75-year-old legend Judith Stein hits burlesque scene in Whitehorse
Canadian legend of burlesque Judith Stein, 75, has spent decades refining the art of teasing and taking her clothes off. But when asked about whether she expected to still be performing at her age, she laughed off an honest "no."
"Back in our days, when it was a job, a profession, you usually aged out at 45 to 50," Stein said. "It was a young women's game."
Stein, who lives in Nelson, B.C., was back in Whitehorse over the weekend to perform one of her favourite acts in local artist Chérie Coquette's Camp Fantasy Burlesque. Stein used to perform in the Yukon regularly, decades ago.
"I'll never call myself a burlesquer. I am a stripper ... it's an act, I'm actually a very nice girl."
- Judith Stein
In a rainbow-striped suit and with a matching umbrella, she showed off her best moves to Barbra Streisand's hit song Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long. And as per burlesque's requirements, the act included stripping down — and owning her aged body against a culture focused on beauty and youth.
"The boobs are a little lower, the thighs are a little jiggly, I got wrinkles on my face...so be it, I made it," Stein said.
"I like being older, there's a certain wisdom. I feel blessed and it's like...75? Meh! And the fact that they are still paying me to take my clothes off, I find extremely humourous."
Stein, who started dancing in her early 20s, took a step back from burlesque at the age of 40. Then in 2010, after more than 20 years of retirement, she was lured back to the stage for a few performances and festivals.
Burlesque, she said, had become a hobby by then.
"Most strippers of my generation, we didn't have acting classes or dance classes," Stein said.
"We got up there, we figured it out. I knew enough to point my toes and make pretty hands."
Chérie Coquette, a local burlesque artist, says the lack of strip clubs in Whitehorse leads people to assume burlesque is strictly stripping. They hear stripping, they think sex work.
"It's theatre," she said.
"Theatre where you take your clothes off in a very artistic way. Yes, we are strippers and I don't have prejudice against that word ... but at the same time, when people do ...I just tell them 'come see my show!'"
Coquette says she, along with several performers of the younger generation, are inspired by Stein, who now mentors young artists.
Stein's best advice?
"It's about the entertainment, you can be funny, you can be silly," Stein said. "So you can go on to do this ... and I get to be a 75-year-old stripper, which still amazes me!"