We kick off 2019 with a profile of dancer and choreographer Erin Tope, who as her stage persona Miss Tallulah Creant, keeps busy with the Duluth Dolls and other burlesque groups, is a member of the band Red Mountain, teaches, and works to make dance of all kinds more accessible to audiences and those interested in participating.
I am a dancer, choreographer, performer, and dance teacher. My mother was a dancer and dance teacher so she put me in creative movement classes at age three. By age six, I was in ballet at Minnesota School of Ballet here in Duluth. While at Minnesota Ballet I also studied Jazz and Modern dance. At age eight I started figure skating with Duluth Figure Skating Club and continued to competitively skate until age 16, when I was accepted into Perpich Center for Arts Education. There I finished my junior and senior year of high school in their Dance Department, studying Modern Dance, Ballet, Dance Composition and Dance History extensively. I moved back to Duluth after graduating and began Performing with Over The Top dance company, with a focus on Latin Ballroom Dance, mainly Salsa. With that group I was lucky enough to attend and perform at Chicago International Salsa Congress as well as learn the inner workings of producing shows. I learned most of my production, technical, and backstage lessons in those days and that has definitely shaped who I am and what I am capable of today. After the Director of Over The Top Dance moved to Minneapolis in 2011, I started dancing with Grace Holden and through her got connected with Rebecca Katz Harwood at UMD.
I did a couple guest performances at the college, and began dancing and choreographing for Dances on the Lakewalk. Dances on the Lakewalk is an annual two night performance in July, set in Lake Place Park. All the dances are site specific, choreographed to fit the unique space that they will be performed in. I have now performed 6 years and choreographed for 7, this last summer being the first time I only choreographed and did not dance.
During my time dancing with Grace, we formed a duo we called High Pony Dance Project and performed at small venues and for small gatherings around town. We also got involved with the Duluth Dolls at this time. The Duluth Dolls was started by a small group of dancers interested in Burlesque and bringing it to the community. When I joined I really had no idea what burlesque was or what it was about, but I knew that I needed a creative outlet as well as a performance outlet. Through the Dolls, I was able to create any style of dance I wanted, and got an opportunity to explore different styles of physical expression, as well as sexuality and what it meant to me. After two years of being in the group, the original Director moved out of state and I became the fill in Director. Considering my prior experience in producing and running shows, I was elected to stay on and am now Co-Director with the fabulous Sheila Matthews. With her by my side we have been able to expand the group, produce and perform regularly, and have just become Duluth Dolls Burlesque and Cabaret Dance, LLC! We have a lot of things in motion right now and I can’t wait until we are able to announce them. I feel honored and thankful to be leading, and be a part of, a group of such inspiring individuals. In our spare time, we teach body positivity workshops to our community and have a lot of fun with it! With entering the Burlesque world I have had to opportunity to travel and perform at festivals all over the Midwest and last year was invited to perform with RAW Artists, an independent arts organization for artists, by artists in Minneapolis. I also just returned from my second national tour with Super Happy Funtime Burlesque, based in Grand Rapids, MI. Oh, and I’m the tambourine player and backup singer in the local band Red Mountain, and have been for about 6 years.
The biggest challenge of being a dancer/ performer is that there isn’t always an audience. Duluth is a small city, with an even smaller dance community. It is hard to get people interested in watching dance and beyond that, paying for it. When I was dancing with Grace in High Pony Dance Project, we tried to dance in spaces that were not normally used for dance or where people would not be expecting to see a live performance. We wanted to expose people to dance and give them a chance to appreciate it with out having to seek it out. With the Dolls there is also that challenge, but with the added challenge of breaking down people’s assumptions about Burlesque and what it is. We have had a lot of negative feedback from people who can only focus on that fact that we are removing clothing, but for us there is so much more. It is the art of the strip tease, the beauty is in the process and not necessarily the outcome.
That being said, I have had a lot of people approach me after a show complimenting us on how tasteful and artistic our performances are. Our motto is always “keep it classy” and I think that we achieve that every time. This is a little blurb I wrote a couple years back but I think it says it well: As dancers, performers, musicians and all around theatrical beings, the Dolls strive to bring to Duluth the true essence of Burlesque: The art of the striptease. Each Doll to be encountered is filled to the brim with a kind of magic and creativity that will leave one questioning what has happened while simultaneously wanting more. Within the group each individual has discovered the power and beauty behind a body positive outlook, female camaraderie, and support of creativity. Each performer from the Duluth Dolls carries with them a strong sense of these aspects and strives to bring them to the stage and ultimately to you, the audience.
I think the biggest reward comes from knowing that I am creating a space for other individuals to be able to express themselves. Since Duluth is small, there is not a lot of opportunity here and it needs to be created. I feel fulfilled every day knowing that I have the knowledge and experience to bring that to the community, and I am. I absolutely love dancing and performing but taking it that one step further and making it happen for my peers as well, that fills me with so much joy.
People can catch us all around town! We perform at many places including The Underground, Sacred Heart, Grandma’s, The Main Club, The Rex Bar, The Red Herring, etc. Our next show is our annual show, Cold Days, Hot Nights of Friday Feb. 23rd. It’s at the Underground Theater, one of our favorite venues. We also have a Glove and Floorwork Workshop coming up of Friday Jan 11th at the Nor Shor, 7-9 pm. We have many more things in motion right now but I can’t announce them yet, look for us! We are also in the planning phase of getting our own studio space, so that’s our next challenge.
As far as me personally, I am sure that I will be choreographing and performing for Dances on the Lakewalk again this year. I like to do as many non- burlesque performances as I can to stay active in that community and maintain a connection.
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