Flauntin’ the Goods

By Colin Shively

It can be sexy, it can be comedic and skin is always showing. However, this is not a strip bar and no one will see dollar bills waved in the air. The women and men on stage are

burlesque dancers who use their individual talents to entertain and entice the audience with their bodies, routines and outfits. For Chicago performer Red Hot Annie, burlesque is a striptease with a flare of creativity and it was time to put on a show Chicago had never

seen before.

On April 15-17, Chicago hosted the first Windy City Burlesque Fest, produced by the city’s own Belmont Burlesque and Vaudezilla companies. The festival took place at Blue Bayou, 3734 N. Southport Ave., and the Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. It featured more than 90 practicing male and female burlesque dancers. The Windy City Burlesque Fest also featured workshops for those interested in joining the burlesque community or those who wanted a look inside into the exciting and dynamic life of a burlesque dancer.

Red Hot Annie, an executive producer for the Windy City Burlesque Fest, said the initial idea to create a festival for burlesque dancers in Chicago was inspired by the city’s more than 150 performers and, unlike other major cities, Chicago lacked a burlesque festival.

“We want to showcase all the amazing local talent and also bring in people from around the country and around the world to perform and to demonstrate their art,” Red Hot Annie said. “Sure, we have burlesque shows all over the city, but there isn’t one where all these amazing

performers come and showcase their art in one place with others from all over.”

The executive producers of the festival started planning the three-day event back in January 2009. After about a year and half of planning and recruiting, the festival was finally ready to

take the stage.

As the festival came together, the producers invited burlesque performers across the country. Apart from local and national entertainers, the burlesque festival featured headliners such as U.K.-based Anna Fur Laxis and numerous others from Canada.

“The thing about burlesque is that, like anything else, we are a community of creative artists,” Anna Fur Laxis said. “All they had to do was put out a few e-mails and notices about the festival and soon people from all over wanted to sign up and perform because we help each other out in any way.”

There are numerous themes of burlesque, such as theatrical, showgirl, Goth and nerd, and Chicago is no exception. This festival mainly showcased theatrical and showgirl styles.

“Theatrical burlesque is like telling a story in some way,” Red Hot Annie said.

“It is very character driven, unlike showgirl, which is like, ‘I’m a pretty girl, taking off a pretty

costume.’ Theatrical is like, ‘I have run out of gas, what am I going to do?’ It has a sexy, comedic undertone to it. But every form of burlesque is amazing in its own way because the performers put everything they have into their routines.”

Kellita Maloof, queen of Carnaval San Francisco 2008, performed at the Windy City Burlesque Fest as a showgirl with dance-based burlesque talent. Her style incorporates dance techniques from around the world—including belly dancing, Latin and

samba—with an exotic twist.

Throughout the past 10 years, and more so in the past year, Maloof has seen the interest in burlesque performances grow exponentially. Because most audience

members don’t travel for festivals, Kellita Maloof said it’s logical that all the big cities should create their own burlesque festival.

“This is a community of burlesque dancers and artists,” Kellita Maloof said. “It is true that we are really connected, but the growth of burlesque has been amazing. I will go to events and shows, and where I would normally know who people are, now I don’t know most of them because more and more people are realizing their love for this type of performance art.”

Kellita Maloof credits the greater acceptance of exotic dancing for some of the growing excitement about burlesque in Chicago and the world. She said she believes the hype is created by audience members and general acceptance of the art, but most of all, from the passion of the performer.

“The performers on stage, whatever they are doing, are completely animated, almost literally and figuratively,” Kellita Maloof said. “We encompass every part of our body and we send our energy out into the crowd. That’s what makes it so enticing to people. The glitter we put on is a physical metaphor that we use to say, ‘I am turning my spirit up 200 percent, so get ready.’”

Kellita Maloof and Red Hot Annie agree that burlesque is a version of do-it-yourself (DIY) culture because everything on stage is done by the dancer alone. Performers put an

enormous amount of time into their costumes, music choice, routine and comedy so the audience feels the ownership when the performance begins, they said.

The majority of the costumes seen at the Windy City Burlesque Fest were individually handmade and the routines were all created by the performers, Red Hot Annie said.

“Our mind, body and soul are in what we do,” Maloof said. “It opens our and the audience’s imagination and that openness is what makes it all come together and makes the show amazing.”

At the festival, audience members had the chance to see performers over a three-day period and also to learn firsthand how to do some burlesque

routines, Red Hot Annie said.

Kellita Maloof provided two of the training sessions at the Windy City Burlesque Fest where she taught curious individuals a samba and cabaret dance movement. She also offered a choreographed routine where anyone passionate enough to learn the dance could attend the

San Francisco Carnaval on Memorial Day.

Kitten de Ville, a California-based burlesque dancer, also performed as a headliner at the Windy City Burlesque Fest. As a well-known burlesque dancer who has been around the world and in two documentaries, Kitten de Ville was excited to perform in Chicago.

“Sometimes there is a stigma against burlesque dancers in that we are just stripping on stage,” Kitten de Ville said. “But it is far more than that and it is so amazing to see city after city create these beautiful and exciting festivals where we can show people what we do and how well we can do it. I have no doubt that after people saw these performances,more burlesque dancers are going to pop up.”