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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nipple Tassel Tournament tests Best of Burlesque

nipple tassleIt begins with a coy glance or fluttering false eye lashes and always ends in nipple tassels and underpants.

Wolf-whistling revelers greeted a showdown of ostrich feathers, satin corsets and red lipstick in a chandeliered London hall this month as 30 women competed to be crowned best newcomer at the International Burlesque Festival in London.

Competitors followed the traditional striptease sequence, removing one article of clothing at a time to the catcalls of the audience, but each performance had its own twist.

All abided by the unspoken rule of burlesque which stipulates that nipples remain concealed and underpants stay on.

Bijou Noir, real name Monique Learmond, performed as Marie Antoinette and disrobed to reveal an intricate petticoat.

"For me, burlesque isn't so much striptease because I studied fashion, it's more about making the costumes and doing something choreographed to my own music," said Learmond who was accompanied to the show by her mother Shirley.

The climax to Learmond's act involved firing a pistol and shaking tassels attached to her thong underwear that gyrated above her bare buttocks to the tune of the Marseillaise, while she waved the French flag.

"In the traditional meaning, burlesque is to mock something, in terms of entertainment it's the poor man's follies, put together for maybe someone that couldn't afford a Broadway revue," explained Chaz Royal, organizer of the International Burlesque Festival in London.


Royal said there is a divide between women who perform for fun and those who want to make a living from burlesque like U.S. performer Dita Von Teese.

"There are people doing it on a very grassroots level and for positive reasons, there are other people doing it because they're not making enough money being a showgirl or doing regular striptease," Royal said.

Most of the performers at the London show were in their early to mid 20s and started six months to a year ago, making costumes at home and planning their acts in their bedrooms.

Heather Morris, a 26-year-old consultant from London, has drawn on her Indonesian roots to create a burlesque alter-ego called Suri Sumatra.

"Suri is a demi-monde deity who performs traditional Balinese dancing. She becomes possessed by a mischievous demon goddess who dances her to death in a frenzied escalation of 1920s Charleston music," Morris said.

Morris gets support from her boyfriend, who helps produce the music for her routine and tailors her "pasties", discs of decorative fabric which conceal her nipples.

In contrast to 'bedroom burlesquers', Charlette de Luxe, a 25-year-old from Frankfurt in Germany, makes a living performing burlesque and is managed by her boyfriend.

"I was doing pole-dancing before, I've been dancing for more than eight years now so it was just enough for me and I wanted a change and to do something different," de Luxe said.

Royal said that for most girls, the newcomers event is a chance to show-off their creativity and be proud of their bodies, rather than kick-start a lucrative career.

"A lot of girls can pick out maybe who's a little bit more plastic than the rest," Royal said, referring to cosmetic breast enhancements. "But for the most part everyone is grassroots."

This year's best newcomer went to Annette Betty, whose outfit included a 1950s bouffant hairdo, a sari, a cooking pot and inspiration from the World War One exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari.

For Morris, there is little desire to see burlesque as anything more than a passion for being fabulous onstage and showing off her creativity. It certainly has nothing to do with money or tawdry thrills.

"You don't have to come from some kind of seedy pole-dancing background to do this."

1 comment:

Ezzye said...

I’m so bored of the ‘stripping is empowering’ line. I’ve worked in strip bars: They only exist to pander to male sexual insecurities and they are rancid, smelly places which smell worse than ever since the smoking ban. The nature of the job tends to turn even the sweetest girl ultra competitive and bitchy, and it’s hardly a career, with new improved models elbowing their way onto the stage all the time.