Always threatened to run off and join the circus? Good news… it’s within the realm of possibility with even more options and you can stay based in your mountain home paradise. You can still run away and throw your hat, and most of your clothes for that matter, into the world of burlesque. It doesn’t matter what gender, age or body type, you can take off in your new chosen career in this traditional enticingly provocative musical strip tease revue that’s making a huge comeback in both mountain towns and cities. If you’re unfamiliar with real burlesque and its variety of entertainment, it is in essence Gogol Bordello meets Mae West at Cirque du Soleil and the entire evening is sabotaged by the Keystone Cops as Nina Simone sings from a second story cathouse window while brightly colored feathers rain down from the skies.
Originally burlesque was a parody of the more ruling classes in England in the 1800s, making a travesty of popular songs, opera arias and other music that the audience would easily recognize. As it developed, the shows depended on comedy and a variety of acts including titillating strip teases that really didn’t show much but the audience thought they saw what they wanted. It gained its sleazy reputation decades after arriving in America and as the art of “Burley-Q” went into decline in the ’30s house managers depended more on female nudity to draw crowds. Alas for progress as porn became readily available and strip clubs and titty bars became the bastard child of the once grand offshoot of vaudeville. Not that there’s any shame in heading off with a fistful of singles to your favorite strip joint, but it’s refreshing to see authentic burlesque make a fervent return to whistling crowds.
And what better place than mountain towns where costuming up is a natural way of life and people are wondering what to do in their off season doldrums? In Durango, Colorado, a gaggle of talent unveiled itself at the initial call for auditions for a new troupe being put together. Bare Bones Burlesque and Salt Fire Circus director Tami Graham says, “Everybody’s Durango based. It’s amazing all this talent, an amazing oddity. It’s the perfect convergence of performance artists, musicians, jugglers, dancers and singers. We even have a strongman.” The show supports five musicians who play everything from a saw and Tibetan horn to traditional drums, bass, violin, accordion guitar, keys… but in an unusual genre. “It’s sort of gypsy meets circus meets its own style,” Tami has a difficult time putting their original music into a specific category. Current burlesque shows utilize live music, canned music and tracks and depending on the taste of the stripper and the act it can range from classical striptease songs and jazz to BB King and Marilyn Manson…. with accents marks for bumps and grinds, of course.
Having successfully survived its third winter the show is a combo of old time circus with burlesque and sells out quickly. “It’s because we all like to be entertained. The sex appeal of burlesque is enjoyed by everyone… men and women. These are very real talents. It’s a great adult circus and mountain towns have always supported great entertainment,” Tami has a sense of showmanship beyond the beloved bar follies of beer and wet tee shirts. The troupe plans a summer tour this year through Crested Butte, Aspen, Steamboat and lots of other mountain locales. “We all know people in all these towns because we’re mountain folks ourselves and these audiences make it fun since they’ll come to the show in costume at the drop of a top hat,” Tami says. For the past couple of years small mountain communities witnessed the unbridled kitschy antics and talent of the Yard Dogs Traveling Road Show, a San Francisco based vaudeville troupe, who performed to full houses and whose numerous fans mimicked the performers’ stage style attending their shows with painted faces, bustiers, bowler and top hats. Mountain men groomed their curled mustachioed guise for weeks prior while women browsed online Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogs.
Down in southern Colorado, Peaks and Pasties have been shakin’ up the shimmy since 2008 with traditional burlesque and boylesque shows. That’s right men, in boylesque you too can dress to undress. The delightful Lola Spitfire, director/creator of the troupe confirms there’s no age limit for performers in the genre, “The legends of burlesque are sixty and seventy year olds who still perform, take their clothes off and twirl fire tassels. The beauty of makeup and corsets is that burlesque is a celebration of all body types and all ages.” Finally, there’s hope and encouragement for even geezer girls… it’s all in the art of squeezing anticipation from the audience. “It’s a strip tease, you don’t see all the goods but you see enough,” the sultry Miss Spitfire says.
If you don’t know how to do it but have a burning desire to twirl fire tassels and learn the artistry of stripping there are schools across the Rockies in places you would never expect. Miss Spitfire is the headmistress of The Spitfire and Sparkle Academy of Burlesque in Pueblo and a producer of The Colorado Burlesque Festival, which takes place in Denver July 7 through 10, 2011. This gives you plenty of time to get your act together, find your corsets, boas, learn to juggle, redefine your id and pump up everyone’s libido. Burlesque is still alive and strutting it and we’re all invited.
Information on the Colorado Burlesque Festival online: coloradoburlesquefestival.com
Find the official video of Bare Bones Burlesque and Salt Fire Circus on YouTube and friend them on Facebook. Get updates on Miss Lola Spitfire’s troupe and engage your burlesque career through peaksandpasties.com.