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  THE INNOCENT ART OF BURLESQUE IN AN AGE OF HUMPING STRIPPERS.  
   
  his is gonna be awesome," quips the blonde to her date, smiling and clapping like a cheerleader for extra measure. "Fucking chicks dancing around in their underwear, you can't get better than that." Her date sits across from her completely silent, frantically and unsuccessfully searching for the magic words to salvage the situation, the red-faced beaten down look of a man for whom things are  
 

going terribly terribly wrong settling deeper into his face with each passing second.

Less tension fraught conversations take place among the crowd of over 100 who have gathered to see Jo Boobs and Bambi the Mermaid sass it up on stage at Monday Evening Burlesque at Galapagos, a bar in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

"I thought it would be a good night for this," says a lone male attendee downing vodka tonics at the bar. "It's a good excuse to see some strippers. I mean, burlesque is a polite term for strippers, right?" he laughs.

 
 

 

Well, not really. While burlesque is certainly nothing new to the world it has usually been hard to find. However, over the last several years burlesque has experienced a resurgence, with shows even popping up in conservative bastions like Salt Lake City. "Burlesque has really opened up in the last five years, there's a big audience for it now," says Bambi. So big, in fact, that in 2001 the first annual Tease-O-Rama burlesque convention took place in New Orleans, drawing thousands of performers and fans. The convention's raison d'etre - "taking you back to the days when the tease outweighed the sleaze."

The real difference between tease and sleaze, what separates burlesque from the world of stripping, has to do with the performances themselves. "The strip club mentality is I'm perfect,


 
 

I'm ideal, I'm what you want and can never have in a girl," says Bambi who has worked as a stripper. "I liked the idea that I was disturbing the guys in the audience more than trying to get $10 out of them."

"Burlesque is the dancing equivalent of a dirty limerick," says Jo, who got her start doing the Rocky Horror Show as a teenager and cites The Muppet Show and Bugs Bunny as some of her influences. "It's about low production value, low brow humor and it's all good spirited."

It's an attitude further reflected in their choice of stage names. For instance, Jo originally wanted her stage name to be Fannie Fromage. Several of her friends, also burlesque performers, refused to call her cheese ass however. "The whole point is that we don't look like Maxim girls. I think that's why women are excited about it, because they see us just having fun with it."

"It's a celebration of body types, there's a joie de vive feeling," says Bambi. "Most of the acts are funny. Girls see it and realize that they could get up there next week and do the same thing."

Bambi and Jo do more than just the odd performance, they've made burlesque a part of their lives. On top of being veteran performers with national reputations they are both champions of the form. Bambi is a long time Coney Island fixture, playing a large part in the annual mermaid parade and putting on the Burlesque at the Beach show on the boardwalk every Friday night during the summer. You can even check out pictures of her wedding to legendary custom motorcycle builder Indian Larry at Coney Island at www.bambithemermaid.com.

 
 

 

Jo worked as a feature stripper for 15 years and has been doing burlesque for almost 25 years. According to her website, www.gstringsforever.com, she's even lectured on burlesque at NYU and The New School.

The majority of people at Galapagos don't realize any of this. Despite it being a school night, an eclectic crowd has steadily filed into the bar. A few dirty old men, and some young men on their way to becoming dirty old men have been lured by the possibility of free nudity. A table of professional women in suits who look to be in their forties are gabbing over glasses wine. There's even a frumpy Midwest couple on vacation, sporting the requisite fanny packs, who saw an ad about the show in the paper and "just thought it would be fun." The rest of the crowd is like any

 
 

other crowd you'd expect to find in a New York bar. "I'm surprised how many women are here," says one man.

As the red house lights dim the bar goes quiet. The stage lights come up, the curtain parts and Jo Boobs appears center stage. She begins to sway and dance with the music, slowly peeling off articles of clothing and letting them fall to the stage. First, it's her long black gloves. Then, it's on to the big ticket items. With her back to the crowd she unzips the back of her dress. Holding the now limp dress to her with one hand she gazes back over her shoulder at the audience. She lets the dress fall around her, steps out from its crumpled remains and begins to go to work on the black bra. A few more seconds and she's down to high heels, stockings and underwear, only black sparkling pasties covering her nipples. The whole thing takes little more than two minutes.

For a finale Jo clasps her hands above her head, flexing her grip, causing her breasts to jump up and down. The crowd, which has been largely silent during the act, claps and cheers with approval. Jo takes a bow, picks up her clothes and leaves the stage. To the disappointment of the dirty old and young men the stripping goes no farther. The curtain closes, the lights go back down and the people in the bar return to their normal conversations.

Over the next several hours Jo and Bambi alternate performances, each lasting no more than three or four minutes. Jo's performances tend to be of the sultry Jessica Rabbit variety while Bambi's include an homage to Little Red Riding Hood and an aquatic themed number in which she strips while wearing what can best be described as oversized lobster claw-shaped oven mitts. Feather boas, stuffed animals, leather fringe skirts and twirling tassels all come in to play throughout the night, and with each performance the crowd gets a little more into it.

The show at Galapagos goes on until after midnight. Relatively few people have left and the crowd has become more responsive to every dropped glove, every skirt and dress crumbling into a pile on the stage, every tassel twirling from a nipple. The women clap, the men let out a few appreciative yells and whistles. There is laughter.

By shows end the guy who came alone is still at the bar, well into his fourth or fifth vodka tonic. "Man, I thought they were going to get naked," he says disappointedly. The let down was not enough to get him to leave early apparently. "At least it didn't cost me anything."

Things have turned out much better for the guy on the date. The girl is smiling and laughing now. Like many of the other women present she has enjoyed the show. Her date is clearly relieved, breathing a little easier, even able to crack a smile.

"Do you think I could be a burlesque girl?" she asks her date. He leans over and whispers something to her. When he's done she stands up, walks over to his side of the table and kisses his cheek. They leave the bar hand in hand.

 

*BT*