Tia Turner: Burlesque Performer in Detroit

o say she stands out would be an understatement. Walking into Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown Detroit, Tia Turner's presence commands attention. In a teal patterned dress, fishnets and sky-high heels, she makes her way to a small corner table with a chocolaty drink.

"I use (chocolate) to keep my complexion up," she says with a smile. "It's great for the skin."

To no surprise, Turner is a performer. Going by the stage name "Lady Dee Luxxx," she is a trailblazer in Detroit's modern-day burlesque community.

"When I perform, I like to raise the bar a little," Turner says. "You don't want (the audience) getting up and going to the bathroom during your performance or talking on the phone. You want them to be on the edge of their seats. You want them to clap, you want them to holler, you want them to catcall. You want them to kind of step out of their character for just a little bit.

"It's kind of like an amusement park, except you don't have to wait in line," Turner says. "Your roller-coaster ride is sitting in your chair. It's a visual roller coaster."

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Originally from California's Bay Area, Turner moved to Detroit in 2001 and began performing with various local burlesque troupes in 2004. After years of hopping around, Turner decided to start her own group two years ago.

Honey Bunny Variety Burlesque originally started as an all African-American ensemble, but now Turner says it's just a "colorful troupe," including a female impersonator, a saxophonist and singer from Down Under. They perform both in the neo-burlesque style, which includes more character aspects-and classic, with the notable feather boas and corsets.

Turner says the art of burlesque is often misunderstood.

"We are the original stripper, because we do strip. We peel. We prance. We pose. It's way different than coming out with nothing on and just swinging on a pole. There is no pole, and we still leave something to the imagination," Turner says. "The key to burlesque is to leave them wanting more-and not giving them everything."

Honey Bunny Variety Burlesque's shows contain no full nudity, but plenty of implied nudity, with ladies (and gents) stripping down to their pasties and not much else.

"It's a beautiful thing to see people enjoy you, especially when they walk away talking about you. And then the next day and the next day," Turner says with a laugh.

As her day job, Turner is a medical assistant. She also works with older women with building self-esteem and confidence. In the future, she plans to expand Honey Bunny and the art of burlesque to a wider audience. She also has goals to open a dance and music teaching space along with saxophonist Michael Monford.

As for Turner's future in performing, she plans to keep on going.

"I see myself performing as long as this good leg is working. It's a timeless art form," Turner says. "As long as I can get out there and walk across the stage, I'll be doing it. I can be 90. In this business, the longer you've been doing it, the more love and respect you gain."
 

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