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Shake Your Tassels! Burlesque Goes Delightfully Mainstream

Photos via Hells Belles Burlesque
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By Andreanna Ditton/Special to LAist

Whether you want to be Dita Von Teese, Gypsy Rose Lee, or nearly naked Princess Leia, there’s a stage near you just waiting for you to shake your tassels and live your dream. Thanks to the rise of amateur burlesque, pasties are the new black. This rising tide of sexy, saucy stripping as retro art follows a trend of burlesque going mainstream. Ivan Kane’s 40 Deuce clubs in Los Angeles and then Las Vegas led the pack back in the mid-oughts, offering professional versions of the vaudeville classic, but these days the small stage is where burlesque is blossoming.

But burlesque is about more than watching. There's an inevitable moment during any performance when the chance to cast off your inhibitions and your clothes becomes too much, and you long to find your own character to step into in order to take it all off. This is a far cry from swinging around a pole, or waiting to have your g-string stuffed with bills. Burlesque is acting and performance--re-imagining yourself as someone who loves her body, and knows that other people will too.

On Monday nights, 3 of Clubs offers the "Monday Night Tease!" hosted by Ms. Lily VonSchtupp. Admission is generally $10 and the dancers are up and coming performers, some very well known, others just testing the waters of an old-fashioned strip-tease on stage. (For those celebrating birthdays, the spankings are free.) There's a truly warm, campy feel to the show complete with a Grandpa Munster-ish MC and accordion player. The audience hoots and hollers with good cheer and the dancers have a comfortable place to perform.

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There's no judgment at a Monday Night event, simply an aggressive acceptance of bodies and skill levels that goes along with acknowledging how brave it is to walk in front of a group of strangers and strip down to your own sexy self. Couple that with the inherently safe naughtiness of the dance, and the lure is understandable, far more so than Poleates, The S-Factor, or any of the "get the housewives in touch with their sexuality" fitness/stripping options.

While the Monday Night Tease! is the most regular recurring show, there are pop-up versions and special events happening all over. Many themed bars and nightclubs - The Edison, Bordello, Bardot, Cafe Was, etc - offer periodic burlesque performances or acrobatic versions of old-timey vaudeville shows featuring performers who are nearly naked and capable of astonishing feats of body manipulation as part of their regular entertainment or as special events. A recent bachelorette party held at Bar Lubitsch featured burlesque performers from across the country who'd flown in to honor the brides. Semi-regular Star Wars Themed Burlesque at Bordello draws a rabid following, but Anime Burlesque at the same venue seems almost too on the money for the campy, sexy irony the art form is showcasing (don't tell the audience though).

For those ready to take to the stage, classes are offered all over the city, from Princess Farhana’s upcoming Fan Dance seminar to a regular class from Hells Belles Burlesque to the inevitable colonization of burlesque by the fitness community. Many of these classes do come with a caveat for those dazzled by the big screen fairy tales or the elegant representations seen at professional vaudeville acts: Burlesque is classy, classic, and making a comeback but it is still, at heart, stripping. If you don't want the world to see your tassels, you'd better keep your fluffy knickers in a drawer at home.

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