Burlesque dancer, show producer, photographer, singer, costume designer, fitness instructor.
This 40-year-old woman does it all, and she's not stopping anytime soon. She describes herself as tenacious and fearless — on a mission to push boundaries and inspire other to do the same.
Her name is Emilie Marchand, but you might know her as Lola Torch.
She performed with Black Cherry Burlesque from its first show in 2006 to its last in 2017. During the last year or so with the group, she was its producer.
She recently launched the Tucson Libertine League, a show "that's based in the traditions of burlesque, but not limited to that form of art," Marchand said. "It's open to all forms of performance art."
The new show has had one performance and the next one will happen sometime in July.
Marchand has always been interested in vaudeville and cabaret and has been singing her whole life, drawing inspiration from the films and music of the 1920s and 30s. So, when she saw an article about the resurgence of burlesque, she decided to give it a go.
The idea was to start her own burlesque show with some friends, but it never happened. So, when a friend told her that the Surly Wench wanted to start a burlesque show, she decided to give it a go. But, only as a singer.
Well, at least for one show.
"I went and I was like 'I'm interested in being a singer, but I'm not taking my clothes off,'" she recalled. "Of course a couple shows into it I ended up taking my clothes off, and I was hooked."
The first experience was pretty scary, but helped her deal with the body image issues she had been harboring since she was a teenager.
"I had a lot of body image issues, so the idea of taking my clothes off was scary," she said. "I was the only person on the show that wasn't doing it and the other girls looked like they were having so much fun and looked so liberated...I don't remember the exact moment, but I was like 'what do I have to lose?' It's like jumping into a cold pool. I know it's gonna feel good. I just have to get over the shock."
Marchand is currently working on a new project with a new group of musicians.
"I'm influenced by the old songs, so it'll be what i'm known for. More jazzy cabaret type of singing with a dark twist," she said.
If that wasn't enough, she designs and makes her own costumes and is starting a lingerie line, which will probably be called Hi, Tiger. The name comes from the opening line of the first act she did called "Teach Me Tiger".
On being 40
"I like the feeling of being wiser and it brings me a little bit more of a sense of calm to know that some things just don't matter as much as I thought they did... 40 is a big milestone."
On her stage name, Lola Torch
"For me it was about Marlene Dietrich's character in "Blue Angel" where she played a singer, Lola Lola. So I knew I wanted to be Lola. Torch because I sing. The singing was about the torch song, which is a song about longing and love."
On mentoring women
During her time with Black Cherry Burlesque, Lola Torch acted as a mentor for its Burlesque for the Soul program, a class that helped women overcome issues and tell their stories through burlesque. It culminated in a show. Many of the women were there to work through body image issues.
"Just being in a supportive group of other women saying 'you're perfect the way you are' and building that confidence. The ultimate confidence booster is getting up and doing it. You get up there and do your dance and tell your story and you bare yourself and people go 'Yay you're awesome.' It kind of shatters those thoughts you have. It does eliminate a lot of that self consciousness."
On keeping at it
"I've always been a performer. I love to perform. I think it's highly addictive. I've been a mentor to so many newer performers and I have this show that's mine. I feel like I'm doing it more to keep it alive. To keep the tradition alive and to push people to be better at what they do so in turn I have to push myself. It would be really easy to hang up my pasties and go on with my music career, but I do it to challenge myself."
On facing body image issues
"I would say you just need to jump in and face it. Don't be afraid of looking at yourself in the mirror...I think you have to look them straight on in the mirror and have that conversation with yourself. Positive reinforcement, even if it's fake it till you make it. Say 'I'm beautiful. I am perfect the way I am.' Even if you don't believe it, if you say it enough, you'll believe it."
On the Tucson Libertine League
"I just kinda thought I need to create a new platform for burlesque artists and other types of artists. All these people that have gone through the mentorship program and people that wanted to do things that were a little edgier and less traditional needed a space for that...I was interested in pushing boundaries...I want to see who's sitting in their living room in Tucson right now saying 'I'm really good at blank, but there's no stage for me to get on.'"
On being a fitness instructor
Marchand teaches two classes at Floor Polish: Burlesque Fitness and Strong Butts.
"I was never very fit or athletic when I was younger and it's just something as I got older I feel like it's time to stay on top of things...The most important thing for me is to help people to develop strength. It takes strength to do certain things...It's like a fun way for me to stay in shape because it's really easy for me to get lazy, but if I'm teaching classes, it's mutually beneficial."
On costume design
"I love doing it. I design my own costumes and I like to make things to sell as is. I'm working on a line of lingerie. I have a lot of different things I know how to do, so I want to do them all.
On aerial silks and lyra
"I'm doing aerial and lyra now. It takes a lot of strength and making it look beautiful is hard. I started a couple years ago. Starting at 38 is much different than starting at 22...I have a silks act and I have a singing lyra act. I want to be a singing burlesque aerialist."
