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November 24, 2022

The power of pasties

An independent documentary shot and produced in Adelaide follows a handful of women as they peel off risqué items of clothing and reveal how they found burlesque.

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  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Supplied

On the day we speak, Melony Cherrett, founder of dance fusion school Choo La La, is in the thick of dress rehearsals.

It’s her job to make sure 600 women successfully squeeze into the Woodville Town Hall on 10 December dressed in sequinned skirts, fishnet stockings and what she describes as “very cute, very cheeky” Christmas-themed costumes.


‘Unleash: The Documentary’
19—27 November
Wallis Cinemas

More info

It’s going to be an “epic” endeavour, Melony says. Women – and a handful of men – need to bop, bump and tap in properly fitted outfits, with at least 100 nipple tassels securely affixed.

But then again, if something pops open or falls off, “it’s okay – it’s burlesque,” Melony laughs.

In burlesque, it’s acceptable to make mistakes and be vulnerable, and perhaps this is why so many Adelaide women have taken to the revealing artform.

When Melony started her boutique dance business in 2013, it was just six women in a small hall. Almost a decade later, more than 1000 individuals meet at 18 locations across metropolitan Adelaide weekly for classes like ‘Twerk Train’ and ‘Tap & Slap’.

Choo La La’s success has been captured in the documentary Unleash, created by her filmaking partner Mark Cherrett and showing now at Wallis Cinemas. Mark spent three months following a handful of Choo La La dancers to find out what propels them to turn up for burlesque week after week.

Unleash was a self-funded endeavour, and rather than simply being an 83-minute advertisement for her dance company, Melony says the film is “about the stories”.

Melony Cherrett


Through Unleashed, Melony hopes to encourage people to try new things and feel confident in their own skin. “To do something great for themselves, and know that they can stand under their own their own light, either on stage or wherever that might be,” she explains.

There are many examples of this in the film. Vicki, a 65-year-old burlesque hobbyist, visits a retirement village with feather fans and boas to teach to older residents how to move. Carrie, a barrister, replaces her white wig with a glittery leotard weekly to feel liberated. Lisa, a mother-of-four, tells her interviewer she hasn’t showered yet, but she will soon transform into a sexualised, beautiful being with agency.

The impression CityMag gets from this small collection of ladies – taken from a larger pool of 400 stories – is that burlesque allows them to do something wildly different from their regular lives. It gives them back some of the agency they may have lost to their career or parenting commitments.

Burlesque had a similarly powerful effect on Melony, helping her find her identity. Growing up in Sydney, she remembers being “the only half-Asian kid in my school, and I just remember feeling like I didn’t kind of fit anywhere back then”.

At five foot one, when Melony became a dancer, the odds were stacked against her. She tried burlesque while working on a cruise ship at the age of 24, and something clicked.

“It’s an accessible style for everyone,” she says. “And I just wanted to be able to create a space, and give everyone that opportunity.”

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