Worth the Tassel: Burlesque in New York City

Worth the Tassel: Burlesque in New York City

by Luiza Oleszczuk
09.12.2008

After a long day of opening and closing accounts, Maria Hernandez, 28, turns off her computer, leaves her cubical in one of the Manhattan-based banks and takes the train Downtown to Orchard Street, ready for a night of panties, garters and simmering pasties. Like often on any day between Wednesday and Saturday, she moors at Slipper Room, a crimson hub of the best burlesque shows on the East Coast. Soon she is sipping a martini while a woman in fishnet pantyhose and a feather hat swallows flaming torches.

Though neo-burlesque is one of the signature live shows of New York City, and the second-most popular eroticizing entertainment after go-go dancing, Hernandez is a perfect example of what differentiates the two. Women love watching burlesque!

“I usually come at least once a week,” says Hernandez. “I never considered doing it, but I really like watching it. It’s sexy but not pretentious. It’s fun.”

And fun is, after panties and pasties, what burlesque philosophy is all about. Or, as Liza Minnelli cried out in “Cabaret,” “Divine decadence, darling!” Derived form Italian comedia del l’arte, burlesque has been exercising human sense of parody, kitsch and sex appeal since the nineteenth century. At the same time when the female body gets deprived of mystery with every new Gossip Girl poster, neo-burlesque reins with lingerie-clad silhouettes that are far from the stereotype of perfect, media-enhanced beauty. And with the 6th Annual New York Burlesque Festival kicking off on September 18, the show is far from its grand finale.

So if you missed out on movies like “Cabaret,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago,” then it is about time to catch up using our list of hottest events of NYC burlesquology.

The Slipper Room

The brothel-red, plushy Slipper Room, with its famous jewel-box stage, is a known haven of one of the best burlesque shows in town. As the acclaimed gem of the LES, it became the art ground for such celebrities as Jo Boobs, Pinkie Special, Runaround Sue, Linda Rhonda Linda, Lady Lucerne, Darlinda Just Darlinda, Amelia Danger, The Wet Spots, Scotty the Blue Bunny , *BOB*, Typhoon Sugarpants, and many others. Hosted by the inimitable Mel Frye, the show includes music by a live DJ and variety acts every week.

One of the stars, Darlinda Just Darlinda, reminded us of one of the most amiable features of the burlesque, before pulling on her stockings and treading on the stage with a wide smile on her heavily maquillaged face:
“I chose burlesque as a way of expression because it inspires women to love their bodies in a society that is not very body-positive,” she confesses.

Miss Darlinda, who has a BA in theater and new media and a long history of comedy improvs, loved the feel to this mocking type of performance the minute she discovered it:

“When I heard about burlesque I knew I had to do it,” she recalls. “My first gig was for Pink Inc as a go-go dancer for the opening of Circ de Soleil after-party and there was a ton of wonderful burlesque dancers there-- Julie Atlas Muz, Bunny Love and Little Brooklyn. One thing lead to another and I've been doing burlesque ever since!”

Darlinda Just Darlinda agrees with the majority of fellow pasties-lovers, saying, “Burlesque is comedy. Comedy is an art form that mocks everything, so burlesque is an art as well, and it also mocks everything!”

Click here for more info on Mel's Pre-Existing Condition
Click here for more info on The Slipper Room, New York NY

The Cutting Room

Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome – if only that welcoming was not copyrighted—Bonnie Dunn and Dillon, the hosts of Le Scandal, would probably use it every Saturday opening one of New York’s oldest cabarets. Demi Moore, Wesley Snipes, Ralph Fiennes, Jim Jarmusch, Goldie Hawn and Lou Reed are just a few celebs that set their feet in this burlesqualicious shrine. Legend has it that Drew Barrymore even performed a scandalous striptease here.

Saturday night at The Cutting Room on offers voyeurs the chance to admire sword-swallowing, fan and lasso dancing, fire-eating, magic, belly dancers and, of course, many pasties bouncing together with what they are attached to.
Le Scandal joins burlesque with vaudeville and circus performance, creating a bomb-of-a-variety show sizzling right inside 19 West 24th Street. Previously called The Blue Angel, this rustic joint survived Giuliani’s crusade against the erotic visual pleasures.

Now, the New Orleans-born Bonnie Dunn, the leading diva of this mutant cabaret-vaudeville-burlesque looks like the kind of woman it wouldn’t become not to call “Madam.” She is famous in New York for her fab, sassy gowns and a voice of a pre-prohibition jazz queen. So when coming to The Cutting Room, expect nothing less than the notion of a hey day of Coney-Island worthy show.

Click here for more info on Le Scandal
Click here for more info on The Cutting Room, New York NY

Collective Unconscious

Rarely does a burlesque performance risk imposing a plot, but the two extravagant savants of Pinchbottom,  Jonny Porkpie and Nasty Canasta, undertake this impressive narrative feat. Coordinating the formidable talents of NYC burlesque legends Bastard Keith, Naughtia Nice, and Tigger!, Porkpie and Canasta impose an original theme for each session. Tonight it’s a circus, an appropriate topic for an art form that not only borrows the tricks of jugglers and sword swallowers, but also strives to prick the hidden desiderata of the human soul.

“There are no rules; every performance is a self-contained, five-minute-long theatrical event that can involve absolutely anything that we as performers feel inspired to include,” says Nasty Canasta, a burlesque veteran, about her experience with the genre. “That can range from straight, classic, dance-inspired striptease to political commentary to slapstick puppetry - and often, all of the above.”

Canasta claims that burlesque is both art and a mockery of art: “Which is why I love it: there's really no way of taking yourself too seriously.  That's the best part.”
And perhaps it is the merging of comedy and revealed bodies that make neo-burlesque growingly popular world wide. For those who feel bold enough to try the performance, Canasta has some specific tips:

“See every show that you can,” she advises. “Find out who is performing and what they're doing.  It's inspiring!  Take a class; it's an excellent way to get a taste of burlesque. And find out how both the art and the business work. Don't expect to jump in immediately as a professional - like any art form, it takes work, practice and experience.”

Click here for more info on Pinchbottom
Click here for more info on Collective Unconscious, New Yor

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