Bawdy Burlesque Is Back

"It's about the tease, not the reveal," says Laura Herbert, who runs the Web site for the The Exotic World Burlesque Museum & Striptease Hall of Fame in Helendale, Calif.

Wood says that when compared to burlesque, the erotic dancing at topless joints is about as sexy as a doctor's exam. "Thirty seconds and everything's off," she says."Sometimes, the tease is better than the real thing."

And that may be why burlesque is experiencing a revival, flowing from America's cultural centers, across the heartland, and slowly, around the world.

Baywatch in the Burlesque

As the Pontani Sisters move into their next act, dressed in little straw sombreros and macramé bikinis, set against a cha-cha-cha beat, a table full of young women lets out a series of whoops and hollers worthy of any bachelor party.

"It's fun to hear people scream," says Dirty Martini, one of modern burlesque's most famous performers.

A buxom blonde with the raspy voice of an unrepentant club-crawler, she claims the honor of having done the first fan dance in postwar Sarajevo.

Just last month, she was among 2500 people who attended the second annual Tease-O-Rama in San Francisco — "three nights and two days of wild and wicked burlesque mania and go-go action."

Featured entertainment included performances by Kitten de Ville and Torchy Taboo. There were also classes on "Pasty-Making" and "Tassel Twirling."

Attendees said they saw some familiar faces from Hollywood there, taking notes — even a year after the Oscar-nominated Moulin Rouge, which enthusiasts say had some elements of burlesque in it.

One prominent attendee was rock star Marilyn Manson, who is romantically linked with one of the grande dames of modern burlesque, Dita Von Teese. Von Teese has come across a degree of mainstream popularity herself, having signed on with Playboy as a model.

And in Los Angeles, considered the ground zero of the New Burlesque movement, even the glamour queens and beach bunnies of Hollywood are getting into the act.

Former Baywatch stars Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra, actress Christina Applegate and pop stars Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani have all recently performed as part of the Pussycat Dolls, a burlesque-style cabaret group that has run the circuit of hot Hollywood clubs.

Appealing to Your Inner Dork

Virginia Malik, 50, who had heard of Marion's Continental from a friend, was in the audience to see if she'd be comfortable hosting a party here.

"It's different. It's kind of campy," she said with a smile. "I'm used to that stuff — Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Carmen Miranda."

And while the act may bring back memories for her, younger enthusiasts point out that their passion is also, in a way, a reaction against modern times. Many likened their interest to the retro trend for swing dancing that seized the nation in the late 1990s, and suggested the interest in burlesque may have grown from that.

"It really appealed to my inner dork," jokes Herbert, who has been involved in the burlesque world for years. She said she enjoyed researching and learning about the dancing, the outfits, and performers.

Herbert's fiancé, Luke Littell, said he had been to strip clubs before, but had come to enjoy burlesque more because of the degree of audience interaction and the confidence exhibited by the performers.

"They're sexy for enjoying what they do, they exude sexuality through their performances," he said. "It's fun. It's always a good time."

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