this career and have her input at the beginning of it.

My background is in musical theatre, where I worked as a ‘costume mistress.’ My aunt is a seamstress and she taught me to sew, so I’ve been sewing since I was seven or eight years old. I love, love, love making the costumes. It’s something that, with each costume I feel I get better at it.

Burlesque is dance, it’s theatre, it’s costume—all the elements I love about theatre. I performed with Blue Light Burlesque for two years and I’ve been an independent performer for eight years. It’s something I kind of jumped into and fell in love with. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to travel and do what I love.

8700 Andrea HaussmanLS: Montreal has a thriving burlesque scene that’s been growing in recent years—what’s your experience been like within the Montreal scene?

LL: There’s a lot of talent here so it’s nice to be ranked among some of the best. Montreal has its own really rich history with burlesque, and it has a very unique, fun and vibrant scene. There’s so much room to play and everybody puts their own spin on it. And of course—it’s the sexiest place on earth!

LS: What’s your process like for creating a new performance?

LL: You really want to have a relationship with your music. That’s my process—I start with the music, develop a relationship with what kind of story I’m trying to tell, what feeling, what colour. If you can listen to music in colour, you’re halfway there.

The audience is the best part. It’s the most addictive drug. You’re feeding off of them and they’re waiting with anticipation for you to entice them. It’s a real relationship. When I perform, I like to try to have a relationship with as many people in the audience as I can. What’s the point if you’re not in there, getting every drop? I love my job and I love the audience. Maybe a little too much sometimes! ■

Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière performs at the Montreal Burlesque Festival, running Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 15–17 at Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent), $30–$45 reg/$65–$129 Premium and VIP. Admission to Thursday night’s Speakeasy Electro Swing Ball only is $15. Tickets are available here.