Oh my God, I’m seeing stars. With sequins on them. And tassels too! Round and round they go.
Since I have not, to my knowledge, recently been knocked unconscious by a falling disco ball, I must be having a flashback to “The Sensuous Woman,” the neo-burlesque revue at the Zipper Factory headlined by the comic Margaret Cho. This singular entertainment — more singular than entertaining, in truth — employs enough pasties to supply a decade or two of “Gypsy” revivals.
"... I improvised, crazed by the music... Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone."
A quote from Wiki that makes her beyond fabulous:
In later shows in Paris she was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah Chiquita,
who was adorned with a diamond collar. The cheetah frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding another element of excitement to the show.
While many modern burlesque dancers are influenced by her performance, moxie and fame, there is a bigger picture here. Her dance moves are West African and Latin inspired and the story of her life is one of defiance and in the face of racism.
Below are a few links to the basics and beyond of the life of Josephine Baker:
You’ve said that you were a star in what was traditionally a woman’s world. What do you mean by that? Most
people associate Burlesque with girls in feathers, fans and it being
about the female form. So to have a guy in there - playing different
characters and being androgynous - is a new aspect to the art form. I
was performing before the recent Burlesque thing kicked off and people
said to me. ‘you do realise that you’re very Burlesque?’
So all that cross-dressing and comedy was good preparation. I hope it’s comedic, otherwise it would be tragic!
And check out his famous co-star, Immodesty Blaize, just crowned Miss Exotic World 2007.
Editor's Note: I saw The Indra in a small club in San Francisco last year and couldn't believe my eyes. Since then I've mentioned her to a number of people and they say 'YES I've seen her and she's amazing!'.... Everybody loves The Gorilla Girl of Burlesque.
From GorillaMen.com comes this interview:
During the course of my recent research efforts into gorilla suits and
burlesque, I had the great pleasure of speaking with the striptease
artist known as The Indra. There is a long history of Gorillas and
Girls cavorting on stage for the amusement of lecherous men but the
revival of classic erotic dance has also seen the return of the amorous
ape. Performers like the high profile Gorilla X prove that the
fascination with sex and simians is deeply rooted and will never fade
away completely. Indra puts a different spin on the traditional premise
and fires up crowds around North America with a gorilla strip that has
made her infamous.
Tell me about your great twist on the old burlesque Beauty and Beast act.
I started doing a gorilla strip about 4 years ago...It was inspired by
a scene in "Blonde Venus" where Marlene Dietrich sings "Hot Voodoo"...
it's a great song... AND she strips out of a gorilla costume... it was
also copied by Poison Ivy/Uma Thurman in Batman... My under costume is
a banana skirt inspired by Josephine Baker... And an enormous afro,
inspired by Marlene again... Her's has a lightning bolt arrow through
it I remember...
I bought my original gorilla suit about 8 years ago from Oriental
Trading.. then replaced the hands and head... Its so big on me I never wear the feet...
The band had started to play and my heart was racing with
nervous excitement. I had performed several times before but never like this.
There was no turning back now, and so on cue I took my very first step on stage
as Trixie Minx the tassel twirler. With the beat of the music and applause of
the crowd I danced until my costume slowly stripped away to a pair of sparkling
red pasties and panties. It was then like so many before me I fell in love with
Burlesque: the art of tease.
What is burlesque?
The etymology of burlesque comes from the Spanish word burla
meaning to joke. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines burlesque as “theatrical
entertainment…comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts”. This is all important
information to understanding burlesque but what does it mean? Due to its rich
history burlesque means many things to different people. According to
anatomyofburlesque.com the earliest known performance was in 411BC in
Aristophanes’ Lystistrata where women used their sex appeal to rebel against
war. Some modern day burlesque artists use it as a medium to express opinions
on current events. However, burlesque primarily is performed for the purpose of
entertainment. To me and many others it is the Art of Tease: a form of dance
where the performer uses wit and charm through movement to engage the audience.
Prior to my career in burlesque I was a classical ballet
dancer. I trained and performed throughout the US until I broke my ankle
leaving me unable to go on pointe. With much heartache I resigned myself to
stop dancing. Not long after a move to New Orleans the Komenka Ethnic Dance Ensemble found me.
Through Komenka I rediscovered dance outside of ballet and was able to enjoy
performing again. One of the dancers in
the troupe also performed burlesque and encouraged me to pursue it as well. I
kept thinking, “I’m not one of those dancers! Why not just be a stripper!”. It
wasn’t until I went to see her show that I realized this is what I need to do.
The first rehearsal was quite difficult much to my surprise, I could do 32
fouettes but couldn’t take off stockings without falling down! With practice
and coaching I learned how to dance while removing clothing with seamless grace
while constantly flirting with the audience.
Burlesque has given me a new outlook on performing. I
sincerely believe I have always been Trixie but just never knew quite how to
express myself. In ballet I was often told to tone it down with regards to my
personality. My friends would laugh when I played the ditzy goof and ridicule
me for behaving in a ridiculous manner. As Trixie I perform almost exclusively
comic strip tease. Every choreographed turn ends with a wink that makes you
laugh. I love using dance technique to create a story that encourages the
observer to think and enjoy the playfulness between them and the performer.
With this method the burlesque audience is never passive but as active as the
dancer on stage.
Last year I founded the Fleur de Tease Burlesque Revue. I
wanted to bring back what I considered to be the highlight of burlesque
history, a true vaudeville show where the focus was on the art of the
performance not the nudity of the dancer. The Fleur de Tease cast consists of
dancers, magicians, comedians, fire eaters, and trapeze artists who all come
together to create a unique entertainment experience that delights the
senses. Last season we were the
entertainment for the New Orleans Ballet Association and for the Contemporary
Arts Center fundraisers and this season we are hoping to continue contributing
to the arts community.
