The Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Collinwood will roll out the red carpet on Saturday, March 25 for Sinfully Yours, an all-star burlesque and drag revue in celebration of Cleveland Burlesque Queen Bella Sin’s 20th anniversary.
Sin, a married mother of two, emigrated from Juarez in the city of Chihuahua, on the border Mexico shares with El Paso, Texas, to Denver in March 2003, then traveled by cross-country Greyhound bus and settled in Akron that August.
Immediately embraced by drag queens, Sin flourished as a performer in gay bars before setting her sights on Cleveland. “Drag queens taught me everything I needed to know about performing from costuming to the hustle,” Sin affirms.
Next year, in 2024, Sin’s Cleveland Burlesque, the award-winning longest running burlesque revue in the state, also turns 20.
In 2011 Sin started the International Ohio Burlesque Festival and was named one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People by Cleveland Magazine,” and graced covers of “The 330” and “Cleveland Scene” that same year.
In 2019, historian Sin was featured in the book “Rust Belt Burlesque: The Softer Side of a Heavy Metal Town” by former FreshWater managing editor Erin O’Brien and FreshWater managing photographer Bob Perkoski. Part of the book recounts Sin’s immigrant story and the history of Cleveland burlesque.
Sin attributes her success and passion in her business to the family she was born to, her mother, and the one she chose: her Beachland family who she calls, “confidantes, best friends, business partners—they have been much more than family to me, and showed me how to work the business of entertainment and how to be a team.”
Bella Sin, Cleveland Queen of BurlesqueAs a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sin says her staunch advocacy came more from creation than their personal orientation,
“I have a lot of gay family members and consider myself non-binary and pansexual,” says Sin. “But my advocacy came from seeing my family and the way the gay people I knew were treated as normal and worthy of respect from a young age. My idea of homophobia was not real until I came to the United States.”
Sin encourages people to keep their minds open and be accepting.
“People can come in and have their minds changed about people,” Sin says. “We just want to be loved, accepted, live and let live. I believe that the audience who comes to see us wants to be challenged in thinking, to see something different, putting down the phone and involving themselves in the show. Burlesque is political in nature. Trans, femme, straight, gay, non-binary—all the sexy bodies onstage. Exposing people to art changes their mindset.”
Though Sin says respect for their profession has been hard-earned, it’s been rewarding to be an agent of change and acceptance.
As Cleveland Burlesque looks toward its 20th anniversary next year, Sin is enthusiastic about a new era. “We’re not per se a troupe or group, we’ve changed into a production company because we want to grow to be the place where the best show in Cleveland is offered, and the state of Ohio,” she explains. We are here to entertain, to make people happy…you want circus, we got you. You need musicians, burlesque performers, specialty entertainment…we got you.”
Sin says the vision is to continue facilitating entertainment for parties, shows, and Cleveland Burlesque’s own productions. “One of my dreams is to produce a show at Playhouse Square, and if we’re manifesting—a burlesque bar,” Sin continues.
Sin is disgusted by the ideology that burlesque shows must be made up entirely of skinny, white burlesque ensembles.
“We need diversity,” Sin muses. “People want to see themselves onstage, they want to imagine that they can do it. Our patrons leave inspired.”
Cast photo from the 9th Annual International Ohio Burlesque Festival with Bella front and center.That inspiration needn’t lie dormant: Cleveland Burlesque Academy, which has been officially running for a dozen years, will debut a renewed 18-week program in partnership with Cleveland Public Theatre this August. The curriculum is currently being updated to include different lessons on drag, costuming, sewing, artistry, acting, singing, and the history of burlesque and how it shaped the world around us.
Though Sin demurs when prodded for details about the person behind her persona, longtime friend Jenny Goe, owner of In the 216, is eager to salute Sin, who she calls, “A warrior, a fierce defender of immigrants who need a voice, a fundraiser for those in need, and a megaphone for injustice.”
Goe marvels at Sin’s ability to make dreams a reality. “Rallying people online is great and very effective, but sometimes you need that person who will get in the face of lawmakers, business owners, and communities,” Goe says. “Bella is that person and they looks fabulous while they’re getting those results.”
Sin, who is sober, says their celebration will include a special menu of virgin cocktails.
General admission tickets are available for $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. Showtime is 8:30 p.m., doors open at 7:30 p.m. Beachland Ballroom & Tavern is at 15711 Waterloo Road in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.