In the olden days, burlesque performers were sometimes referred to as "cat dancers." The term isn’t used much these days, but it certainly would be fitting for dancer Lola Montgomery, a.k.a. Lola the Vamp. Montgomery says she is the first burlesque dancer to earn a Ph.D. by doing striptease, and she has been performing her famed fan dance in far-off locales including Paris, New Orleans, and Los Angeles since 2002.
But for the past five years, her heart has belonged to her Snow Bengal, Lily, who she found when the cat was a tiny kitten lost in a storm.
"Lily turned up deep in the Australian summer — on Australia Day to be precise," Montgomery says.
A neighbor heard meowing in the heavy rain and took the kitten to Montgomery’s mother, who called her immediately.
"She said, ‘Guess what I’ve got?’ And I could hear a ‘mew!’ in the background," she says.
The cat was white with black points and purred whenever she was picked up. Montgomery fell in love before she even saw the kitten, and the love became permanent after Montgomery’s mom dropped off Lily the next day.
Montgomery says the species has inspired her own work.
"I like their physicality, their movements and marking," she says. "I like that they can be very independent and also very loving — they seem to choose to live with you rather than the other way around."
Lily does earn her keep around the house, Montgomery insists.
"She is my choreographer," she says. "She leads by example and reminds me to stretch, extend my legs, and keep my toes pointed. She will call a rehearsal break by sitting on the costume. She really seems to love us doing our art."
Lily also helps out with costumes. When a new piece arrives, she inspects it and places herself delicately in it.
“People have asked me if she destroys the feathers but she is very careful," she says. "Her current ‘nest’ is a pile of tutus and petticoats."
Of course, like a true performer, Lily knows to hold still and pose for photos. She also has a love for music.
"She sings in the key of D," Montgomery says. "My partner will play a chord, and wait for Lily’s mew, and it will continue a whole song. Only D, no other chord, although she will listen intently to all music. She watched him sing once with a gaze I can only describe as awed."
Lily has other quirks. She likes to be chased around the garden: “The more you exaggerate your movements to ‘get her,’ the more she bounds off with her tail bouncing. Lily expects you to follow her and will take boys around the back of the house to get them to cuddle her."
Lily also has a strange napping spot: A mosquito net above Montgomery’s bed.
"She discovered this the first night she was with us and popped straight back into it as soon as she got up the next day," Montgomery says. "If this hammock/net is disturbed, she gets very feisty. She has chased my partner around the bed when he tries to adjust it. The net is untouchable."
When Montgomery is touring, her boyfriend looks after Lily.
"In Australia, they don’t let your pets travel with you, and I don’t want to put her through the noise," she says. "I can see a time when she is a little older that we may be able to tour with her in our own trailer. I used to take her with me in the car just about every week when she was young, so she travels very well. She barely meows in her basket, and she sleeps until we arrive at our destination."
Like many cats, Lily is able to deal with the separation anxiety better than Montgomery.
"During one long tour, I developed nightmares that I had left her in a park and couldn’t find her," she says. "She loves company, so we ensure she has at least one person to adore her. She always seems to handle it very well and knows she is loved. I get very big kisses and head-butts when I return, and she gets super-excited and runs around the house like a kitten. I eventually get quite a biting and kicking, just so I know that she has noted my absence."
Lily is a beautiful example of the Snow Bengal, but she is also a tough cookie who has gotten into her share of scrapes. She doesn’t tend to instigate fights, but she won’t back down from one. She stays in at night and gets to go outside only during the day.
"One scary moment was when she cut her ear — goodness knows how — and to save it she had a cone,” Montgomery says. “She was a very subdued conehead and got lots of love."
Montgomery attempted to find Lily’s mother without success. That doesn’t mean Lily doesn’t have family near her.
"I am almost certain that my friend, burlesque dancer Davina Mercy, has her brother," Montgomery says. "We have estimated that they must be about the same age, and they look like male and female versions of each other. I doubt there could be many snow Bengals around this local area."
As much as Montgomery loves cats and would consider getting more, she is committed to Lily being an only child. Brisbane was flooded in 2011, and the local RSPCA was looking for foster carers as their shelter went underwater. Montgomery took in two kittens and kept them in the bathroom, but Lily would stalk the gap under to door and hiss at them.
“She is very much of the opinion that SHE is our pussycat, and why would we need any others?" Montgomery says. But there was a happy ending: "The two kittens were adopted by my mother, and all are very happy."
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About the author: Patrick Henderson is a San Diego-based freelance writer specializing in entertainment and lifestyle stories. He has two cats, Mr. Boots and Buster, who tolerate him as long as he brings home the kibble.