BIPOC Class Photo | Photo: Bea Lissima


By Meghan Power

“Burlycon is an annual burlesque educational convention that provides opportunities for skill-building, professional growth and social networking for the burlesque and cabaret community,” says Bea Lissima, a Filipinx-Italian queer femme burlesque dancer working in Mohkinsstsis (Calgary).

“Breaking down barriers for racialized burlesque dancers and advocating for the rights of sex workers has been an important part of building up our community in Calgary and in North America in general. Over the past few pandemic years, I’ve been working to create more opportunity for relationship building and education.”


Bea Lissima has been performing burlesque for the past 16 years and is an active member of Cabaret Calgary, a queer femme led cabaret company. “When I first found Burlesque dancing, it was after high school, and I felt lost — I was looking for community. I was introduced to Demonika’s Symphony of Horrors. A cabaret variety show put on by Danika Challand, a Calgary fashion designer. There was a call for volunteer performers and a friend suggested we try out. I had no idea what burlesque was, but I immediately loved it — I felt like I belonged. I dove into learning as much as I could about burlesque and its history: books, documentaries, workshops, lessons — everything and anything I could get my hands on — I joined a troupe and eventually ended up getting involved with Cabaret Calgary four years ago” 


“Without funding through Calgary Arts Development ‘s (CADA) artist microgrant program, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend BurlyCon 2022. There were a few reasons why it felt important for me to attend,” explains Bea. “Coming out of the pandemic, I wanted to learn more about how I could elevate the community we are serving in Calgary, but also, I wanted to challenge myself as an artist, grow and develop my stage presence and abilities as a performer.” 


Also, part of the draw for Bea was BurlyCon’s Legend program, which featured Shawna the Black Venus, an iconic burlesque performer in the ’70s and ’80s. “I wanted to hear about her journey as a Black woman performer — fighting euro-centric beauty standards and fighting for equal pay, compared to what white, cis dancers were being paid. Still challenges that are faced by equity-seeking artists working in burlesque and drag.” 


“It was so beautiful to find a community within the diaspora in burlesque and from around the globe. I was able to meet other Filipinx artists, and we shared our experience of being Filipinx, queer, and being working artists who showcase their bodies in ways that weren’t part of our cultural upbringing — we were able to understand and support each other in a unique way.” 


Bea’s already incorporated learnings from BurlyCon into programming with Cabaret Calgary. “We’ve been helping to create equity and stronger networks of support, especially for racialized artists, through free classes, one-on-one mentorships, and reduced-rate studio space rental at our downtown studio. I’ve also helped create new performance opportunities with Melanin Monarchy, a collective of racialized drag and burlesque artists performing together. Being at BurlyCon renewed my spirit and has given me the energy to keep finding new ways to support and advocate for the community that has supported me.”