Sparkles, skates and sapphic seduction

Kozmic Skater (on the left), Joy Rider, (on the right). Lana Brady

Joy Rider and Kozmic Skater reimagine queer love stories through roller-burlesque

Adorned in a silver gown and heels, Joy Rider shimmies over to Kozmic Skater, dressed in a tuxedo and rollerblades.

As the duo glides, jumps and twirls around in a style reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour, their glances and passionate exchanges tell a story—their nipple pasties, sparkly underwear and ultimate nudity are only part of this burlesque-skating duo known as Kozmic Joy.

The story of Kozmic Joy is one of hard work, passion, skates and sparkles. But at its core, it’s about two people wanting to share their love story how they know best.  

Marbella Carlos, known by her burlesque stage persona Joy Rider, and Chloé Seyrès, known by her roller-skating name Kozmic Skater, are the 2023 Burlesque Hall of Fame Small Group winners for their innovative movement form bringing two unexpected styles together: burlesque and roller-skating.

“No one had ever done the partner work of blending heels and wheels and creating a sort of hybrid dance art form in this way in burlesque,” Rider said.

When the couple first met in 2021, they were both established in their separate fields.

Kozmic, originally from France, had toured around the world competing on skates since her youth, including winning the World Freestyle Slalom Championship four times. She rode the wave as the practice popularized. Throughout her award-winning career, Kozmic has dominated freestyle slalom skating, roller derby and roller dance. 

Having taken a break from skating when she immigrated to Montreal in 2016, Kozmic started skating again as a way to pass time during the COVID-19 pandemic. She grew her pandemic skating classes from a park to a school. Soon after, she met Rider.

Marbella Carlos (right) Chloé Seyrès (left). Lana Brady

Born in the Philippines and growing up in Calgary, Rider spent most of her childhood dancing. She even spent some time touring with the Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede. Feeling the pressure to choose a more conventional career path, she went on to study visual arts and arts education. 

Rider moved to Montreal in 2018 to continue her studies at Concordia University in art therapy. To combat the loneliness of a new city, she reunited with her dance background, adding an adult twist and took up burlesque. Since then, she has performed on many stages and won the 2020 Burlesque Hall of Fame Award for Best Debut Solo for her piece integrating traditional Filipino dance with burlesque through a decolonization lens. During the pandemic, she took up roller skating as an entertaining way to pass the time.

Kozmic Joy first started creating together in 2022 for a friend’s album release party. The duo saw it as a way to rewrite history by telling the stories that have been kept secret.

“It’s our duty as queer people who exist today to pay homage to those legends and elders who paved the way for us and who didn’t get to live out loud like we do,” said Rider. “With everything going on culturally, and how queer artists are being ostracized again, I think that these stories are even more important.”

Their debut and only public piece, to date, Mad About the Girl, explores a queer love story during Hollywood in the 1950s that reflects the couple’s own history. The performance follows two characters, inspired by Fred Astaire—if Fred were a woman—and Ginger Rogers, who choose to act on their then-socially forbidden love. Taking inspiration from the glitz and glam of the period, Rider and Kozmic decided to rewrite history.

“It’s our duty as queer people who exist today to pay homage to those legends and elders who paved the way for us and who didn’t get to live out loud like we do,” — Joy Rider

“I’m a cheesy romantic. There’s a meme: I love you in every lifetime, in every timeline,” Rider said. “We’re just lesbians across time. How do we create those stories that weren’t documented?”

The intensity and tension on stage grow more and more as Rider and Kozmic push and pull from each other, never seeming to grab on, but without ever fully letting go.

“I think the connection we have is a big component of the success of our collaboration because it’s raw and it’s true. People see it and feel it,” said Kozmic. “We don’t have to act. We don’t have to fabricate it.”

Mad About a Girl incorporates subtle historical elements, from their old Hollywood costumes, hand-made by Rider, to their modernized 1950s dance moves, such as swing and jive.

“We try to reference [in our movements] the era we are trying to illustrate, but we still keep our flare, our touch and our feel into it. The idea is not to copy-paste. It’s more to find the influence in the era and then twist it to make it ours,” Kozmic explained.  

Through the occasional cheeky look to the crowd, or some teasing, their piece merges the intensity of an impossible love story with the satirical humour of classic burlesque, building the audience’s anticipation for the big moment.

“Bringing them to that point of climax. The pasties! The glitter! The boobs!” said Rider. “The goal is to sustain the tension and captivate the audience the entire time.”

Though some spectators would assume the mixing of burlesque and roller skating is the duo’s most integral element, Rider and Kozmic say their storytelling is what makes them who they are.

On wheels or on heals hours of practice goes into each performance. Lana Brady

The narrative they construct is what pulls their audience in as they feel the heartbreak, the difficulty, the joy and, of course, the sexual tension.

“You see that a choice is made, and then we run into each other and towards each other. Then, the sparks fly. There’s something very magical and very special that comes to life,” Rider said.

Currently, the duo is working on a new piece that keeps the same characters, but time-travels back to the 1920s to the Prohibition flapper era. According to Kozmic Joy, they wish to create more pieces that challenge the historical queer narratives by rewriting their love story through time.

“They’re trying to bridge that mold of what is quintessentially seen as neo-burlesque, and really shaping it to be more contemporary and to be openly accepted by others,” said Nicole Lee, the artistic engagement coordinator at the MAI, who worked closely with Kozmic Joy during their residency in the Alliance Program, an artist support program.

The duo will perform this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas as returning winners and have plans to perform at the opening night of Toronto Pride later this June.

Though Kozmic Joy has accumulated a strong fan base and success in their young partnership, Rider and Kozmic plan on keeping their solo careers and their day jobs. “We both have this Clark Kent Superman thing going where we put on our glasses and get to be our nerdy introverted selves in our day-to-day lives. Then, you put on the makeup and put on the persona and get this glamorous life on stage,” Rider said.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 13, published April 2, 2024.