By Baron S. Cameron

I guess I could begin by saying I’ve never had any desire to go to Las Vegas. I didn’t think it was my kind of place. What I saw there when I first arrived did little to assuage my feelings about it, the city. The locals, as it turns out, I quite liked. But, suffice it to say, I’m glad the International Burlesque Hall of Fame imported glitz and glam to add to their own.

If the “Weekend” had been held in Toledo, I’d have been there. Cleveland? Sure. But Vegas it was. And holy crap, what a “was” it was.

As familiar faces started to arrive from Vancouver, I felt more at ease. And even though I felt pretty much an outsider, there’s still that “secret handshake”: Tattoos, high hair, and a massive suitcase are a pretty good indication you’re now among likeminded people, no matter where they were from. They poured in from all over the globe. As they gathered, the constant, mind-numbing din of one-armed bandits screaming through my head was subdued by expectation… the show was coming. It couldn’t arrive soon enough.

My first cloudy memory as the weekend told hold was a group picture that wouldn’t stop growing. After leaving a party in one of the upper floor suites, I was walking backwards down a beautifully creepy hallway, snapping pics of four wonderful faces. We stopped for a posed pic. Four became six. Six became eight… The final pic of our impromptu photo shoot ended up looking like a burlesque Sgt. Peppers. At that moment I knew. I knew, even as the infidel in their midst, that this was a group, a community, that had come from far and wide to celebrate not only a common purpose, but a way of life.

It was seven words that brought me to Vegas. “You really should come to Las Vegas” in fact. Lola Frost, of Vancouver’s Sweet Soul Burlesque, had opened a door to me nearly two years ago. She was my letter of introduction into a world where guys such as me rarely stray, and never walked uninvited. I’d seen the pictures and heard the stories. I knew to even begin to understand why these performers work as hard as they do, I would have to go to Vegas, straight into the heart of it. Immerse myself in four days of their lives of burlesque

Unfortunately, I can’t write anything about the stage performances themselves that wouldn’t be equally as inadequate as the photos I took at trying to explain the skill, glamour, and soft-hearted intensity that poured from the stage with every number. The performances were a roller coaster of the senses. One moment I found myself in sheer awe, laughing the next, a tear slowly rolling down my cheek soon thereafter.

I was hoarse from cheering before the curtain fell on the first evening’s show.

After the show, the showroom emptied into the casino, a glittering, chattering, display of confidence, style, community, and pride, slowing making its way to the after party. But I found myself slipping to the sidelines again, watching the parade from the curb and not feeling I had earned the privilege to walk amongst them.

The next day something changed. I gave the security guard at the elevators a high-five as he welcomed me on my way to the pool with, “Mornin’ chief!” Once at the pool, I saw an array of familiar faces from the night before. The mutual recognition gave us something in common.

I set about trying to meet and converse with everyone. Differences became stories; similarities became promises of future shared adventure. As it turned out, if I was just myself, that was all that was required.

The rest of the weekend followed in a similar style. The performances onstage continued to capture and enthrall. The living mood in the crowd beyond the stage titillated and taunted every sense. I chatted and joked with the newcomers, tipped glasses with the leaders and innovators of the art, and sat listening with reverence to the legends who regaled me, first hand, with stories I thought I’d only ever read in books.

When it came time to leave, I found myself dragging my heels. But as I walked through the hotel, saying goodbyes and swapping info, I could not help but smile to see that every square foot of carpet had either a feather, a sequin, or a splash of glitter making a spot for itself. It was a fitting metaphor for the weekend I’d just experienced. You can’t be part of something like this and not be touched by it. It leaves you with something.

Boarding the plane back home, I smiled at how lucky I was. Unlike many people who come to gather in Vegas, I came and saw and left a devoted fan and booster of burlesque. A dentist, who comes to Vegas to party with other dentists, leaves the party behind when the plane takes off. But I can go out on almost any night in Vancouver and watch a performance, relive what brought me to Vegas, and it’s much more enjoyable than performing root canal. That weekend in Vegas may be the biggest and loudest, but only because of the people, talent, and love that gathered there to make it so.

It made me want to be more involved.

It is my hope that by the time I land at the airport next year, I’ll step off the plane having spent a year in my hometown helping make the community here that much stronger. I have not yet found a home in burlesque, but it is a beautiful neighbourhood and I’m starting to look for a place to settle down. I am not so naive to think that it is always like the fun to be had in Vegas. These things are built. And that takes serious commitment and dedicated hard work. Meeting these wonderful people from around the globe was what I needed to get to it, to do my part to start paying for the entire amazing spectacle their world has given to me.

“You really should come to Las Vegas.”

I did. I will again.

Thanks for the invite.