The big tease: Burlesque grows in popularity
August 28, 2009

By MARTHA IRVINE / AP National Writer

Michelle L'amour

Michelle L'amour

CHICAGO — In the Depression-era days of Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque dancing was about as naughty, and as nude, as it got in public. The emphasis was on the tease more than the strip, until Playboy and harder-core pornography came along in the 1950s.

Now burlesque is back with festivals and club performances, from Amsterdam to Alabama. It’s seen as a chance for some bawdy fun and, some would say, even a little empowerment for the performers who are often amateurs with other day jobs.

But its growing visibility, in mainstream clubs and theaters, is also sparking a debate, and some confusion about what it is and whether it’s appropriate in those settings.

Is it performance art, as some contend? Or is it, as others say, just a (very) thinly veiled excuse to strip in public, even if most performers end a routine in pasties and G-strings?

“The performers are interested in being sexy, but not being pornographic,” says Rachel Shteir, a DePaul University professor who’s written books about burlesque. “They’re trying to strike this middle ground. But that’s very difficult to do in our culture.”

A few recent cases highlight that point.

Earlier this year in New York, burlesque performer Tara Lee Heffner filed a lawsuit against the Learning Annex for referring to her as a “porn star” in an online ad for classes she was teaching. She claimed the label damaged her reputation.

This summer in London, one club owner also shut down long-standing burlesque shows after being told he’d have to purchase an adult entertainment license, something generally reserved for more traditional strip clubs with dancers who make use of laps and poles.

“There’s no doubt that some men watch burlesque and find it as sexy as other forms of entertainment,” says Alex Proud, whose club in the city’s Camden borough bears his last name. “But at the end of the day, the naked bit lasts about three seconds.”

And many audiences of burlesque shows are filled with women, who often focus as much on the costumes, glamour and dancing as anything.

“True burlesque is more of a kitschy Vaudeville act than anything else. It’s all about the art of the striptease, a cheeky and titillating performance that can induce chuckles, cheers and longing sighs all at once,” says Katie Laird, a burlesque fan in Houston.

“Performance is the key word here, not naked gyrations for dirty dollar bills.”

At recent shows produced in Chicago by burlesque dancer Michelle L’amour, performers donned large feathered fans, in the tradition of Depression-era starlet Sally Rand, and costumes that ranged from a scantily clad secretary to a 1950s housewife. The midnight performances at the city’s historic Music Box Theatre also included slapstick comedy acts and a campy magic show, as well as a couple of male “boylesque” performers.

“Even my super-conservative grandmother is totally OK with it,” one performer, Cherokee Rose, said of her work with L’amour’s troupe, the Chicago Starlets. Still, the 28-year-old Chicagoan preferred to use her stage name, rather than her real name, because she’s looking for a job in the psychology field. “I wish people in my field were more accepting of this,” she says. “But sadly, they’re not.”

Most of L’amour’s troupe are professionals or students who started by taking classes with L’amour and moved onto the big stage when she considered them ready. For them, burlesque is a hobby.

The 29-year-old L’amour is, in fact, one of a few dancers who’s made a living at burlesque since its comeback in the last decade. Other professionals include Jo Weldon, a.k.a. “Jo Boobs,” and Dita Von Teese, who regularly makes red-carpet appearances and who’s become a bit of a fashion icon.

Theirs is a style that is more “classic” burlesque, focussed more on subtlety, artfulness and humor. But, L’amour says, it’s no wonder people are confused about what burlesque is when you have harder-core strip clubs featuring burlesque performances or even pop music acts, such as the Pussycat Dolls, referring to themselves as a “burlesque troupes.” Singers Cher and Christina Aguilera also are set to star in a movie titled “Burlesque.”

“It’s become a bit of a pitch word to hook people’s interest,” L’amour says.

In this latest rebirth, even many women can’t decide what they think of burlesque.

“Is it porn? Is it feminist? I would hesitate to say either,” says Shteir, the DePaul professor, whose books include “Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show” and “Gypsy: The Art of the Tease.”

Others say it depends on the context.

“As a feminist, I do not assume that, when women engage in performances that highlight their bodies or sexuality, this is necessarily degrading,” says Barbara Scott Winkler, head of the women’s studies department at Southern Oregon University.

For their part, performers talk about the camaraderie they feel with one another. Often, they create and oversee the shows themselves and make their own costumes.

“It’s about embracing the female form, no matter its size,” says Ruby Rose, founding member of London’s Burlesque Women’s Institute. She led a street protest of the Camden Council’s adult entertainment license requirement and is in talks to get them to reconsider.

In a statement, the council said its only concern was nudity. And that’s an issue that’s not likely to disappear anytime soon, says Molly Crabapple, a New York artist with ties to the burlesque community.

“When you do anything that involves nudity, even performance art, many people want to stigmatize it,” says Crabapple, who founded a group of burlesque-influenced drawing clubs called Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.

