Toronto burlesque

A bit of burlesque on stage during Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche. Photos by Marieke Van Der Velden

For more than a decade, on just one night a year, Toronto holds a city-wide slumber party.

The Canadian metropolis offers this free sleepless night where galleries and art installations delight visitors and locals alike.

The city is transformed into an artistic playground where the most unexpected venues play host to an array of interesting contemporary experiences. This festival known as Nuit Blanche or “sleepless night” has been a temporary home to more than 1,300 art installations by approximately 4,600 artists.

I made the trip with my friend and fellow dancer (more about that later) by train. Toronto has a streetcar system and a quick tram ride took us to our lodgings for the weekend, the iconic Drake Hotel.

The Drake hotel originally opened in 1890. Each room is different and features curated artwork. The hotel wears a modern yet eclectic style and is located in the West Queen West downtown neighborhood, with many boutiques, cafes and restaurants nearby to choose from.

While we made the trip for Nuit Blanche and were excited about the chance to stay up all night delighting in all the cultural and artistic highlights of the city, the real reason for our trip was to watch friends of ours perform and offer our support at The Dark Masquerade Burlesque festival. My friend and I had been taking burlesque classes for a few years and had performed at several local venues. We loved creating choreography and found the genre to be both empowering and a beautiful artistic expression.

Nuit blanche TorontoWe began our endless night travelling up and down the downtown streets by streetcar and stopping and hopping off whenever we saw an interesting show or event. In an installation at the Gladstone hotel we were invited to sit on a chair and knit a stitch or two, at another, lengths of yarn stretched around a room creating a spider web of threads, as suspending silver insects hung from the ceiling.

A mardi gras style of electricity was running through the city. It felt like the last day of school and curfew was cancelled.

We arrived at our main event in the Oasis ballroom and were happy to see familiar faces from our own small burlesque scene.

The acts ranged from the unusual (male burlesque dancers) to the hilarious (a Zelda inspired homage to console game geekery). Traditional old school burlesque performers delighted the crowd with feather boa tricks and glove work, and even a very talented pole dancer acrobat took the stage.

Toronto burlesqueThe acts simply continued into the night rather than having a planned finale.

By the time we were back at The Drake and peeling off our fake eyelashes, dawn had broken.

Our long night of play and performance sparked a love for Toronto which seeped into the next day despite our sleep hangovers.

We visited museums, stopped by cafes and small shops, and took a rainy walk downtown to catch a glimpse of the CN tower.

We returned home exhausted but invigorated by our weekend in a city that literally didn’t sleep, at least for one night a year.

Second Chance Travels