But the concept didn't die, and these days, neo-burlesque is busting out all over. Like other cities, Denver has discovered a new generation of hip peelers. And we're about to be exposed to the revival's newest wave: the SuicideGirls.
"It's definitely a more updated, DIY, punk type of thing. We like to make it something for our generation, our culture," says Siren, manager of the SuicideGirls.com Burlesque Tour, which hits the Larimer Lounge this Tuesday. "We use traditional burlesque music, and then Björk, Joan Jett, the Ramones. And 'Chocolate Salty Balls,' from South Park."
Siren bares skin in the show, which she describes as a combination of sultry striptease, saucy skits, dance routines and music. All of the ladies are part of the popular Los Angeles-based website SuicideGirls.com, a forum for music news, interviews and, of course, unclothed girls.
Missy Suicide, a Portland-raised photographer and graphic designer, picks the performers, who post their blogs and personal profiles alongside semi-nude pics in the site's photo galleries. But Siren and her sisters insist there's a philosophy behind the titillation. "In society, sex symbols are blond, big-boobed Barbie dolls," she contends. "I think we really need to rearrange our ideals and standards of what we consider to be acceptably sexy."
Indeed, the Suicide troupers are not your average pinups. Liberty-spiked punks and curvy emo girls pose next to (and sometimes on top of) denim-shedding rockers or goths whose looks falls halfway between those of Betty Page and Elvira. Underneath garters and seamed stockings, you'll find tattoos and body modifications. The idea, promoters claim, is to subvert commonly held ideas about sexuality, empowerment and unrealistic standards of female beauty.
Apparently, it's working. Since its formation in 2001, SuicideGirls.com has become a bona fide subcultural phenomenon, with 266 models garnering half a million website hits a week. The operation has also been featured on Nightline, MTV and the BBC. Siren, a part-time model and one of the longest-reigning Girls, understands the appeal: "I had never done any nude stuff before, but the site was so cute and classy. The women seemed really comfortable and in control of how they were portrayed.
"Most of my friends think it's really great," she adds. "It's not my mom's favorite, but she understands that this is my thing, and she's happy for me."
Siren does more than strip for the SuicideGirls; she also interviews applicants and photographs other models. The burlesque tour is currently consuming all her time, but she's not complaining. "The crowds are really nice," she enthuses. "There are people coming up and saying, 'I had no idea what to expect. I've never seen anything like this.' They like the humor and the sexiness of it all. It isn't over the edge or shocking; it's just trying to be entertaining and fun for everyone. Actually, we have a lot of women who come to the shows, and a lot of them come up and talk to us, which is really cool."
Before showcasing the voluptuous vacillations of Siren, Snow, Stormy, Brandy, Tegan and Violet, the club will host a set by local group Grace Like Gravity, winner of an online poll that the burlesque tour uses to pick opening acts in each town. Regardless of how good the band is, though, most people will be there to see six women bump, grind, shimmy and quiver in a flurry of flesh and fantasy. And rest assured: Those gyrating G-strings and protruding pasties are not wardrobe malfunctions.