Icon of Desire: Keela Watts

“I see sexual energy as an enormous, powerful resource that can be drawn upon to feed fantasy or destruction, to enlighten, manipulate or create,” reveals Toronto burlesque singer and performer extraordinaire Keela Watts. “It’s in my dreams, influences my actions and moods, and I am fascinated by how some people are subtly sexy while others are blunt and in your face with it. Sometimes I transform sex energy in outlets that aren’t necessarily sexual: acting, dancing, sports and even meditation and yoga. Sometimes I find the most unlikely things and people sexy. To me, sex really does begin in the mind and imagination.”

Coming off the rousing success of her cabaret project Toots Suite's participation in The Red Root Collective's Something Red and the after-play cabaret Impromptease (an audience-directed burlesque show where the crowd chose the performers songs and costumes), Keela is gearing up for the opening of the Toronto Burlesque Festival in July. “This will definitely be a special weekend where first-time audiences of burlesque and boylesque will get the best introduction of what it’s all about.”

It may seem unusual of a burlesque performer, but Keela considers herself “strangely shy.” She writes poetry, stories and songs and is interested in how “stigmas such as poverty, race, gender and careers status translate into our sexual identities.” When she decides she is brave enough to present these works, she will, but in the meantime she plays the persona of “the classic, classified female bombshell who uses her designated 'powers' to draw the gaze of society, and to hold its breath; an icon of desire. But I dream of making people laugh.”

This interest in the effects of stigma must surely come from the profound influence Keela’s mother has had on her life. “My mother inspires me by being an activist and having the courage to stand up for her human rights. She’s been vocal about the things she felt were unjust and walked her talk when it came to doing something about it. She has always been open and matter-of-fact about sex and made sure I was informed when I was a young teen, and at the same time not trying to exact control over the sexual decisions I made. The result was that I felt I made informed choices that were my own. She is a smart lady.”

Keela is sure she’ll be involved in sex-related fields in the future. This coming fall she will be mixing some sexuality courses into her class schedule. Perhaps this will lead to more study in the realm of sexuality. “We’ll see what comes of it all. Sex really has a way of wriggling itself into my life.”

Catch Keela Watts Thursday June 30 at Great Canadian Burlesque Monthly.