Rebecca Gale

Rebecca Gale (Miss Kitka)

Howard warns against burlesque hysteria, by - 8th September 2006
(Credit: The Age)

A burlesque show featuring scantily-clad women was probably not appropriate entertainment for a government-sponsored science forum, but people shouldn't overreact, Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday.

The government has withdrawn funding for the 17th Australia New Zealand Climate Forum after top scientists, many of them women, stormed out of a dinner on Wednesday night, offended by the organising committee's choice of burlesque-style entertainment.

Mr Howard said he understood the performance may have upset some women but "we don't want to overdramatise our reaction".

"I'm sensitive to the view of many women in relation to this but I do think we shouldn't overreact," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

Labor has called for an investigation into how the scantily clad Canberra-based dancers came to be booked for the function at Old Parliament House.

But dancer Rebecca Gale said her balloon dance was only a bit of traditional satirical burlesque "bump, grind and shimmy".

There was no nudity, and the balloon dance, aimed at appealing to the climate change scientists, was more cabaret than anything else, Ms Gale said.

One female delegate took offence making others feel uncomfortable, she said.

"Some of them were enjoying it," Ms Gale told the Seven Network, adding some female delegates were happy to pop her balloons.

"With the balloon popping incident, I went down to vintage corsetry, there was not even midriff on display.

"It's just been blown so far out of proportion."

But Labor environment spokesman Anthony Albanese has demanded an explanation from the government.

"I think we do need to know the circumstances of how it occurred, in terms of whether someone in the department made a decision, who was overseeing the conference, I think it does need an explanation," Mr Albanese said.

Ms Gale invited Mr Albanese to her mostly amateur group's next show in December.

"What we do is quite satirical," Ms Gale said.

"It's tongue-in-cheek and we are not out to offend people, particularly women.

"At our productions we have grandmothers that come and watch us and they cheer the loudest. It's certainly not about offending women."

Ms Gale said one of the goals of the group was to empower the women dancers and their femininity.

Organisers of the climate forum have been were forced to issue a public apology.

Melbourne-based events specialist Nicholas Damilats said the entertainment was far from appropriate.

"That sort of nudity is going outside the realms of decency, for a government function at least," Mr Damilats told AAP.

"I would recommend a dance group that does not expose so much nudity."

Mr Albanese said the choice of entertainment proved the government was not taking the issue of climate change seriously.

"When it comes to climate change the Australian government has a hands off approach."

Environment Minister Ian Campbell withdrew funding for the forum on Thursday night.

Mr Albanese said this risked punishing all the forum attendees.

"A withdrawal of funding potentially punishes everyone who was at the conference," he said.


Kerfuffle over a 'couple of dances', by Andree Stephens - 9th September 2006
(Credit: The Canberra Times)

It's a storm in the proverbial D-cup. Even Prime Minister John Howard is calling for calm. What was meant to be a bit of titillating fun, has sent government agencies into a spin, calls for a federal inquiry and the withdrawal of funding from an annual event.

The problem? A balloon-popping burlesque routine that sent temperatures soaring at a conference on, well, climate change. And at the eye of the storm is ANU psychology student Rebecca Gale, who's bewildered by the response to her performance this week. ''It's pretty crazy,'' she said yesterday.

''It feels like it's the Twilight Zone. It just feels so surreal. All this kerfuffle over a couple of dances.'' Ms Gale, aka Miss Kitka, is the teacher at Canberra's only burlesque school - House of Burlesque - whose graduates performed at the 17th Australia New Zealand Climate Forum dinner at Old Parliament House this week.

But after about 10 minutes into the show, a number of scientists, many of them women, left the dinner offended by the choice of entertainment. And where a two-day climate- change conference fails to make national headlines, a burlesque routine succeeds. Reports of the evening led a number of dailies, aired on talkback radio, and was even given the treatment on several television shows.

''We got chased by Channel Ten,'' Ms Gale said with a chuckle. ''We heard 'how do you feel about the climate, Rebecca, how do you feel about the climate?' as they were running away.'' The story, and the outrage, gathered momentum as federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell pulled his department's $3000 sponsorship funding from the forum and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's Bureau of Rural Sciences also withdrew its $5000 sponsorship.

The Federal Opposition weighed in with a call by Labor's environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, for a government inquiry. Mr Howard, when asked yesterday by Southern Cross Broadcasting about the incident, said he understood the performance may have upset some women but ''we don't want to overdramatise our reaction''. ''My reaction is, well, probably not appropriate, but I'm not going to list it for discussion at the next meeting of the national security committee of Cabinet.'

' Ms Gale said the response to the performance was ''just ridiculous''. ''Look there's no nudity. It's a bit cheeky, a bit naughty, but it's tongue in cheek,'' she said. ''That balloon dance is taken from The Simpsons - Mrs Krabappel does it.

Everyone totally missed the point you know? She comes out and sings Fever and pops the balloons.'' Ms Gale, who performed at the forum dressed in a corset, briefs, stockings and bra, her mid-section covered in balloons, invited delegates to ''pop'' her outfit with a pin. But she was ''frustrated'' that so many people had described the evening as disgraceful when they were not even there.

''They don't know what we did, they haven't seen it. They're judging purely on - it's like that group hysteria, everyone jumps on the bandwagon and it just gets out of control. This is a classic example.

It should be an interesting PhD topic,'' the psychology undergraduate added wryly. Ms Gale said her school had about 30 students, and the minimum age to enrol was 20 and went up to 60. ''They're all shapes and sizes, I've got some boys enrolled as well,'' she said.

The group only began performing publicly this year and donated the proceeds of its shows to charity. Tuesday was the first time the dancers had taken a booking as a ''paid job'', netting about $1000 for their performance. Ms Gale also stages burlesque dance classes with the ANU Psychology Society.

''It's certainly not the stereotypical image that people immediately think. That's probably the biggest disappointment - that it was jumped on as 'strippers, strippers, strippers!', because that's feeding the frenzy. It's more cabaret than anything else anyway.'

' The tradition of burlesque - a Victorian-era performance art - is founded on sexually suggestive humour. In the past decade the style has had a revival in the United States and Britain, and its popularity is catching on in Australia. But Ms Gale noted there also seemed to be a revival of disapproval.

Not since the 1930s - when a social crackdown in the US all but wiped it from the stage - has it attracted such attention. She said she had empathy for those who organised the forum dinner, and had decided to auction her outfit, including balloons, on eBay to help replenish funding lost from sponsorship withdrawal. On Thursday an official apology was made to delegates at the forum's closing session.

''The intent was light-hearted entertainment,'' an organising committee statement read. ''In retrospect the choice of entertainment was inappropriate for the occasion.''


ABC Stateline - 23rd June 2006

A Canberra night class with a sexy twist. Catherine Garrett reports.

The burlesque courses are available through the Psychology Students' Society at A.N.U.
Contact: (Rebecca Gale)