Minnesota Naughty

The lights dimmed, and a hush fell over the Ritz Theater. Two hundred and fifty bodies leaned forward in anticipation, and two hundred and fifty sets of eyes stared straight ahead at the empty stage. The audience remained suspended in this moment as the silence caressed their ears and the darkness teased their imaginations. Then, in a sudden burst of sound, the band started playing and the tension was broken. The audience erupted into applause as Nadine Dubois stepped into the spotlight, a long silver dress hugging her curves. Dubois strode across the stage, picked up a microphone, and brought it up to her crimson lips.

"Welcome!" she shouted. "Welcome to The Best of Midwest Burlesk! How many of you out there are burlesque virgins? Come on, don’t be shy!"

I raised my hand along with most of the audience members.

"Excellent," Dubois cooed. "We promise to be gentle!"

I was hesitant to believe her. As I listened to Dubois tease the audience and tell dirty jokes, my mind filled with questions: How could a burlesque show be gentle? Weren’t women going to shamelessly strip for our viewing pleasure? Wasn’t it just another sex show?

The very first act caught me off guard. Karen Vieno Paurus entered the stage in a long black dress and overly large, black, feathered hat. She sang. She teased. She left the stage. The act was sultry, but it was also humorous and sarcastic—something I had not expected to see at a burlesque show.

Gina Louise followed with a short and energetic striptease. She wiggled her hips and pranced across the stage. At the end of her song, the top came off, and for a few moments she stood in sparkling pasties. The audience applauded, and she quickly exited the stage. Although her dance was sexy, Gina Louise also kept her act playful, fun, and surprisingly classy. In fact, I got the feeling that the performance as a whole was much more important than the removal of clothing. I was frankly puzzled by what I saw. It was a strange, but immensely pleasing brew of sex and sarcasm.

My puzzlement grew as I continued to watch. Singers, tap dancers, a juggler, and several other performers who did not remove a stitch of clothing mixed with the striptease acts. And even the stripteases were not overtly sexual. Ophelia Flame, for instance, danced to the song "Tequila," wearing a giant tequila bottle and a huge bottle cap atop her fiery red curls. The audience roared with laughter as she peeled away the label and the outfit morphed into a short green dress adorned with a tequila worm. This, of course, she peeled back to reveal a pink fringed ensemble. Finally, the fringe had to go, as well, and all that was left was a pair of lime green, sparkly panties and pasties to match. The performance was silly, but simultaneously sexy. Ophelia Flame’s act mirrored the general mood of the show: ridiculous, yet sensual. Burlesque is clearly no ordinary entertainment genre.

With all its vaudeville-style fun and laughter, the glittery exterior of Minneapolis burlesque is deceiving. It is hampered with public misconceptions, legal trouble, and a rocky past that has been hard to overcome. However, decked in tinsel and tassels lies a group of performers hopelessly devoted to their art and not willing to let it die without a fight.

Silly Sexy

"We had a guy at one of our shows," said Amy Buchanan, founder of Le Cirque Rouge (LCR), "that said to us afterward, ‘You know, I didn’t even get turned on.’ I told him, ‘You weren’t supposed to. It’s silly sexy.’"

Let me get this straight. Here we have women stripping down to thongs and pasties, and their intention isn’t necessarily to turn people on? What is going on here? The more I talked to other performers from other burlesque troupes, the more I heard this kind of answer: burlesque ≠ just sex.

Now, obviously, burlesque performances include a certain amount of sex. Women take their clothes off in a seductive, sexy manner. The performers, however, do not see themselves involved in a sex show, but rather something more sophisticated, something with a little more substance.

"It’s satire," said Corinne Caouette, formerly of LCR. "It’s there to make fun of sex symbols and sex. In my mind it should never intend to be erotic. It’s about hinting at things, not exploiting things."

Stan the 3-D man agreed. "It’s not a hardware show," he said. "It’s about the sizzle, not the steak." Stan himself is a testament to the variety show feel of a typical burlesque. Stan brings to LCR his 3-D Shadow Striptease, which involves a screen, a dancer, a projector, and 3-D goggles. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Gina Louise described their show as a "potluck party." Everyone brings their talents to the table. Sure, some of the dishes are more delectable than others, but the variety is always there: from the hula-hoop striptease, to the Egyptian mummy who slowly unravels her strategically-placed bandages. Tap dancers. Singers. Jugglers. Comedians. Ukulele players. Dueling ballerinas. Magicians. And a crazy assortment of costumes to accompany each act.






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