However it’s defined or maligned, Proud, the club owner in London, says he thinks burlesque makes life more interesting – though he has no plan to buy an adult entertainment license.

“Nightclubs should still be a little risque or on the edge. If they’re not, you can just stay home and drink a bottle of wine,” he says.

Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at mirvine(at) or via

June 15 New Orleans News
June 15, 2009

Fleetwood Mac, Oliver! and Galactic among this week’s best bets in New Orleans

by Keith I. Marszalek,

Monday June 15, 2009, 3:53 PM

Fleetwood Mac

New Orleans’ own Galactic headlines “Wednesdays in the Square,” the CAC hosts a night of “Bourbon and Burlesque,” Tulane’s Summer Lyric tackles “Oliver!,” and Fleetwood Mac rock the New Orleans Arena.

All this and much, much more in this week’s installment of “Hittin’ the Town,” on

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jake Smith
Mid City Lanes Rock and Bowl, 6 p.m.
3016 S. Carrollton Avenue, Uptown
Tickets: Donations accepted
Resources: Rock and Bowl’s website | Jake Smith’s website

Rock ‘n’ Bowl hosts a benefit for the Second Harvest food bank with singer-songwriter Jake Smith.


Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band
Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse, 8 p.m.
Royal Sonesta Hotel, French Quarter
Tickets: Free
Resources: More on Irvin Mayfield’s play house

Traditional Jazz drummer, band leader and WWOZ DJ Bob French continues his reign atop the Monday night band stand at Irvin’s Playhouse along with the cast of usual suspects and special guests.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Pfister Sisters
Jimbeaux’s on Frenchmen, 6 p.m.
623 Frenchmen Street, Marigny
Tickets: Free
Resources: The Pfister Sisters’ website

The trio of female Jazz vocalists set up shop in what was formerly known as the Spotted Cat early to belt out their 1930s best.


New Orleans Jazz Vipers
d.b.a., 9 p.m.
618 Frenchmen Street, Marigny
Tickets: Free
Resources: d.b.a.’s website | The New Orleans Jazz Vipers

Frenchmen Street’s Gypsy/Traditional Jazz standar bearers the New Orleans Jazz Vipers swing out to a room of very happy dancers and music lovers every Tuesday night. If you’re looking to cut the proverbial rug without the commitment behind attending an official “Swing dance,” here’s your chance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lafayette Square Park, 5:30 p.m.
500 block of St. Charles Avenue
Tickets: Free
Resources: Galactic’s MySpace page

Homegrown Funk, Rock and Hip Hoppers Galactic are this week’s featured band for “Wednesday’s at the Square” outdoor music series.


“The Mind’s Eye” with George Roland
The New Orleans Museum of Art, 6 p.m.
1 Palm Drive, City Park, Mid-City
Tickets: Contact museum
Resources: The New Orleans Art Museum’s website

Curator of Prints and Drawings George Roland will lead a look inside the Museum’s new exhibition of abstract prints and drawings, The Mind’s Eye: Without Subject Matter, What Does the Artist See? The exhibition features more than 100 works by celebrated 20th-century artists including Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Stanley Hayter, Howard Hodgkin, Fernand Leger, Joan Miro, Robert Motherwell, Bridget Riley and Andy Warhol.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Matt Perrine’s Sunflower City
d.b.a., 10 p.m.
618 Frenchmen Street, Marigny
Tickets: Free
Resources: d.b.a’s website | Matt Perine’s MySpace page

The man who garnered the cover of this month’s Offbeat brings his larger than life persona (and instrument) to the stand at Snug Harbor. Perrine will undoubtedly feature cuts from his latest release Sunflower City. The CD is a tribute to those who helped Perrine (and other local musicians) return to New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


Oliver! (through Sunday)
Dixon Hall 8 p.m. (2 p.m. Sunday)
Tulane University
Tickets: Contact box office
Resources: Tulane’s Summer Lyric website

Oliver! is one of the most beloved British musicals (currently running to great acclaim in London’s West End), vividly bringing to life Dickens’ timeless characters with its ever-popular story of the boy who asked for more. It will engage you with its pathos and drama, while delighting everyone with its outstanding musical numbers. The sensational score is full of Lionel Bart’s irresistible songs including “Food, Glorious Food,” “I’d Do Anything,” “Where is Love?,” “Consider Yourself,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Who Will Buy,” and “Reviewing the Situation” and many more.


