March 17, 2011

Burlesque is really taking off

The sexy shows win a whole new generation of fans, including here in Portland, where the scene is -- pun intended -- really hot.

By Shannon Bryan
Staff Writer

A woman on stage in a corset, a pair of high heels and a smile is going to attract attention.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Ludella Hahn, a Portland burlesque dancer and pinup model.

Photo by One Stop Pinup

Additional Photos Below



WHAT: Stars Angie Pontani, Helen Pontani, Whistlebait Burlesque and host Albert Cadabra

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Pulse LLC, 865 Spring St., Westbrook

HOW MUCH: $20 in advance; $25 day of show

INFO: 358-9711;


WHAT: Kings of the Hill with ATOMIC TRASH!, the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue, Lord Byron, Lady Zen and others, plus MC Leslie Downes

WHEN: 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $12 in advance; $15 at the door

MORE INFO: 761-1757;


WHAT: A Night with Dead Man's Clothes, Panda Bandits and The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 26

WHERE: The Oak and the Ax, 140 Main St., Biddeford





Whistlebait Burlesque --

The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue --

Vivid Motion (Nutcracker Burlesque) --

Red Hot & Lady Like (burlesque classes):

When she gives her shoulders an innocent shimmy or swings her hips to the thud-thud rhythm of the music, it's safe to say that no one in the audience is musing about the weather or thinking now's a good time to work on that grocery list.

And when her hips suddenly go left and her top comes off, the crowd shows its support with enthusiastic whistles, hollers and applause.

But we're not talking about some don't-tell-the-girlfriend boys' night at the strip club here. Scan the room and you'll see that much of this audience is female. Some of them are young and some are -- ahem -- mature. It's an eclectic blend.

On stage, the performer has accidentally dropped her glove (or boa or riding crop), and she inadvertently flashes an undergarment as she bends down to pick it up -- causing her to turn back to the audience in flirtatious surprise. But everyone in the room knows that the glove drop was no accident.

It's the cheeky, comical, sexy art of burlesque. And it has our attention.

The performance form has been shimmying across American stages since the 1800s, though the striptease as we know it was popularized by the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee in the 1930s and Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr a few decades later.

And lately, it's center stage all over again. Likely, you've noticed.

Burlesque has become a household word, said Angie Pontani, a member of the New York-based neo-burlesque group The Pontani Sisters, who are performing in Westbrook on Saturday.

"My mom's friends know what I do. And they're not really hip on the scene," she said.

Even in our big-to-us little city of Portland, burlesque performers including ATOMIC TRASH!, Whistlebait Burlesque and The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue have become on-stage regulars.

Portland-based dance company Vivid Motion launched "Nutcracker Burlesque" in 2003, and the annual performances sell out. ATOMIC TRASH! introduced a regular burlesque night at Geno's Rock Club in Portland, and Red Hot & Lady Like is teaching women how to do it themselves.

And last November, Tempest Storm herself came to Portland to host her Las Vegas Burlesque Revue. It was one of only two stops of the show nationwide.

Suffice to say, Portland's burlesque scene is impressive, especially compared to larger cities to our south and west.

Maybe it's the lure of stage lights and glamour or the fondness for performers of yesteryear that has instigated burlesque's modern resurgence. Or maybe burlesque performers appreciate the chance to tempt and tease a willing audience with a simple wink and a smile and a swirl of the waist.

"There's no serious 'sexy face' going on," said Pontani. "They're smiling and laughing. It's not like anyone's taking themselves too seriously. It's more of a theatrical production."

"I really do think most of the audience -- and certainly many of the men -- are in on the joke," said Wendy Chapkis, director of women and gender studies and professor of sociology of the University of Southern Maine. "It's always been irreverent comedy and suggestive performance. Local performances certainly have that element."

"Guys love it because it's sexy," said Pontani. But it's mostly women who approach her after a show to ask, "Where can I learn to do that?"

Why would they ask?

"The neo-burlesque performances I've seen feature women with a range of body types. Fat women and women who don't match a stereotypical 'stripper body,' " said Chapkis. "For women in the audience, you get the message that sexy does not belong to one person with surgically altered bodies that resemble Barbie dolls."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Angie Pontani is a member of the New York-based neo-burlesque group The Pontani Sisters, who are performing in Westbrook on Saturday. “There’s no serious ‘sexy face’ going on,” Pontani says of burlesque. “They’re smiling and laughing. It’s not like anyone’s taking themselves too seriously. It’s more of a theatrical production.”

Courtesy photo


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