Dance is an ephemeral art and it is the people who perform
and attend the shows that keep it alive. As Trixie Minx I hope to keep
burlesque bumping and grinding here in New Orleans for a long time to come.
Trixie Minx is a member of the Fleur de Tease Burlesque Revue, based in New Orleans. We thank her for taking the time from the troupe's busy performing schedule to write for Root Magazine.
Root Magazine is pleased to welcome guest writer and Burlesque dancer, Kellita of Hot Pink Feathers:
This Bump's For You
I entered burlesque through the back door. I wasn't aware I was doing it until I saw my first burlesque show in New Orleans in May, 2001. That was more than 6 months after going public with my dance company, Hot Pink Feathers.
How did I find myself bumping and grinding, shimmying and
shaking before I had a context for it? Here’s how. A mover from the get
go, I was satisfied at first with my own movement explorations in the living
room and the backyard. Eventually I
found myself traveling through the world of ballet (too masochistic) and then
modern dance (too serious). My
floodgates of enthusiasm were thrown open only when I encountered samba and
Brazilian dance. I couldn’t believe a
whole culture actually moved so exuberantly and sensually outside of my
imagination! I danced in my first Carnaval San Francicso Grand Parade in 1997
and then expressed a desire to parade every weekend. The grand spirit of abandon that Carnaval
evokes struck me as my physical mantra. I had now heard my calling.
When it came time to start Hot Pink Feathers, I was aware
that preservation of culture was not its mission. Rather, my interest was honing in on the wild
joy that samba catalyzed in me and following where that led. This allowed me to
create numbers from that font of joy to share with the dancers I gathered, and
ultimately our audiences. There is a
tangible vicarious thrill that an audience member experiences when a performer
is channeling their full charge, in every cell. And it cycles right back to the performer,
too. I hadn’t encountered such a
life-giving exchange in any other medium. This, too, is what I found in New Orleans that May.
A fateful little flyer beckoned me to travel to New Orleans to immerse in what would become my primary
community in the next years. I found the
same spark I knew from Carnaval in the glamourous, fearless, and oh, so witty burlesque artists
performing there. Their use of humor and
painfully great timing had us all captivated. As the artists teased us with their routines and their saucy removal of
select items of their sparkly costumes (often leaving much to the imagination),
both performer and witness became amplified. We were all called to be more. More of ourselves. We were
invited to integrate. Not
intellectually, not by some grand design of a committee, but by the bold
movements and revelations of a dancing woman (and sometimes a man!). As the clothes came off, not only more skin
was bared, but concurrently, more spirit. This was truly hot.
I learned from that first shot of burlesque, that Hot Pink
Feathers performed at the crossroads of
carnaval and cabaret, and began to
refer to us as a samba burlesque troupe. Our numbers were dance heavy, often peppered with striptease. Since then, we have branched out to include
music from around the world, and no longer limit ourselves to our signature
retro Brazilian music. We now count
narrative rich numbers in our repertoire, including a bawdy Bollywood routine,
and have acts set to latin gypsy horns, New Orleans jazz, French can can, and an ever expanding list of world music. In fact, we have now coined the term World
Cabaret to express our new fusions. Our
aesthetic is ethnic dance through a showgirl lense. In the words of Theatre Bay Area magazine,
“Leaders on the scantily clad front, the Hot Pink Feathers are a samba-based
troupe who shake it to anything from bossa nova to Klezmer music.”
The most salient link between our two primary forms of
influence, samba and burlesque, is not the obvious aesthetic of shiny sequins,
beads, feathers, glitter and ruffles. Nor is it the emphasis on hip gyrations
and shimmy-shakes. It’s the common
thread of a no-holds-barred embracing of life, as focused through physical
performance. It’s the generous gift of a
bump, and a wink and a smile, that is just as much for the performer as it for
The conflict some of us gals may have when just hearing the word 'burlesque' is understandable considering some of the visual triggers of past imagery. But I suggest this is a knee-jerk reaction by some who haven't seen a proper performance. Yes, I've read Female Chauvinist Pigs, and some may lump this art into that, but I invite you all to delve deeper. Take it from feminist, I love burlesque!
Over the last 10 years, women have dusted off pasties and tassels in
a rediscovery of classic burlesque, which ended its heyday in the early
1960s with the sexual revolution and increase of sex and nudity in
other venues. Now, an over-sexed public is cheering for the sexy
glamour of burlesque, which offers a glimpse but doesn't bare it all.
"Feminism is not just about sex and sexual politics," says Shteir.
"It's about more than that. But I do think a powerful female performer
who's drawing on these archetypal striptease images can wield a lot of
power by compelling all eyes to be on her. Is it a feminist thing? It's
not like 67 cents on the dollar or re-imagining the power structure or
getting a woman into the White House. I don't think there's any
confusion about that. But still there's something very interesting
going on there. The idea that the female body can command is powerful."
I've gone back and forth over this topic. I wonder, is it dance? Is it girls-only (answer: no)? Is it just theater or something else entirely? Why is it rising in popularity?
I've witnessed some classic Burlesque performers who can (pardon the pun) knock the socks off modern-day strippers and bring the house down with a simple glance, posture, the right costume...
A lot of dancers are now exploring the world of burlesque and creating side troupes or encorporating it into their routines. Troupes such as Hot Pink Feathers and Fleur de Tease have members whose roots began in ethnic dance.
We'll be hearing from some of these performers as well as exploring the history and different genres of burlesque.