Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Rise of Burlesque in New York: Tassels and the City

Text by Anjeza Bojku | Photography by Anjeza Boyku and ChicagoEye/Flickr   
Burlesque – the more audacious relative of commedia dell'arte, is in revival. A reality in “upside down style”, this creative, witty and softer version of striptease is back on stage, following an absence of nearly 80 years. In New York, Anjeza Bojku scoped out several burlesqee venues for

A slender redhead clad in fringed undergarments and sparkling-gold peep-toe pumps is dancing to the electrifying, psychedelic tunes of Jimmy Hendrix.

She sways, shimmies and tantalises with peek-a-boo turns, all the while smiling for the tens of cameras flashing hurriedly to capture her every move.

It is Saturday night at the Slipper Room and the Rose McGowan look-alike is doing her best to conjure a world of innocent sexuality.

The performer, who goes by the stage name Gal Friday, smoothly blends together elements of 1930s femininity, ‘50s pin-up, ‘60s flower-child and the millennium’s modern woman into her burlesque routine.

The effect is one of an ironic and tongue-in-cheek sexuality with a hint of comic relief.

Burlesque originated in the 1840s, early in the Victorian Era. Rooted in nineteenth-century music hall entertainments and vaudeville, it developed in the early twentieth century as a populist blend of satire.

In 1910 Charlie Chaplin, who attended a burlesque show in Chicago, described it as “consisting of a coterie of rough-and-tumble comedians supported by twenty or more chorus girls. Some were pretty, others shopworn. Some of the comedians were funny, most of the shows were smutty harem comedies—coarse and cynical affairs.”

By the 1930s, the genre already incorporated liberal quantities of striptease, and shortly afterwards it began loosing its appeal.

The burlesque revival in New York is often traced to a German-born stripper named Ute Hanna and her Blue Angel Show in the early 1990s in Tribeca.

Fed up with the gritty scene of strip bars, Hanna sought to create a friendlier environment for performers and audiences by toning down the raunchy sexuality of the striptease and infusing it with the flirtatious, play-acting elements of burlesque.

Many soon followed her lead as New Yorkers showed nostalgia for those by-gone days of suggestive sexuality and by 2003, burlesque had become a fixture on New York City nightlife.

Slipper Room owner, James Habacker, emphasises the lack of cynicism that burlesque offers and that New Yorkers seem to be craving. “There is nothing jaded in these shows,” he says.

There are differing opinions as to why burlesque is booming in New York. Some credit the clampdown on strip bars by former mayor Rudy Giuliani with the genre’s revival, while others are quick to factor in the hyper-sexualisation of contemporary culture and its unintended effect of nostalgia for a more tame, playful, shy sexual expression and entertainment.

Whatever the reason, the burlesque which underwent gradual disintegration after the Second World War is alive and well, only now with a spunky new attitude. Think shy school girl meets modern vixen.

According to Habacker, who hosts and DJs on some nights, the majority of his shows’ patrons are women. “There’s always a handful more women than men,” he says.

He is proud to state that the Slipper Room has been home to neo-burlesque since 1999. “It's been the longest-running show in New York,” he notes of the venue's Mr. Choade's Upstairs/Downstairs Show, of which Gal Friday is a part.

Gal Friday is wrapping up her part of the evening’s performance with light comic relief by way of suggestive mime and cute facial expressions. The crowd sits close to her jewel-box stage – on chairs and on the floor – egging her on with tips (by men and women), cheers, applause and endless photographs. She offers sincere grins, then mischievously squats with her back towards us, her flame-hair held up to reveal her lovely neck, shimmering porcelain skin and flawless form. She radiates a warm soft sensuality that is inviting to both sexes. The effect is rich and glamorous.

And this is just part of the act. To follow are comedy and more girls.

The crowd at the Slipper Room is young, hip, friendly and informal. This is after all the Lower East Side where the artsy young of New York descend every weekend for harmless exotic fun. The place is dimly lit with a dozen or so tables, burgundy velvet and brick walls that stare down a classic gilded stage with heavy red drapes. The bar offers cocktails and beer for about $7-10 (between 4.50 and 6.50 euro) and entrance is only $5 (just over 3 euro).

Burlesque in New York:

Mr. Choade's Upstairs/Downstairs at the Slipper Room, 167 Orchard Street.; ++1 212 253 7246

Le Scandal at the Cutting Room, 19 West 24th Street.; ++1 212 388 2988

Sweet and Nasty at Rififi, 332 East 11th Street. www.; ++1 212 677 1027

BadAss! Burlesque at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308, Bowery.; ++1 212

Va Va Voom Room at Fez Under Time Cafe, 380 Lafayette Street,; ++1 212 330 9349




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