Show Stopper

Lola Love brings the art of burlesque dance to Oahu. ©Joe Marquez

Burlesque takes the stage in Honolulu

Ever wonder what two astronomers, a lawyer, a PBS staffer, an accountant, and two teachers have in common? Ask Lola Love, founder of Pretty Peacock Productions in Honolulu, and she’ll laugh. “They’re all burlesque dancers, of course!”

The classic Hawaii transplant story – vacationing on the Big Island and never going home – Love first discovered burlesque watching a documentary. “I just knew. That’s what I wanted to do.” With no burlesque performers around to teach her, she turned to YouTube, and in the blink of sultry eyelashes, she brought burlesque back to Hawaii.

For the last decade, she’s lived the artist’s dream life – supporting herself and her daughter doing what she loves. She founded the Academy of Tease, a burlesque school where she and fellow dancer Miss Cat Wings teach the fundamentals to anyone who’s interested.

“My oldest student is a woman in her 60s,” Love said, “who refuses not to be seen as a sexual person because of her age.” 

Don’t tell Love you’ll come to her classes after you've lost weight or gotten something fixed. Those words rile her up. “Every woman wants to celebrate sexiness,” Love said, “and you’re perfect just the way you are,” sounding just like the song, and meaning it. 

Love manages two troops of performers: the Rhinestone Review, amateurs still learning the craft, and the Aphrodisiacs, the professionals. “Burlesque is one of the few art forms where the soloist is the costume designer, the artistic director, and the choreographer of her own act,” she said. When her students can prove a mastery of it all – and the ability to craft a compelling story – that’s when they’ve got a chance at the big stage. 

The Aphrodisiacs’ ongoing show, Burlesque Bingo, returns to the stage on July 18 with the tagline “When our clothes hit the floor, you win.” Bingo cards in hand, audience members track their progress as clothes fly and music plays. Of course, it’s all fun since gaming isn’t legal in Hawaii, but as Love says, everyone wins. 

When windward resident Jenny Lee needed a bachelorette party idea, she called Love. “It was wonderful!” she said. “Lola was so patient and encouraging as she taught us the basics, and she made sure to design a class to fit just what we wanted.” Love even presented the bride with a surprise gift, including a boa, gloves, and a garter.

For Love, it’s all about engaging with the audience, comedic timing, and making sure everyone is comfortable. “I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” she said, explaining that the dancers are sensitive to the audience reaction and adjust accordingly. I love it when I hear women in the audience say “Oh my god, she’s sexy and fun and she looks like me. I didn’t think I was sexy!"

As a dancer and teacher, Love believes in the business of art. “I want to stomp out the term ‘starving artist,’” she said. Ticket prices for her shows run between $25-$40. They always sell out, and everyone involved in the performance gets paid. 

Like most entrepreneurs and artists, her work often comes home with her, where she shares a house with her daughter and a few roommates. “Rhinestones always fall off costumes, landing on the floor, getting stuck in the carpet,” Love laughed. “Our friends call it the Rhinestone Palace, which sounds so glamorous. But that’s the joke, right? It really hurts stepping on all those rhinestones!” Life lived on stage – glamorous, arduous, and sometimes painful. For Love, she can’t imagine it any other way. 

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