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Monday, July 14, 2008

Panty Raid Burlesques 5 Year Tease

Panty Raid BurlesquePanty Raid first hit the stage five years ago at Mercy Lounge. The group performed a can-can straight out of Moulin Rouge, one of many numbers performed that evening at Katy K's second hometown burlesque showcase.

At that time, burlesque was a re-emerging art form. It was already hugely popular in larger, more metropolitan cities, but was only just beginning to tease audiences in Nashville, thanks mainly to Katy Kattleman, owner of Katy K's Ranch Dressing, a kitschy Western and vintage clothing store. Katy K was familiar with the Manhattan burlesque scene, having spent much of the '70s and '80s soaking in all the glitz and glamour of the big city.

"Around the time that we formed Panty Raid, there was only one other burlesque troupe from the South, Dames A' Flame," says Rachel Kallas, a founding member of Panty Raid, which celebrates its fifth anniversary with a Saturday show next door to Mercy Lounge at Cannery Ballroom.

"After watching that first Nashville show that Katy K produced, I felt like I understood the model for what works in a burlesque show. Katy K supported us from the very beginning. She is our little burlesque angel, a den mother who has always been on the front of all of our shows with a smile on her face."

'I'm so proud'

Kallas, who performs as "Lula Licious," has been a dancer her entire life, and she was searching for an artistic outlet outside of the ballroom dancing scene that was starting to feel stagnant. At the suggestion of her then-boyfriend, Legendary Shack*Shakers frontman J.D. Wilkes, she recruited belly dancer Nichole Hanna ("Ramona Rouge") and local rockabilly chick Andrea Durbin ("Ruby Van Go Go") with plans to form a vaudeville-type dance act, complete with dazzling costumes and titillating stripteases.

"J.D. always told us that we could hook people in with the pasty twirling and striptease, and then over time we could lessen the stripping and just go with cabaret and dance numbers, and before you know it you have tricked your audience into watching art," Kallas says.

"I look back at that can-can choreography, and I'm so proud. It was our first number together — me with my background in ballroom, Nichole being a belly dancer and Andrea with no dance experience at all. But we pulled it together in four weeks."

Since that first show, the group has performed around the country, competing in the New York Burlesque Festival and The Miss Exotic World Pageant and in front of audiences across the globe, but there's one Nashville show that Kallas recalls as a major turning point.

"It was the Katy K's Valentine's Day Girlesque Show in 2004, with Catherine D'Lish as one of the special guests," she recalls. "She performed in a champagne glass, and she was just breathtaking. They had to pour cold water into the glass, because they had no way to heat it backstage, but her showmanship totally blew my mind. She was so graceful, willowy and soft, and she made everyone in the room feel like she was dancing just for them.

"It was at that moment that I realized the difference between a burlesque dancer and someone who just does burlesque shows, and I knew we needed to step it up."

Bond grows stronger

But for a group of women who worked together, played together, performed countless shows together and were deeply intertwined in each other's lives, it's no surprise that the daily grind began to wear on their nerves.

"Things have fallen apart with Panty Raid a few times over the years," Kallas says matter-of-factly. "We loved each other so much, and then we hated each other so much.

"I guess I just tried to roll with the punches, but I do feel like we were the absolute strongest in the beginning. I am just really proud of what we produced during that time with the pressure we were under. Despite some people leaving, the girls who started Panty Raid and who remain in Panty Raid today are tight friends with a strong bond.

"But each person who has been involved in the group brought something very special."


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