Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, multi-award winning performer, producer, author, educator and Tantrika, Rosie Bitts. She is one of the pioneers who brought the art form of burlesque to Vancouver Island and has since taught hundreds of women this beautiful and fun creative art form as well as performing for thousands of people across North America. She is a certified practitioner of Authentic Tantra (one of the only government certified programs in the world), a sexologist and pleasure activist and has loved mixing Tantra into both her personal and professional life. Aside from performing and creating, Rosie’s passion is teaching people how to connect with their inner sexy, love their bodies, and lead their most sensual and fulfilled lives. She offers classes, workshops and retreats in both Burlesque and Tantra online and all over the world. And to that we say, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I think I’ve always been a warrior. My mother found out she was pregnant with me while having an emergency appendectomy and was told that there was a good chance she would miscarry. She didn’t and I’ve been a fighter ever since.
What was life like for you before you went into rehab at 13?
Hard, lonely, and wild. I was living a very adult life in my preteen years. I was alone a lot and emotionally felt incredibly isolated. I was doing dangerous things and keeping very dangerous company. More than one of my friends from that time was sex trafficked and two of my best girlfriends had babies by the time we were 14. It’s hard to imagine now the type of life I was living as a child. I feel like I have aged backwards in many ways. I feel lighter and, in some ways, younger now than I did at 12.
Going to rehab was such a relief. For the first time ever, I felt like I belonged. There were other people like me. The fundamentals of doing a check-in and creating peer support that I weave into all of my classes and workshops come directly from my experiences in rehab. It was instrumental to my healing and is what kept me alive.
How did having children change your life?
I got pregnant with my son at 19 and it completely changed everything I thought I would do. Up until then my focus was on becoming a professional actor. I thought Victoria would be a pit stop before I moved on to bigger cities and better things. I was sure I was going to be a star. Instead, life kicked the shit out of me a bit and I became a single mom on welfare. Despite the rocky start, having my son was the biggest gift life could have given me. Needing to succeed because someone else is counting on you changes everything. It kept me accountable and focused on what I wanted to accomplish so I could be the mother I wanted to be. I love being a mother. I had my second child, my daughter, at 27. My daughter taught me to slow down, to cuddle more, to lean in. We call her the beautiful unicorn. I see my children as two of my greatest teachers. I am grateful every day for the beauty, wisdom, and joy my children bring into my life.
Tell us a bit about the first business you started at 25?
My goal in my 20’s was to find a career I loved where I could make $20hr and only have to put my son in part time daycare. I remember going to career counsellors and being told that I would never find a job that would pay me that much without a University degree. Getting a degree takes a long time and meant that I’d have to put my son in full time daycare so I felt I was in a catch 22.
My fighting spirit came into play and I decided that I was going to create a career that I would love and would pay me that coveted $20 an hour. I spent one year at the Conservatory of Music to brush up on my singing, piano, and theory while also doing an apprenticeship as a music teacher for young children. At the same time I was immersing myself in learning about parenting so I became certified as a Family Virtues facilitator and started teaching parenting classes. At 25 I opened my first business with a friend teaching music to young children and parenting classes. I loved what I did, made at least $20 an hour, and continued that career until I was 32.
I’ve never listened to people when they tell me something can’t be done. Instead, I’ve learned that if I can’t find what I want, it means that I need to create it. This has served me well and has been the foundation of all that I do in business.
How did you get into burlesque?
I got into burlesque very much by chance. I was at a crossroads in my life. I had a husband and was finally in the financial position to pursue my love of acting professionally, but when I went to explore it on that level, I found that it no longer fit me. At that time in the early 2000s I was already aging out of the most interesting roles. I was told directly by a casting director that if I didn’t make it by 28, there was no chance. The level of misogynistic bias towards women was so disheartening that I decided to look for other creative outlets and burlesque popped into my mind. I started to take books out of the library and look it up on what limited internet we had at that time. At the same time, I met a woman called Bettina May while performing a cameo in her boyfriend’s low budget horror film. She was one of two women performing burlesque on Vancouver Island. I was fascinated! She asked me to be a stage kitten for her next show. Watching her and seeing how the audience reacted, I immediately knew that burlesque was what I wanted to do with my life. Over the following months burlesque was bubbling underground here on the island and Bettina decided to invite everyone who was interested to a meeting to chat about forming a Burlesque troupe. Forty women showed up that night and that was the beginning of the Cheesecake Burlesque Review. I left that troupe a couple of years later to pursue burlesque on my own, but that was the beginning of burlesque taking hold as an art form on Vancouver Island and the beginning of my now 15 year-long career.
