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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Burlesque is back (in Auckland)

Burlesque RevivalMove over pole dancers – a new craze is taking the stage.

Burlesque, the grandmother of modern stripping, is making a comeback.

And like the women who pioneered it last century, it has a touch of elegance, class and a penchant for full figure briefs not seen in today’s strip clubs.

When dancer Erin Basta moved to Grey Lynn from Los Angeles, burlesque was still relatively unknown.

"When I came here three years ago, there were some little whispers but nothing really solid going on."

In more recent times, performers like America’s Dita Von Teese, formerly married to controversial rocker Marilyn Manson, have shimmied burlesque back into the public eye.

With the dance form’s rising popularity, Erin held auditions and formed the Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque, of which she is the director, choreographer and designer.

"It’s an exciting time in Auckland for burlesque."

The troupe, which has four dancers and a comedian as MC, started in August 2006 and their shows regularly sell out.

Erin says the dance form has many interpretations and a long history.

It began in the 1920s and 1930s when travelling vaudeville comedians brought a girl on stage who dropped her dress and "shook her stuff".

Some of the women decided to run their own shows and the art of burlesque was formed as a forerunner to modern striptease.

Erin says her troupe performs the more traditional, less revealing style of burlesque, with the dancers only stripping to their underwear.

The emphasis is on the tease rather than the stripping.

The dancers, who go by the aliases Cocoa Martini, Pacific Passion, Crystal Nightlight and Judy Garment, have the crowd whooping and cheering as they work their way from evening gowns and feather boas to bras or tops and knickers.

"We want it to appeal to men and women, to be something couples can go to and enjoy," Erin says.

"We also wanted to be able to perform at venues where the average joe can go and not be offended."

And it’s not just professional dancers taking an interest.

Viva Latino dance school on city centre Newton Rd started offering burlesque classes after hip hop instructor Kimberley James noticed its rising popularity.

She says the Pussycat Dolls, an American pop group who started out as a burlesque troupe, have put a modern spin on the dance form.

"I started out teaching Pussycat Dolls classes and there seemed to be a demand for it, everyone wanted to dance like them."

At first she incorporated the routines into the hip hop classes, but soon decided to start women-only burlesque classes.

The Pussycat Dolls had a TV series running when she started the classes which raised interest in burlesque, the way Dancing with the Stars gave ballroom dancing a boost.

Kimberley says the classes give women a chance to show their femininity and "feel gorgeous in their track pants".

Although many students started off feeling nervous, they soon got into the swing of the sexy moves, she says.

A group of the burlesque students even performed at the dance school’s ball in early December.

"A lot of stuff on television and in music videos is quite skanky," Kimberley says.

"Taking it back to the older style is quite refreshing," she says.

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