The burlesque scene of Reykjavík is, in large part, Margrét Erla Maack’s brainchild, and it is now flourishing. Her strange luck is what initially led her to start dancing burlesque. “In 2007, when I was 23, in the same week I had my heart broken and I won the lottery. So, I decided to go to New York for three months just to get it off my chest,” she begins.
Margrét became involved in the cabaret scene through belly dancing in New York. Her cabaret debut happened on one fateful night, when a showgirl was sick at the local variety club, and she was called in to take her place because she fit perfectly into her costume. “I got powdered sugar and I stood there with [my] tits out in tassels, blowing powdered sugar like cocaine over a little person who was imitating Marilyn Manson. And then I just realised that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she explains. After this gig, she was encouraged to quit university and make entertainment a full time career.
The inception of the scene
Now, more than ten years later, the burlesque, cabaret, and adult entertainment scene in Reykjavík is thriving, in large part because of Margrét’s initiative, and also because of the budding drag scene in Reykjavík. Margrét was motivated to create a burlesque scene when she realised that there was a need for it in Reykjavík and Iceland. “I realised that there was actually a market for it, something that I could actually pursue. I wanted to make a scene because I wanted to teach burlesque, because it’s given me a lot of body positivity and just a whole different aspect of sexuality. It is for you and people are welcome to join in on it, but it’s always on your own terms,” she says.
Another part of her motivation was her frustration with not having the artistic freedom to do what she wanted. This frustration was shared with her co-producer and magician, Lalli. “Ok, we love doing what we do, but we need a platform to do whatever the fuck what we want to do,” she remembers thinking.
Margrét’s passion for burlesque, cabaret, and entertainment in this business is what motivates her—not the cash. “It’s a hobby that happens to pay a little. It doesn’t pay a lot, no one gets rich in burlesque. There are three jobs in burlesque and Dita Von Teese has two of them,” she jokes.
However, people in Reykjavík and Iceland are now especially interested in cabaret. Margrét explains its newfound appeal, “Cabaret is also perfect for people like me, with very short attention spans, because you get a musician, and then you get a drag queen, and then a burlesque performer. You don’t get bored, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
In the beginning, Margrét also had fears about creating a burlesque scene in Reykjavík and of putting herself out there. “The main reason I was so afraid to do it in the first place was that I was so afraid that it would attract the hard crowd of dirty men. So, the first thing I started doing was branding myself as a feminist. I’m a columnist, so that had to be the first part, branding myself as a hardcore feminist to steer away that [crowd].”
Margrét is passionate about body positivity and diversity in the burlesque scene, and explains her personal connection to body positivity and burlesque.“I love the burlesque that’s happening now, it’s very welcoming to all sorts of beauty. I’m not a skinny lady, and I really want to do burlesque that’s just clever and beautiful but it’s accidentally very feminist and political because I’m big,” she explains.
Body positivity and self-love
The diversity of the burlesque scene is reflected in the lineup of Margrét’s shows, as I had the chance to witness at her June 15th show. There was stand-up comedy, booty tricks, the woman who set her boobs on fire, the aerialist, the whipcracker, but most importantly bodies both big and small, male and female, represented in the show. She is also clear in her intentions with her shows. “I don’t want to make a show that is for everyone. If you make something that is for everyone, it’s not a good show,” she says. “My mantra is: you don’t have to be sexy.”
A turning point for her in her journey to self-love was by connecting to her roots. “Yes, I am like I am, but I’m proportional, I’m lucky in that way, and my body looks exactly like my mother’s body, and my sister’s body, the two ladies that I love the most. Why should I hate it?”
It’s clear that Margrét’s vision of burlesque is unique and individual, and she encourages people that are interested in cabaret to find their truth. “It can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it is adult entertainment…It can be gender-fuckery, it can be sexy, it can be completely not sexy, it can be playing on the idea of what it is. It’s a very open thing which can be really good but also really bad. We are all children with no boundaries.”