You’re a multi-award winning performer, author, and producer. Congratulations! You’ve also written, performed, and toured all over North America in Stories of Love and Passion. What is your fondest memory of that time?
Man, it was filled with such high-highs and low-lows! For the American part of that tour, I toured with my pianist, and he filled all our spare moments with sightseeing and museums, music and food—all the things that I was too exhausted to plan or make happen, he took care of, which was SO special. I loved chatting with the audience after each show and having people tell us about their towns and the art that was happening there. People were really generous to us and the show was very well-received in the US.
I scandalized our Canadian audiences a bit more. I got kicked off stage and banned in Saskatchewan after performing at a little theatre festival.
My favourite memories of touring here in Canada are of the other women I was on the road with. We were all dealing with an incredible amount of sexual harassment on the road, and shows done by anyone other than white men are generally not given much media attention, so we joined together both for safety and to bring some attention to our shows. It was a beautiful sisterhood and we would run away for spa days in different cities across Canada.
My favorite memory of the show itself has to be from the very last night I performed it. I was back home performing at the Victoria Fringe after a VERY long summer of touring. I was sick and exhausted but it still turned out to be one of those magical nights. The crowd was filled with artists from Victoria and those I’d been on tour with from around the world. It was a packed show and the love in the room was palpable. When I started to sing “Whatever Rosie Wants” the whole audience joined me. Those are the nights that artists live for—that feeling of being so in-sync with the audience is the best feeling in the world.
How did you feel when you were featured in Time Out New York for the premier of your show on 42nd street in NYC?
It was a blur. That moment taught me a lot. During that time in my life I felt like I was so busy I was just blowing past accomplishments without taking a moment to even acknowledge them. I was excited but at the same time I was caught in this world of pressure, feeling like I had to succeed (whatever that means). I actually had pneumonia and blacked out for part of the show the night I performed in NYC. The reviews were still good so I guess the show was alright, but I wish that I had been able to let go of my worries about success and just have fun.
What was the best part of performing with your band ‘The Dirty Boys?’
ALL THE PARTS!! I loved performing with that band. Jeff Poynter, Nick Mintenko, Matt Pease, and Alex Campbell are really accomplished muscians and in high demand, and yet they consistently made space for all my crazy, naked ideas. They were incredibly generous with me and I hold a very special place in my heart for all of them. It was truly a love project and I enjoyed what we did immensely. We had so much fun!
What drew you to Buddhism and why?
I started practicing Buddhism at 12. My beloved singing teacher was a Buddhist and I would ask her questions about it. Eventually, she invited me to start meditating with her and we would do weekly meditation and dharma classes in her living room. We were the only two Buddhists in Thunder Bay, Ontario at that time.
I loved it—it felt very familiar, like coming home.
What is Tantra and how does this practice enhance your life?
I practice a type of Tantra from the Shangpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Ultimately, Tantra is a holistic healing modality, but I think my Lama has the most concise answer: “… Tantra is best understood as a form of yogic practice, which includes sexual and non-sexual teachings designed to transform human consciousness, remove the veils of ignorance, and realize ‘enlightenment’.” Lama Tashi Dundrup, Kauai Dharma Centre. This quote is from the Authentic Tantra website, which is the school where I trained.
Tantra has completely changed my life. When done with guidance and the right intentions practicing Tantra is a holistic healing modality that works in all areas of your life. My relationships are better, I have done much emotional and physical healing using Tantra, my capacity for love is greater, and how I show up in the world is always in the process of becoming more and more in-line with my Tantric belief of being a vehicle of healing for all sentient beings.
