A line of people spilling out the entrance of Madame Tussauds Sydney on Friday night donned sparkles, feathers, masks, diamantes, sixties-style sunglasses, Chanel-inspired plaid, little and long black dresses, tuxedos and sequined suits. It wasn’t hard to guess something special was happening inside the renowned wax museum.
Hijinks Strike A Pose
Everyone from mini-dressed 18 year olds through to 40+ Anna Wintour fans scurried through to snap selfies with Taylor Swift, Leonardo Dicaprio and Bob Hawke (…or was that just me?) It was a night for everyone to step out of their comfort zone in a room full of strangers looking to poke fun and have a laugh.
We met the chief organiser Mathieu Ravier (Director of The Festivalists) on arrival. He explained what the night was all about. “We just want people to have a bit of fun and not take themselves too seriously. There’s a catwalk competition, a makeup booth, a silent disco, you can make your own masks.”
Kind of like playing dress ups and doing arts and crafts but for adults. That sounded pretty fun to me.
After screaming at the sight of a way-too-realistic John Howard more than once, I weaved my way through the crowds to the silent disco.
The lack of social lubricating substances made me feel apprehensive at first. But after flicking through the three music channels available on my glow stick headphones, I found some Wu-Tang Clan and thought, “Ah, fuck it!” I swiftly released my inhibitions with some fellow Wu-Tang Clan fans, despite feeling rather dorky on the dance floor. I think that was the point. And it was kind of refreshing.
Soon I met Minnie Cooper, a 6 foot statuesque drag queen decked out in a full length gold sequined gown. She was our MC for the night.
“Tonight I’m your hostess with the mostess. I’m hosting the catwalk competition. I’m looking for the best dressed and the most stylish person here tonight.”
So what makes a fashionable person I asked, “…well someone that’s ‘fashion forward’, someone that’s cutting edge, someone that just looks good. Sometimes an attitude can be fashionable. I must admit, I do watch programs like Project Runway… sometimes I think it’s actually how the person wears the clothing that makes the clothing look good, rather than the clothing itself.”
Minnie Cooper has been doing drag for the past thirteen years at events like Hijinks, Arts Sydney, Stonewall and The Midnight Shift.
It has always intrigued me how people become drag queens. Turns out it’s much like any other artistic passion.
“I always loved dressing up as a little kid,” said Minnie. “I used to dance for a living and I started choreographing shows for drag queens. Then one day someone needed me to fill in for a drag show and that’s how it all started.”
Minnie had to run to start judging the catwalk. So I asked her for some advice.
“When it comes to fashion you always have to evolve. If you don’t evolve, you get stale.”
Soon I found myself getting very sweaty trying to learn the classic dance routine to Madonna’s hit song ‘Vogue’. The position of the stage made dancing kind of awkward, especially for a long limbed lass like myself. I kept accidentally hitting people as they tried desperately to avoid eye contact with the chief move-maker, Diesel Darling.
A professional burlesque dancer for six years, Diesel was dressed head to toe in Madonna attire circa 1990. She looked incredible and was dealing very well with some technical difficulties involving the microphone. The music needed to be louder so people could really let loose. But I had self-aggrandising dreams of mastering this dance so I listened to her every word. By the end I was not particularly Vogue-worthy – just sweaty. But I had a smile on my face.
“I try to make it fun and silly,” said Diesel, which she did rather well, having convinced the entire room to whisper ‘vogue’ in their most seductive voice.
I asked her how she got to where she is now, having just been named Best Debut at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in New Orleans (USA).
“I’ve been a dancer my whole life. When I was at uni I started working at reception at a pole dancing studio. I started taking pole dancing lessons but I wasn’t very strong at the time. I was a good entertainer though because I’ve always done acting… I was doing pole dancing gigs even though I didn’t really have the skills…but I got really creative. Then I discovered burlesque and I was like ‘Oh! That’s what I do! I just thought I was a not-strong pole dancer.’ I’d do one move on the pole and everything else would be props.”
So what exactly is burlesque, for people new to the scene?
“It’s performance art. It’s dance. It’s strip tease. Every dancer is different so it’s hard to say. In Australia it tends to be a little bit more conceptual. It doesn’t always involve stripping. Even though burlesque in a traditional sense, is strip tease. But now it’s morphed more towards performance art.”
Diesel Darling has made her name in Australia (and now the world) as The Serpenteaser. She performs with her beloved pet snakes called Danger and Claudia.
“It’s always different. I perform at little backroom shows, theatre events, parties like this…I dance with a snake, I use an angle grinder.”
If you’re interested in learning burlesque, Diesel Darling teaches at Bobbi’s Pole Studio in Sydney. You’ll just have to catch her before she jets off to New Orleans.
The final event in my Hijinks experience was watching the catwalk competition. Watching fully grown men trying to out-strut each other however they saw fit was hilarious. One contestant made their way down the catwalk break dancing (and nearly fell off). Another did ‘the worm’. That was definitely my highlight.
If you’re looking to start your Friday night in a less than ordinary way and act like a kid wearing grown up clothes, then you should book tickets to the next Hijinks event. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.