What it takes to be a burlesque dancer
"It takes a certain amount of confidence for sure and fearlessness and a little bit of hamminess. A little bit of exhibitionist and adventurous. You have to be adventurous.
"It is incredibly empowering, especially in the face of people questioning why you do it. I've had some unexpected haters....It's usually people who consider themselves feminist who think it's not empowering, but it's degrading. I would think 'You really think it's degrading? Why would I degrade myself?' I'm in control and I decide what I feel like showing. I don't feel like it's degrading. I'm in complete control. Nobody gets to touch me. And even if I was allowing people to touch me, it's my decision...I think that baring of the female body is automatically degrading in some people's mind and is a little old fashioned...It's empowering to say this is my body, my decision and you're gonna effing love it, or hate me. I don't care."
On telling stories
Lola Torch tells stories through burlesque. Sometimes it's just "I'm a badass woman," she said.
But, other times it's more serious.
For example, after her father died in Dec. 2013, she created an act to the song "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries."
"The idea was I enter the stage before the music comes on and I'm wearing a head scarf and have a coat on and wearing boots, carrying a carpet bag, hunched over looking like a lady heading to the bus after a hard day of work. Then I sit down, take my boots off, rub my feet and the music comes on and I look wistfully off ...And the idea is I'm this downtrodden person weighted down by the weight of the world and then dream about being this ethereal person. The jacket comes off and I have a gold gown on, and heels and become this goddess. This golden goddess that's in the mind of the woman and other dancers come out and throw glitter. To me that story is about transcending the hardships of life...So i dedicate that to the memory of my father because he was very positive and always saw the bright side of life."
Click here for more info on the Tucson Libertine League
Lola Torch, 40, Burlesque Performer/Producer/Mentor/Costumer/Designer/Singer/Fitness Instructor/Photographer, etc.
I'm on a mission to ___________________.
Push boundaries, break rules, and inspire others to do the same.
What's your astrology sign? Does it fit you?
Describe yourself in three words...
Brave, kind, and goofy.
And in five emojis.
Black heart, lightning, flexed bicep, nerdy face, sign of the horns (translated because I'm writing from my computer)
Your first-ever job?
Baker's assistant (frosting maker)
How long have you lived in Tucson?
Who and/or what inspires you?
People who take chances.
The secret to coping with stress is ________________.
Deep breathing and Netflix
Your favorite Tucson spot?
The Barrio Viejo where I've lived for the past 16 years.
What are your favorite three songs and why?
This is an impossible question so I'll just say the first three that spring to mind. 1) Ne Me Quitte Pas by Jacques Brel (but more famously sung by Nina Simone) because it's just so heartbreaking and beautiful. 2) Soul Love by David Bowie because love is careless in its choosing. 3) A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell because it never gets old to me and because Joni Mitchell.
Your go-to order at your favorite Tucson restaurant?
I crave the Jalapeño Albacore Crudo from Obon.
What's your favorite Tucson-only thing?
Hotel Congress... the beacon that brought me here.
You know you're a Tucsonan when _____________.
It's 95 degrees out and you say "It's such a beautiful day!"
What constitutes your morning getting-ready routine and how long does it take?
Make lemon water, listen to recorded affirmation, make coffee & breakfast and distract myself with the internet for about 2 hours. (I'm more of a night person)
Favorite app at the moment?
Scribd... devouring mystery novels.
Give us a two-sentence pep talk.
If you have passion in life, it is possible to accomplish what you want to. Just listen to your heart and refuse to give up on yourself.
What would you tell your teenage self?
You WILL find your place and your people and your purpose.
What's a quality you got from your mama?
And one you hope to pass on to the next generation?
The last great book you read?
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The last great movie you watched?
I mean... I loved La La Land so much that I saw it in the theater twice.
People would be surprised to hear you're actually a(n) ______________ expert.
Butter! I love butter and it's fun to make.
Is there something you've always wanted to learn, but haven't had the time?
I always try to take the time to learn new things... but yes, auto repair.
Anything you've always wondered about Tucson?
I've always wondered about who lived in my historic adobe before me and if they might still be hanging around.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Chocolate chip cookie dough! Or even better, Ben & Jerry's Half Baked Fro-yo.
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram... but check out my website for all the important info! www.mslolatorch.com
Is there something you REALLY nerd out about?
Mystery crime drama television, books and movies. Especially of the British variety.
What's your spirit animal?
Which fictional character (from TV, movies, books, etc.) just gets you?
What makes you feel the most confident?
Knowing that I've created something that people have responded positively to... and a badass pair of platform heels.
The best piece of advice you ever received?
Don't get into credit card debt.