It was back in 2006 when Rebecca Gale, aka Miss Kitka, took to the stage at Old Parliament House to perform her burlesque routine. The event was booked for a government-sponsored climate change conference.
Wearing fishnet tights, pink frilly panties, a corset and a bra, the Canberra performer hadn’t been on stage long before most of the women in the audience walked out, apparently shocked by the show where she invited members of the audience to pop the balloons attached to her costume.
Miss Kitka, the story goes, wasn’t too bothered, even though the show was stopped about 10 minutes into the 45-minute set. She later told the media she would put her costume, and what remained of the balloons, on an Internet auction site – and give the money to the conference organisers whose funding had been withdrawn – for staging the event in the first place.
“That was Bec,” her long-time friend Sam Hayes said. “That’s the sort of person she was. Didn’t take it all too seriously; she just loved to entertain, a real performer.”
Sam said she also lived by her motto, “Vintage Teaze Without the Sleaze”, accompanied by the message at the entrance to her studio, “Check your ego at the door …”
Two years ago, Rebecca died as, Sam said, she lived – “with a bang” following a sudden heart attack. She was believed to be in her early 50s at the time, although according to most who knew her, her age was a well-guarded secret.
“Bec was such a special person,” Sam said, “most people would remember her … if you remember Impact Records, she was the one who danced in their window.”
To keep Rebecca’s memory alive, and that of Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque – and to boost the confidence of a new generation of Canberra women – Sam, along with another of Rebecca’s friends, Deb O’Donovan (also known as Deb Delicious), have answered a call from Rebecca’s son Chris, to revive her burlesque school.
“Bec started her burlesque classes in 2006 in Canberra to bring people together to feel confident about themselves,” Deb said.
“Burlesque in Canberra back then was not very well known. Today, you can see it everywhere, but not the sort of burlesque she taught. Bec’s style was from the 60s where you took great pride in your appearance – not the bump and grind of today.
“What she did was take people out of their comfort zone, help them build confidence. The people who were in her classes back then have a special bond that will last all their lives – they shared things they would never share with anyone else.”
Deb said she could not have been shyer when she started burlesque classes with Rebecca. She was walking down a corridor and saw a beautiful-looking woman wearing a red pencil skirt and dance shoes.
“I asked someone who she was and they said it was our teacher. Straight away, I knew I wanted to be like her.”
At Miss Kitka’s, Rebecca taught the art of traditional burlesque, not just how to take your clothes off. Deb said it was the style of old Las Vegas, showgirls with fabulous costumes, the art of tease.
“We had all sorts of women coming to the classes. I remember there were a lot from Defence.”
They also catered for hens’ parties; according to Deb, a cheer always went up when men joined the class.
She said when Rebecca’s son Chris flagged the idea of reviving the classes, she was “more than happy to jump on board”.
“He’s a musician so it probably wasn’t his dream to help a bunch of old ladies like us,” she joked, “but it’s something important to do for his mum.
“When Bec died, it left a big hole for many people. We had these regular classes on a Sunday and I know people miss that.
“I really want to do something for her former students. We can start a new era of classes without her, but she will be with us in spirit.”
More information about the revival of Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque is available here.