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The Bloomington Burlesque Brigade Struts Their Stuff

Pole dancing, fan dances, and all things burlesque have come to Bloomington. It’s a phenomenon that has grown far beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.

“I first heard of burlesque years ago in high school,” said Lisa Shelling, known to Bloomington burlesque audiences as Lolita Tart. “There was a PBS special on Sally Rand doing the fan dance. I thought, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I want to do it.’”

Burlesque, with its comedy and music and satire, has its origins in 19th century vaudeville. Its influences can be seen in cabarets, the follies of the 1920’s and 30’s, and then in girlie shows of the 1940’s.

After changing and evolving into many other types of entertainment, classic burlesque performance started to make a come-back in the mid-1990’s with some off-Broadway shows in NYC and troupes springing up in bigger cities around the country. Neo-Burlesque, as the movement is called, now has international pageants and conventions, and troupes like the one in Bloomington, Indiana are popping up all over the country.

Putting the Tease in Striptease

The question Shelling most often fields about burlesque is “How is it different from stripping?” Her response is that burlesque is much more concerned with the tease aspect of striptease. “It not about hurry up and get your clothes off, it’s about how you’re doing it…  You can perform to a three minute song and only take off a pair of gloves, and that’s burlesque.”

Another aspect that separates burlesque from its more X-rated counterpart is the energy from the audience.  Danielle Perdue, another Bloomington burlesque superstar, mentioned that this was one of the main reasons she loved to perform.  That, and it’s a supportive environment for women of all shapes and sizes.  ”It helps me become positive about who I am.  It took me a long time to get to this point in terms of body image.  And I like glitz and glamor!  Who doesn’t love glitter!”

An Expensive Hobby

But glitter costs money! For their recent performances at the Bloomington Burlesque showcase, both Shelling and Perdue had to make and purchase their own costumes. There was sewing and a lot of searching through the racks at thrift stores.  ”Costumes are expensive, it’s that simple,” Perdue said.

Pasties are especially expensive.  ”The ones I have are $18 and you can’t really reuse them.”  Then the stockings.  ”I have two boxes full of fishnets.  And these are $7 for one pair, and if you rip a hole in them, that’s $7!”

She also found creative ways to minimize the cost of her costume by gluing glitter onto a bra she already owned.  Her mother helped as well, making her a belt with tassels.

Performance Anxiety?

Even with all the money and time that goes into the costumes and the aches and pains of learning routines in the burlesque classes, they both agreed, it’s all worth it once you hit the stage. But what about the nerves?

For Shelling, “it goes by so fast that when you’re on stage you don’t think about it at all.  Beforehand is terrifying and afterward is exhilarating, but while you’re up there, you just do it.”

Perdue, on the other hand, admitted to not feeling especially confident, but her excitement was overpowering.  ”You know you’re doing well when the audience screams so loud that you come out of your head and hear them.  I had that moment (during a recent performance), and I was shocked.”

More Information

If you want to find out more about burlesque in south-central Indiana and get information on classes and the performance showcases, become a fan of them on Facebook.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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