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

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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):

Instead, with burlesque, women think, "Look at that woman strutting her stuff looking confident. She looks like me. Now I can imagine taking my clothes off and being applauded -- not booed," said Chapkis.

Pontani said when she and her sisters first started performing together well over a decade ago, women would approach them after the show.

"All the while, we're 5-foot-2, 5-foot-3 and have giant tushes," she said. "It's all smoke and mirrors. Get a corset, and you too can look like Rita Hayward."

"Burlesque challenges the stereotypes of what beautiful and sexy is," said Jolene DiVine, a member of the Portland burlesque group Whistlebait Burlesque. "Burlesque is an outlet that gives women the confidence to embrace their bodies and command their sexuality."

Of course, not all women see empowerment behind the performance art. Pontani recalled a performance early in her career at a large company's holiday party. Some of the women there "freaked out, yelling about how we set back the feminist movement."

But negative encounters like that are rare, she said. And to her, being a feminist is about doing what you want to do, achieving your goals and not hiding your sexuality under a turtleneck. "Why should I have to hide that part of myself?"

There's a pervasive sentiment that women can either be taken seriously or be seen as sexual beings, said Chapkis. But not both.

"The erotic is part of who we are. It's not all women can be," she said. "One of the things happening in the local burlesque scene, it's organized by women. They have more control over their performances, and the audience can feel that."

Pontani and her sisters are business owners who manage every aspect of their work. And the performances themselves are a communal sharing experience.

"The environment in burlesque is warm and welcoming. It's more of a theatrical production," Potani said. "The performer is playing to the audience."

It's lighting, dance and music, she added. "It's seeing a performer in costumes more than the final reveal. The performer is in pasties and a G-string for maybe 30 seconds."

Still, that 30-seconds-of-something is a draw.

"If someone really wanted to see a woman take her clothes off, they'd go to a strip club," said Ludella Hahn, a Portland burlesque dancer and pinup model. "(Burlesque) is more of a performance. There's a storyline and additional talents it's all about the interaction between the audience and the performer. There's an exchange going on."

"This is why we have strong, distinct burlesque audiences in Portland," said Hahn. "They come for the show, for the story, for the boobs -- yes, everyone comes for the boobs -- but they also come for the art.

"And that's what burlesque is really about." 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:


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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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