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Sunday, November 4, 2007

In the News: Burlesque is back!

Burlesque is back. Fans of the fancy form of striptease that first flourished in Depression-era downtowns can find swiveling hips and spangled dresses weekly in at least 12 American cities.

The revival has even entered the mainstream on the stiletto heels of dancer Dita Von Teese, who hawks upscale lipstick, drapes herself on the covers of women’s magazines and was in a rocky marriage with rock star Marilyn Manson.

But in the clubs that nourished burlesque’s rebirth a decade ago, dancers and fans are noticing something new — it’s not just about women baring their bodies anymore. Burlesque has become intellectual.

“If you think of us as burlesque nerds, it makes sense,” said Jo Weldon, 45, a school teacher by day and a burlesque dancer by night.

Weldon recently launched ‘The Crimson Curtain’, a monthly burlesque salon that inspires dancers to infuse their acts with scholarship, political satire and gender commentary. At a gathering, about 20 dancers sipped cocktails, watched dances under development and discussed the out-of-print biographies of burlesque legends in the hope of lending authenticity to their own acts.

“The base level of IQ is decently high,” said James Habacker, 42, owner of ‘The Slipper Room’, a burlesque-themed New York club that hosts Weldon’s salon. “Even in the last year the supertalented old school have really stepped it up.”

To the serious revivalist, a sense of burlesque’s past is as essential as false eyelashes. That’s why Peekaboo Pointe, a New York dancer and teacher who prefers her stage name, forces boozy bachelorette parties to sit through a seminar before she’ll teach them burlesque’s basic steps. “I’m constantly doing research,” said Pointe, 28. She interviews surviving legends during pilgrimages to the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and shares the results with her students.

“Everybody focuses on the fact that it’s girls taking their clothes off and misses the political satire,” said Habacker, who’s noticed a spike in acts mixing burlesque with politics. An increasing number of dancers are strutting and stripping as president George Bush, reveling in the notion that the emperor has no clothes, he said.

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