By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Well," I think, as a gluteally well-endowed young woman gyrates her left butt cheek mere inches from my martini, "at least nobody can call me a prude."
It is a rite of passage for the women of my generation to prove, at least once, that they can sit in a poorly lit room with writhing, naked women and not be bothered. Female-empowerment-I'm-happy-with-my-body, etc. But it's hard not to be intimidated when you're a pasty young thing of unremarkable build surrounded by tanned, implanted bodies. It's also hard not to be bored. I see a naked chick in my bathroom every day, and while there may be proportional differences between the girl in my shower and the ladies at Scores, the basic layout is the same.
Back in Dallas, I've twice had the opportunity to spend an hour or two at the Lodge, where the same tanned, implanted bodies gyrate the same gyrations, just transplanted to Texas soil. Yawn. Who—I'm looking at you, Justin—is really going to bring sexy back in this town?
But there is hope. Beneath Dallas' thick outer skin of oversexed beautiful people in tight jeans and breast-baring halter tops are groups of creative, clever women who know there's more to turning people on than jiggling your butt floss. Two troupes in particular, the Lollie Bombs and the Velvet Kittens, are reviving the art of burlesque dancing and old-school pin-up style. Using vintage costuming and props such as fans, balloons, baseball bats and the all-important nipple pasties to hide their goods, the ladies of the local burlesque revival are bravely putting the "tease" back in "striptease," wisely realizing that what you don't show onstage can be as titillating as what you do.
Burlesque theater, naughtier than its cousin vaudeville, started back in the mid-19th century as a variety show, usually comprised of bawdy comedy routines, singing and dancing, and novelty acts, all with an emphasis on satire and social commentary. Mostly it was a big jab at The Man, especially the adult-oriented stripteases that were developed in the early 20th century and perfected by the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West. Eventually, burlesque shows morphed from variety programs to mere striptease events, losing the credibility and wit they'd had in the early years. Dallas' modern burlesque shows feature magicians, musicians and sexy ladies.
The more risqué of the two troupes I met are the Lollie Bombs, who perform at the Hub Theatre in Deep Ellum. Reveling in their individual styles, from Goth to punk to ballerina, the Lollie Bombs perform everything from playful stripteases (one Lollie Bomb starts out onstage covered in balloons and pops herself down to a pink bikini) to modern dance styles such as the politically charged Japanese form called Butoh.
You haven't seen sexy until you've seen six girls in white tights, hot pants and tank tops writhe on the floor while a girl in a gas mask sings about the "unrighteous government." Seriously. It's one-stop shopping for anyone who wants to get turned on and feel intellectually superior at the same time.
Lord knows that's always a problem for me when I stop by LaBare for a little man candy. Now I can leave my Foucault in the car instead of sneaking away to the ladies' room for a chapter or two.
Taking a different approach, the Dallas-based Velvet Kittens have opted to reclaim burlesque in its heyday, with sexy costumes, flirtatious dances and the occasional song. Leaning toward the more wholesome vaudevillian era, the Velvet Kittens perform mostly to period numbers and show tunes. They also ought to be commended for their bravery: They let me suit up in a pair of fishnets and join them for a dance.
I met Jana Edele, Velvet Kitten and troupe choreographer, at a Grand Prairie dance studio to learn the routine I'd be performing the following weekend. Little girls with puffy bangs and sequined leotards stared out at me from photos mounted on the studio walls; trophies from untold numbers of dance competitions lined the rooms. This is the stuff of nightmares for girls like me who spent years being the kinda-sucky girl in dance class who always just barely made the cut.
What seemed like five minutes later, Jana was showing me my ending pose, a hippy little bent-over position that demanded a coy look at the audience. I can do coy, I thought. I'm coy like a fox. A fox with two left feet and a drinking problem. Possibly caught in a leg trap. Coy. Sure.
Lucky for me and my vague sense of self-respect, the Velvet Kittens don't do nudity. Oh, they do sexy, but they don't get naked. Elaborate costuming is part of the burlesque tradition, something the Velvet Kittens go all out with. Jana told me to bring a black bra, a thong and a pair of black heels to our pre-show rehearsal, and she'd supply the rest.
On the day of my big show, I arrived at the studio to meet the rest of the Kittens, all of them classically trained dancers. There's a Velvet Kitten for every taste, whether you prefer a Marilyn Monroe-esque blonde such as Jana or a saucy little Bettie Page reincarnate such as Delilah. And none try to emulate the hair-extensioned, surgically enhanced, impossibly skinny Barbie dolls that lad magazines such as Maxim have made the plastic standard for sexy these days. Burlesque is as much about dancing ability as it is being sexy; you can't have one without the other and hope to impress these girls.
After a run-through of the dance in which I only accidentally ran into other Kittens 40 million times while scurrying to my spot a mere four counts too late, Jana tossed me a pair of fishnets and told me to cut off the waistband so I didn't get a muffin-top spilling out between my frilly black panties and black lace-up corset. I strapped on a pair of black heels and was crowned with the group's trademark fuzzy black cat ears.
The Monkey Bar, where we're scheduled to perform at the insanely early hour of 8:30 p.m., was empty. A group of drinkers made a beeline out the door when our chatty clan rushed in, freezing in our tiny outfits. The rest of the girls were disappointed; I secretly rejoiced.
"Didn't you invite your friends?" they ask.
Yeah, right. "Dear friends, please join me in what could very possibly be the most embarrassing moment of my life as I teeter around on a stage in high heels with a bunch of beautiful, classically trained burlesque dancers who have had weeks to learn a routine I tried to master in an hour. Be sure to look for the signature move I like to call 'Andrea Squats in Woods.'"
But I am proud to say the Monkey Bar bartenders got quite a show, and I managed to wiggle, shake and shimmy without incident for the benefit of a very attractive faux ficus in the back corner that I do believe was undressing me with its leaves. I've never felt sexier. The rest of the Velvet Kittens later hauled off to a late show in Fort Worth they knew better than to bring me to.
As I relinquished my black satin gloves and kitty-cat ears to Jana, I thanked the girls profusely for letting me dance with them. It's not often a girl gets to help bring sexy back, even if it was to a plastic tree.