Garter Girls face off against Alberta Liquor and Gaming
When it comes to performance art in this province, the line between theatre and adult entertainment is pastie-thin.
The Garter Girls – a Calgary-based burlesque dance troupe made up of seven dancers, artists, actors and a hula-hooper – consider their form of entertainment to be art. But the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) disagrees, and it’s lead to a much-publicized debate.
The controversy came to light after a complaint was made in September to the AGLC after one of their shows at Club Paradiso in Inglewood.
Although the dancers don’t actually ever take it all off, according to the AGLC’s handbook they are classified as “nude entertainers.”
“If someone is exposing genitals fully or partially and are performing in a venue that is licensed under the AGLC, they must have the proper permits to do so,” said AGLC employee Lynn Hutchings-Mah.
Garter Girls manager and performer Arielle Rombough, a.k.a Raven Virginia, says she’s outraged her group is under the same jurisdiction as strippers.
“What we’re doing is performance art. It’s extremely modern and political,” said Rombough.
“Exotic dancing’s purpose is to satisfy a sexual appetite and there is nothing wrong with that,” Rombough said. “Sexuality should be embraced. But there is no character, and they get completely naked, including the nipples and the vagina, which we do not.”
Rombough said although the Garter Girls shows are intended to titillate, they also show a high degree of character, costume, metaphor and narrative.
She also explains that during the show, the girls’ breasts are always covered with pasties- a small cone-shaped contraption that covers the nipples.
But the AGLC says it’s not enough, and the members of the troupe must wear full bras in order to evade the classification of nude entertainer.
“I find it ignorant and insensitive to compare what a group of artists are doing to strippers,” said Rombough. “The level of exposure of the breasts has nothing to do with the artistic value of the shows.”
According to the AGLC’s handbook regulations, the Garter Girls are also not allowed to have physical contact with each other or use props, stifling some of their theatrical performances.
The Garter Girls have now hired a lawyer to take their case in hopes that the AGLC will consider revisiting their policy and drafting a new one for burlesque dancers.
The AGLC says this will not happen.
“The policy was made in 1992, and was actually amended in 2005, and this February 2010,” said Hutchings-Mah. “It was created after a lot of research and work, and the AGLC believes the policy is still valid in this case.”
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