This is a recent posting from the Independent written by Dierdre Reynolds.
The night I became a burlesque queen
Fishing out her fishnets, Deirdre Reynolds was beguiled by a tantalising mix of song, sparkle and striptease ‘Burlesque is closer to theatre than erotica’
Wednesday June 15 2011
Friday daylight fast fading, I’m hotfooting it to a city centre night spot to kickstart the weekend by shaking a tail feather — nothing unusual about that. Unlike a regular girls’ night out, though, this time there’s likely to be actual tail feathers involved.
Unglamorously hauling a bag of fishnet stockings, high heels, strapless bras and nude knickers, I’m off to join the stars of Tease — Dublin’s newest burlesque and cabaret soirée. And while ‘Deirdre Von Teese’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, for one night only I’m gearing up to be transformed into an all hip-swinging, lip-syncing, glove-stripping sex goddess — or at the very least, try not to flatline from mortification in front of my friends in the front row.
In Tinseltown’s most recent big screen musical Burlesque, Christina Aguilera plays a small-town girl with a big voice (what else?) who stumbles upon an anachronistic cabaret club which flips her fortunes in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.
Corny as it may sound, in Dublin’s after-dark desert of samey night clubs thumping with chart tunes, greasy kebab joints and tacky high street fashion, Tease is the same sort of eye-rubbing mirage. While at street level the after-work crowd is just starting to loosen its collective tie, once you descend the steps to Break For The Border’s basement club you may feel like you’ve suddenly awoken in some kind of Boardwalk Empire-themed dream. Girls in corsets, pearls and fascinators mingle with men in pinstriped suits, braces and fedoras over cool cocktails and hot jazz against a crushed red velvet backdrop.
On stage, a curvaceous redhead — the lead singer of house band Madame Anne and the Teasers — is purring out such loin-loosening numbers as ‘Mad About the Boy’. Only the smoking ban stands in the way of the full Prohibition-era effect — replicated by more pulmonary-friendly puffs of dry ice instead. Tease may take place below street level — but to call Dublin’s neo-burlesque scene an underground one would be a misnomer.
Since the birth of The Tassel Club (which has since relocated to London) seven years ago, the city has been under the spell of Twenties vaudeville-inspired entertainment. Between the Irish Burlesque School, Secret Boudoir photography studio, Dublin Burlesque Ball and even an annual hunt to find Ireland’s Next Burlesque Star, it seems everyone wants to become the next Dita Von Teese.
“Burlesque thrives in times of recession,” explains Tease co-founder Edel Kelly, mercilessly yanking on the ribbon zig-zagging up the back of my black and red corset. “Whether you’re on stage or in the audience, it’s a chance to get dressed up and escape all the doom and gloom for a night.”
To the uninitiated, burlesque involves tarty women swinging their nipple tassles. But burlesque is about tease, not sleaze — we even have security on the door to make sure no ‘undesirables’ or stag dos wander in. Anyway, there are usually more women and gay men in the audience than leering guys!”
Good to know, as I anxiously wriggle into fishnets, frilly French knickers and red high heels for my debut on the Tease stage. With its tantalising mix of song, sparkle and sometimes striptease, the monthly club plays host to Ireland’s new generation of showgirls (and boys) — as well as international burlesque and cabaret acts. Already, Ireland has (s)exported top burlesque performers Miss Bella A Go Go, Ms Harlot Deville and singer Camille O’Sullivan to the global stage. Now more and more regular girls here are taking a page from Bettie Page too, by twirling their tassels at burlesque dance classes and stripping off for pin-up photo shoots.
“Burlesque lets women indulge in their two favourite childhood pastimes — dressing up and make-believe,” adds Edel Kelly.
As resident Tease make-up artist Emma Farrell says: “Why be ‘Jane Smith’ when you can be ‘Azaria Starfire’ or ‘Sapphira Swan’? Why wear a Topshop dress when you can swan around in a silk evening gown, pearls and red lipstick à la Veronica Lake?”
‘Women learn to embrace their curves and feel sexy and confident,” adds boudoir photographer Edel, who also takes sensual near-nude snaps popular with women ranging from brides-to-be to cancer survivors. “It’s a really liberating experience.”
Confidence-boosting as a burlesque makeover may be, my corset is remaining firmly fastened as I follow renowned Dublin performer Mz Epiphany DeMeanour on stage for a impromptu routine. Luckily, it’s early in the night and there are only a few non-plussed soundmen, fellow performers and my own wing women to witness my pathetic first foray into the world of professional seduction — wiggling, shimmying, shaking and twirling to Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’.
Sweating and contorting as I try to follow Epiphany’s lead, I look like I’ve got a fever, alright — though not in a good way. Still, even divine fan dancer Mz DeMeanour — aka interior designer Sinead Curran — got her big break by winging it.
“I was working front of house at The Tassel Club when the organiser asked me to fill in for a performer at a show in Limerick,” says Epiphany. “I figured nobody would know me, so I agreed. I got up on stage in a showgirl costume with a live band — and somehow got through it.”
As her foxy alter ego, Epiphany dexterously protects her modesty with pristine white ostrich feathers — managing to leave something to the imagination even when totally naked. Yet even the most talented burlesque starlets have been denounced as nothing short of glorified strippers by some. “It’s not about what you take off, it’s about how you do it,” argues Epiphany. “Ultimately, a burlesque performer and a stripper are both girls on stage taking their clothes off — the difference is how they do it.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people have been exposed to bad performances calling itself burlesque,” she adds. “Burlesque is closer to theatre than erotica,” chief Tease Edel agrees. “A typical performance might include expensive costumes, props, music, dance, comedy and, yes, occasionally striptease. Unlike strippers, burlesque performers often do it for fun and spend more on their act than they make.”
As the venue fills up with a mixture of couples, groups of girls and the odd single bloke who hasn’t read the poster properly, sure enough there follows a series of extravagant strip routines you’re unlikely to find on stage at Stringfellows — from a sex-kitten cat burglar to a naughty nun driven to desire by a pair of ‘devil gloves’.
But don’t worry, ladies — there are male performers too. To the Bond theme tune, three burlesque buachaillí with a licence to thrill slowly disrobe until the lights are killed at the critical moment.
To para-pinch a line from the aformentioned Burlesque flick — the basement club may not have any windows, but from where I’m sitting it may just have the best view in town.
See www.tease.ie and www.boudoir.ie
– Deirdre Reynolds