When I started this journey I thought that I was going to have better orgasms (which I do!) and teach people some sexy tricks (I can do that too!), but I had no idea that I was entering a realm where I’d be learning to heal my ancestral trauma and learning tools for helping other people heal and experience pleasure in such profound ways.
What are you doing to create more opportunities for BIPOC and other minority people on stage?
My real focus, and what I’m passionate about, is creating space for BIPOC and other minority folks to take over the positions of power in the arts community, as well as having equal representation on stage. I have bursaries for my classes that make the financial commitment easier for BIPOC and other minority folks. I am often someone’s first point of contact with the world of burlesque on Vancouver Island so hopefully this makes what I do more accessible, but what I’m really excited about is bringing in guest teachers, mentors, and artists from minority communities who are masters in their fields.
I feel like it’s important to take myself out of the equation so that our local artists are being mentored by people they can relate to in different ways—people who can speak to finding success and to the lived realities of systemic barriers like racism, ableism, and transphobia.
I’m a middle-aged white woman. I feel like much of what I need to do at this point in my career is take a backseat and find ways to network, fundraise, and support people from these communities to step into positions of power so that they can be in the position to do the hiring, to be producing the shows, to be the ones who are making the money and making the decisions.
If BIPOC and other minority folks are in these positions, I think that people will feel safer entering the arts community here, and that we will naturally start to see a greater diversity of performers on our stages.
What’s the biggest decision you ever made?
To become a single Mom at 20.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve overcome – personally and/or professionally?
Drug/alcohol addiction, poverty as a single parent, starting a business while being a poor single parent and then creating a career out of being a burlesque performer, and my son’s serious mental health crisis and almost death. I have lived through a number of challenging situations, but I have been blessed to have community and/or family support through many of them.
What do we need to know ‘for sure’ about loving our jiggly bitts?
You are perfect. Right now. Just as you are. That’s it. That’s the big message.
Truly, we are each a miracle. Each one of us is totally unique.
The MOST radical thing you can do in this life is to love your body as it is. Can you imagine the amount of brain space we would have if we stopped putting energy into thinking about how we want to change our bodies and either felt neutral about them or delighted in what they do for us every day? We could overthrow empires, eradicate climate change and implement world peace with that type of brain space.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Start investing any extra money you have!! Remember that whatever you are feeling, it is only one moment in time; it will pass and you will move onto something else.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Be exactly who you want to be. Don’t wait for the perfect time or to get permission. This life is fleeting so make it count. Most importantly let joy lead you. And start investing your money, even $20 a month—it will make future you very happy.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
I work with a lot of millennial women and my daughter is part of Gen Z. These young women are blowing me away. They put up with SO much less bullshit than women of my or past generations were groomed to deal with. They are changing this world individually (Look at Greta Thunberg) and collectively (the #Metoo movement). Young women in general are inspiring me right now!
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I will have 2 bestselling books: The Body Love Book and The Way of the Wanton Woman. I will have a home base here on the West Coast and another home in a tropical location. I will spend my time hosting international, transformational retreats, and doing speaking tours and whatever else tickles my fancy—maybe performing, maybe teaching. My life will be filled with fun and I will spend a lot of time really enjoying my community.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My kids and one of my close friends can make me laugh—like spit your coffee out kind of laughing. I think I only have that type of laughter with people I know really well. My kids used to try to make me laugh and whoever could make me snort laugh would win.
I don’t cry a lot. When my son was going through his mental health crisis, I would wake up sobbing and ugly cry in the grocery store. Nothing I’ve lived through has been as hard or as painful as that, and so with that perspective everything else seems easier and less sad.
If a novel, inspired by your life, were written what would it be called?
I’m going to write it! I’ve already written the outline! It will be called The Way of the Wanton Woman.
To Learn more about Rosie, head over to her website at: https://www.rosiebitts.com/
Follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/rosiebitts
And Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/missrosiebitts/
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