The Return of Burlesque

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This is Celia Hirschman of KCRW for On The Beat.

A couple of months ago, while in LA, I went to see singer songwriter, Eleni Mandell perform at the nightclub, Tangiers. Eleni is a well respected singer, with a sweet and soulful voice. Just before she went onstage, a very large woman in a cowboy skirt and vest, commandeered the microphone. The intruder introduced herself as Miss Darcy Burlesque and over the course of the next 5 minutes, she sang to the audience karaoke style, while stripping down to her pasties and a g-string.

She was, as it became clear, the opening talent. I had heard about the revival of the burlesque movement but this was probably one of the last places I expected to see it. After all, Eleni was a Singer-songwriter and torch singer, and this was a music club. On top of that, Miss Darcy did not look like a typical stripper, and frankly, I feared how things might end. But I was, in fact, quite wrong. Miss Darcy's self assurance overshadowed any awkwardness I may have felt, and I was able to appreciate the sense of artistic integrity involved in the performance.

The audience, by the way, loved it.

A few weeks later, in New York City, I went to a Halloween show of The Dresden Dolls, a great new band, performing at The Bowery Ballroom. The Dresden Dolls are actually only two members, singer Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione. They often appear in white face, and on this night, many in the audience chose to wear Halloween costumes adding to the theatrics. Before the band appeared onstage, a burlesque troupe, The Sweet Tarts, gave a 20 minute performance of fan dancing, lying on beds of nails, and juggling, while stripped down to their pasties and gstrings. It was something right out of a Fellini movie. Again, the crowd applauded wildly.

Though Burlesque harkens back to the Victorian era, it's made a major return in the past five years and Los Angeles has been one of the main center points of the resurgence. Now, in the last year, burlesque has begun to sweep the country in every major market.

While writing this piece, I discovered a friend of mine in New York City freelances as a burlesque dancer, so I endeavored to find out more. It turns out, some of the performers are actually professional actors or dancers, and in fact a number of them also moonlight as sex educators. These are women very comfortable with their appeal and find dancing to be a reinforcement of their feminine sexuality. Unlike a traditional strip club where people go for sexually charged entertainment, people who attend burlesque performances usually understand that the themes are of wit, sexiness, and glamour, with a focus on fun and humor. This makes it a very positive experience for both the performers and the audience.

If you think about it, it's not surprising that the rock world has opened its doors to burlesque performers. Good rock and roll shows have always exhibited sexual undertones, while breaking taboos with extravagant performances. Good burlesque shows offer the same.

It's wonderful that some rock and rollers are secure enough, and open enough to allow other art forms to share their audience.

If music and the culture behind the music is going to continue to grow, it's a necessary step in our evolution.

This is Celia Hirschman, with On the Beat, on KCRW.