The Brew City Bombshells
Sliding across the stage with shakes and shimmies, the Brew City Bomshells neo-Burlesque troupe will perform on Saturday at the Times Cinema in Washington Heights.
Joining the Bombshell members (and local lovelies) Chassy Dee Luxe, Violetta De Mur, Raven Nevermore and Vee Valentine will be Lady Ambrosia (a member of the troupe who’s recently had some time off) along with Ruby Devine of the Madison Hellcats and Bella Sue DiVianti, who performed in the Alley Cat Revue with several of the Bombshells in the past.
Gypsy Geoff of local vaudeville-esque variety show Dead Man’s Carnival will act as the evening’s emcee.
The ladies, whose figures span a variety of shapes and sizes from petite to voluptuous, perform solo as well as group dance acts, enticing the audience with their own unique dances keeping time with music of their choosing.
“Burlesque is the art of the tease, it’s not the art of being naked,” says Raven.
“It’s the art of seducing your audience,” adds founding member Chassy.
“I make like I’m going to unhook my bra and then just stop, like…uh, I can leave, I don’t need to do this…just to get a little reaction (from the audience),” addsVee. “Or like bending over and wiggling my behind, that’s one of my favorites,” she says with a smile.
These ladies say feel liberated when performing their self-choreographed acts. For them, it’s a creative outlet, and it’s also a forum to confront skewed views on appearance, femininity and female sexuality.
“It’s saying ‘I’m beautiful, and I’m NOT a size 2 or zero. I eat once in a while,” says Vee. As Raven puts it, “I don’t feel that to be a modern woman, I have to keep myself covered up to be respected… who’s to say I can’t dance and artfully remove some of my clothes?”
Raven adds that, even with women’s advances in the workplace and also with our society’s perception of what women are capable of, in many ways our culture still reinforces gender stereotypes. In a way, she thinks that burlesque, with it’s bawdy, satirical origins helps to make light of those stereotypes and also challenges our culture’s beauty ideals, and in doing that can be extremely empowering.
“I think, in the most ironic sense that it (burlesque) creates really good role models, because even today, with women having as much power in the workforce as they do, there’s still a lot of traditional thought that women are more submissive,” she says, adding, “burlesque, in a weird way, breaks that and teaches girls that it’s okay to be all different shapes and sizes, and that you can be an individual and that you can use things that were given to you to your advantage instead of hiding them because you might get taken advantage of.”
Burlesque was quite welcome in Milwaukee (which had, at one point, four popular venues) up until 1955, when the area’s last burlesque house, the Empress Theater (on North 3rd Street), was demolished. In 1966, the Oriental Theater tried to pick up where the Empress left off, but was defeated by members of the nearby Maryland Elementary School’s P.T.A.
Neo-burlesque, as the Bombshells identify themselves, started in New York cabarets in the 1990s, is a revival and update of the traditional style, that encompasses broader performance styles and tends to draw in more diverse audiences.
“The art of Burlesque has evolved the way that our culture has evolved,” according to Raven.
The Brew City Bombshells perform on Saturday, August 14 at the Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet. For showtime and tickets, click here.