Who couldn't use some naughty, sensual glamour in their lives? Probably many of us, judging by the full house at a recent Whiskey and Rhinestones burlesque show at Gravier Street Social, a dimly lit cocktail lounge furnished with attractive artwork, sofas and ottomans.
The show stars and is organized by Bella Blue, headmistress of The New Orleans School of Burlesque and one of the world's top performers, according to online magazine 21st Century Burlesque. Blue and a changing lineup of two other entertainers glide down the runway and get down to basics in the 75-minute show. Producer AJay Strong also serves as a jovial host, and the performance is more like a classy fashion show than a gritty striptease act. Costumes include traditional feather boas, fans and sashes. The venue has a fantastic sound system.
Sitting within arm's reach of these tantalizing dancers is an intimate experience that appeals to men and women. The night I attended, "Polynesian Technicolor Dream," aka Grand Mafun, did a jazz walk to the sound of conga drums in Hector Lavoe's "Que Lio" ("What a Mess"), the music she heard growing up in New York City. Mafun is a plus-size woman with tawny skin and dark, wavy hair down to her waist. Sensual and graceful, she balances and turns on tiny high heels, spreading her arms like an exotic seabird. Teasing, she offered a gloved hand to an audience member so he could pull it off with his teeth.
Following Mafun was Lune Noirr, aka "Mistress of the Dark," dressed as a sassy 1940s sailor with blonde curls. The Haitian-French burlesque performer astonished the rapt audience with high kicks, a shimmy and an all-out backbend. She also re- created the ostrich feather, peek-a-boo fan dance made famous by Sally Rand at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Noirr competed and performed at the recent Snake Oil Festival, which includes burlesque and sideshow acts. Between acts, a "stage panther" slinks onstage to pick up "stripper droppings," glittering items of clothing tossed into the air.
The piece de resistance was Blue entering to the beat of Katy Perry's girl-power anthem "Rise." Its lyrics — "I won't just survive / you will see me thrive to write my story / I am beyond the archetype / I won't just conform" — fit Blue, formerly a ballet and jazz dance instructor who in 2007 reimagined herself as a burlesque performer.
Blue is stunning, stepping out in a 1920s white feathered hairpiece and the skimpiest of costumes covering her perfect figure. She flutters like a swan from one end of the room to the other, swirling a long, silk sheath above and around herself to the hypnotic rhythm of Led Zeppelin's electric "I Can't Quit You, Baby."
Whatever the expectations for burlesque, these rhinestone ladies won't disappoint.