The Contemporary Arts Center, 7:30 p.m.
900 Camp Street, Warehouse District
Tickets: $5 – $8
Resources: The CAC’s website

The CAC and New Orleans Film Society present monthly screenings of independent films and shorts you otherwise won’t see in New Orleans. This month’s feature is Siddhartha, the English-language classic based on the best-selling novel by the Nobel Prize winner Herman Hesse, featuring astonishing cinematography by the great Sven Nykvist.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reverend Horton Heat
The House of Blues, 8 p.m.
225 Decatur Street, French Quarter
Tickets: $22
Resources: House of Blues event info | Horton Heat’s website

Craving that weekend dose of tinnitus to carry you through? Well step right up boys and girls, the right Reverend Horton Heat is back in town, ready to proselytize to the masses through his legendary psycho-billy sermon.


Valley of the Dolls, (Thursday – Sunday)
Le Chat Noir Cabaret, 8 p.m. (Sundays at 6 p.m.)
715 St. Charles Avenue, CBD
Tickets: $21 – $26
Resources: Info from Le Chat Noir

One part homage, one part parody, Running With Scissors’ version of the camp classic follows three very different young women as they enter the treacherous world of show-biz, a WASPy good girl in search of true love, a knockout model with seriously bad luck and a crass cutie who’d crawl over her own mother for a starring role-or a stiff drink. A cavalcade of characters stands between these three and their dreams-nosy secretaries, invalid lounge singers and a particularly blousy Broadway babe.


Johnny Vidacovich with Shannon McNally
Tipitina’s, 10 p.m.
501 Napoleon Avenue, Uptown
Tickets: Free
Resources: Tiptina’s website | Johnny Vidacovich’s website | Shannon McNally’s wesbite

Tipitina’s continues its “Free Fridays” summer music series with drummer Johnny Vidacovich and roots rocker Shannon MccNally. Vidacovich deftly combines second-line street beats, straight-ahead jazz, funk, and the beatnik aesthetic into a brilliant, singular art form. Vidacovich a co-founding member of the modern jazz quintet Astral Project and has created signature grooves on a vast array of recordings with artists including Professor Longhair, James Booker, Mose Allison, and Johnny Adams.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fleetwood Mac
The New Orleans Arena, 8 p.m.
1501 Girod Street,
Tickets: $43 – $123
Resources: The New Orleans Arena’s website | Fleetwood Mac’s website

What’s left of 1960s rockers Fleetwood Mac play the New Orleans Arena Saturday night. The current lineup features Stevie Nicks on vocals, Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, vocals, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, percussion.

Bourbon and Burlesque
The Contemporary Arts Center, 8 p.m.
900 Camp Street, Warehouse District
Tickets: $25 – $60
Resources: Official event information

The CAC’s now annual fundraiser, “Bourbon and Burlesque” features the best of both worlds; Members from several New Orleans burlesque troops will perform while a number of Bourbon companies share their wares to what is sure to be a room full of thirsty cocktail lovers.


The South Pacific Sing-a-long
The National WWII Museum, 6 p.m.
945 Magazine Street, Warehouse District
Tickets: $10
Resources: The National WWII Museum’s website

Don your grass skirts and join us for the first-ever South Pacific Sing-Along. This classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, set in the Pacific Theater of WWII, features the timeless tunes “Some Enchanted Evening”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and more.


“Them Funk ‘n’ Indians” featuring Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
Tipitina’s, 10 p.m.
501 Napoleon Avenue, Uptown
Tickets: $10
Resources: Tipitina’s website

The Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans have had a huge impact on New Orleans music-especially funk and R&B. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, the most important living link to this tradition, delivers soulful vocals and evocative lyrics over hypnotic grooves


Alex McMurray
d.b.a., 10 p.m.
618 Frenchmen Street, Marigny
Tickets: $5
Resources: d.b.a.’s website | Alex McMurray’s website

Alex McMurray, the gravely voiced vanguard of New Orleans acoustic singer/songwriter roots-rook scene plays the late set at d.b.a. Saturday. If you’ve yet to hear McMurray, his delivery and dulcet tones have been likened to Tom Waits over the years. His recent sea shanties collaboration, (well the collaboration was not too recent, but the release of the CD is) is a favorite amongst locals.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jonny Lang
The House of Blues, 8 p.m.
225 Decatur Street, French Quarter
Tickets: $38.50
Resources: House of Blues event info | Jonny Lang’s website

Back in the day, the axe-wielding Blues man’s name was just “The Kid,” and at 13, he had already become the premier blues act in the Upper Mid-West. Years later, Jonny Lang is all grown up, and his following is a bit more diverse than those calling Fargo home. Hes traveled the world on his six strings, and released a number of CDs that display wisdom far beyond his years. He’s currently on tour promoting his latest release, Turn Around.


Los Po’boy Citos, Chef Steve Hesse
Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, 5 p.m.
600 Poland Avenue, Bywater
Tickets: Free
Resources: Bacchanal’s website

Chef Steve Hessey of the soon to open Lemon Tree restaurant is this week’s featured chef at Bacchanal’s weekly evening soiree. The Bywater wine store teams local chefs and musicians together in their courtyard. Music will be provided by Latin ensemble Los Po’Boy citos.