Risqué Business

Old-time burlesque returns with a retro cool.

Curvy burlesque bombshells on stage might seem like a thing of the past, but a red-hot revival is on the bill at the Ogden Theatre this Friday. Burlesque, the sassily seductive entertainment, is back.

"Burlesque has a whole new group of girls that have that cool, hip, alternative edge," says Burlesque-Fest headliner Dita Von Teese, a retro pinup girl who has been performing her routine -- complete with a giant martini glass and olive -- for over eight years. "The girls who are doing it aren't just strippers."

Bluenoses, take note: Burlesque dancers do not get completely naked. Instead, there's tease and titillation. Burlesque-Fest organizers promise plenty of fan dancing, gyrating and racy romps with Denver's own Burlesque As It Was, the pulp-vixen Gun Street Girls, the frisky Kitten on the Keys, and the carnival-like Oracle Dance (which features girls hanging from trapeze swings).

Dita Von Teese gets ready to please.
Dita Von Teese gets ready to please.

"Anyone can get up there and wiggle around with a boa," says Bella Beretta, a member of the Seattle-based Gun Street Girls, who incorporate weapons such as bullwhips and butterfly knives into their acts. "We really bring the audience in and involve them in the story. I enjoy being able to take a traditional art form and challenging that by creating unconventional characters. We all have a weapon of choice, and we all have stories that we're trying to tell."

Beretta describes her stage character as "a backwater bayou girl existing in a one-room apartment above a Baptist revival in New Orleans. It has a Tennessee Williams feel to it," she explains.

Other performers take a softer approach: Kitten on the Keys imitates Shirley Temple, complete with curly wig and a sailor's hat. "I used to cut Sunday school so I could stay home and watch Shirley Temple," remembers Kitten. "Now I sing The Good Ship Lollipop, using the same words but with different inflections. It's very naughty. We use a lot of double entendres." In case anyone misses them, Kitten's final outfit -- star pasties and bikini panties covered in anchors -- is sure to drive the point home.

These vamps haven't exactly invented something new: Wild and wicked glamour girls have been strutting across stages since the late 1800s. But in the past ten years, new-wave burlesque has become more mainstream. "What I love so much about the burlesque revival is the normal female form; it's women with real bodies and sassiness," says the San Francisco-based Kitten. "There is a whole tease and persona involved. You have to be really energetic and dynamic to pull it off."

Organizer Jerri Theil says the intention is to "turn the Ogden into an old-time burlesque theater with cigarette girls walking around. It's going to have flavor."

Part of that seasoning is the spice of imagination. "We live in a supersaturated world of nudity and sex, so it's fun to take it back and leave things to the imagination," says Kitten. "Burlesque is fun; you don't do it alone in a seedy booth with a video. There is a certain spark and delight in burlesque. I think it's appropriate for everybody."

Well, almost. It's a 21-and-over show, and at least one dancer sees her art from a somewhat steamier perspective: "I find it very liberating to dance in front of people in pasties and a G-string," says Von Teese. "I don't think burlesque is as wholesome as some people make it out to be."

 
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