The term "striptease" was once a feminist's four-letter word. But the sass and sauce of the strip have been reclaimed by a younger generation that finds empowerment in the seductive art of burlesque. Among those diving into the rhinestone-encrusted revolution is burlesque betty Michelle Baldwin.
The Denver native was originally inspired to create and direct Burlesque As It Was, a hometown homage to the girlie show, now spiked with a healthy dose of gal power and retro go-go. "You can be sexy, and enjoy being sexy, and still be a feminist," says Baldwin, who also performs as the vivacious Vivienne VaVoom. "You don't even have to burn your bra."
Burlesque As It Was comprises B-movie types with cheeky monikers like Honey Touché, Redd Gypsy, Cheri Bomb, Pinky and Eva Destruction. Their past shows, with such titles as "Around the World in Eighty Girls" and "A Spy in the Taj Mahal," employed campy choreography that was sometimes silly and almost always nearly naughty.
But don't call Baldwin a stripper. Although she sports sequined pink pasties and undresses to impress while twirling her tassels and assets, she insists that her performances are more about tease than sleaze. "Modern-day stripping is usually someone taking her clothes off for a buck," she explains. "Burlesque is really about the dancing. There is something more subtle, pretty and sparkly about burlesque."
In fact, Baldwin is so hot on the art that she's written Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind, a 160-page paperback that explores the golden age of burlesque as well as its rougey resurrection. Publishers Weekly calls the tome "sassy and enlightening."
"Burlesque is this weird old thing, because no one was doing it for fifty years," Baldwin explains. "It's been coming up over the last decade. It started with swing culture and has come back now with the public's renewed interest in everything retro."
No stranger to naked ambition, Baldwin says the demand was so high for a neo-burlesque book that she ground hers out in five months: "It had to come together pretty quickly because there is a lot of attention on burlesque right now." Burlesque explores the theme of "taking it off with a wink and a smile," examining men and women of all ages and sizes who participate in the new age of burly-q through skits ranging from classical to comical. She was inspired by performers like the world-famous *BOB*.
"She is six-foot-two and has the most gigantic breasts; she's totally Amazonian," Baldwin notes. "She presents a different idea of what sexy is."
Baldwin also includes a virtual do-it-yourself for costuming, with more than 120 illustrations and photos. And there's an introduction by legend Dixie Evans, who was known as the "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque."
Baldwin and her playmates are currently on the road, dazzling bookstores with the "Signin' and Stripteasin'" tour, which includes a neo-burlesque performance tonight at the Tattered Cover in LoDo. But don't worry, Mom: The performance is rated PG.
"Somehow it's easy to take off my clothes in public, but talking in front of an audience gives me hives," confesses Baldwin. "This signing is not a typical book signing. It's more about presenting the idea of the book and making it come alive."