This last week, there was an advertisement for Dita von Teese's burlesque show on the radio. Tickets, when searched for, were $50 dollars. I have had sort of a fleeting curiousity about burlesque since I started getting interested in the Rockabilly asthetic and kickass women with tattoos. A short Google search later led me to chicagoburlesque.org, which listed two burlesque shows for free in the last week, one of them the night of the search. So after some dinner and a workout, a friend and I headed out to the North side of Chicago for some stripteasing.
The first show was at the Debonair Social Club in the Wicker Park neighborhood. It was a Wednesday night, so traffic wasn't awful and we got there after 10, so parking was free (definite bonus without the UPass in the summer).
The advertisement on chicagoburlesque said that the show started at 11:00, so we arrived about 10:30. We told the bouncer we were there for the burlesque show and he told us "they usually get started around 12:15." Well, ok. So we walked in and the bar was...um, empty. The stage was visible from a very small part of the bar due to the bartender's station being in the center of the bar, so we moved around until we found a small non-reserved table with a good view, and nursed our beers.
Around midnight, the bar started to fill up with people. There was one large table of 7 or 8 people, who crowded around and danced, occasionally jostling us, and then more and more people showed up and crowded the small space. Lots of dancing, lots of booze, lots of singing, and some fistpumping were had. One woman, much more drunk than we felt like being on a Wednesday night, stopped at our table and told us we looked "really intense about something. Like [we were] just ready." I made a more serious face after agreeing with her and she gave me a high-five.
Crowds don't bother me. I am happy being surrounded by people. But if I came to see something, I want to be able to SEE it. With a concert, I'm happy as long as I can hear the music clearly and watch lasers dance around above my head. But the point of coming to this tiny bar was to see the burlesque show we had waited for. Burlesque is, arguably, almost a purely visual thing. So, understandably (I hope) I was a tiny bit irritated when people (majority drunk men who embodied the stereotype of men in or just out of college) who were at least 6 feet tall crowded up to the front in short of my 5'5" friend and my 5'8" self.
The host got things started off about 12:45 (am) and introduced the first dancer, Helena Handbasket (which made me think that, if I wanted, I could participate in both roller derby AND burlesque and have one name for both activites). Here's where the crowd became a problem. The 7 or 8 people next to us knew Helena somehow and had grown to about 15-18 who were adamant on crowding to the front. The stage was high, so we saw most of her act, but when they stepped back, we left our nice polite table and stood much closer to the front. This was a very good choice.
Mara Mayhem (who, it was discovered recently, is a Shimer alumna!!) was up next after Helena. I had seen her come in earlier, due to my arriving at a crazy-early time. Something that's kind of cool about performance art (in general and burlesque specifically), is that the costume and performance can absolutely be different from people when they're not dolled up. Mara came in dressed in black, with crazy-high (and badass) heels, but her performance started with her in bare feet, an ankle-length floaty white dress, and an apple -- I think you can guess where it went from there.
Remember how we moved closer? This was an especially good choice when the third act stepped up.
(I made the mistake of not taking pictures, so you'll have to go and check this out for yourself)
Shana von Gabor stepped up, a Britney Spears song came on, and the striptease began. Before the bra and panties came off, she picked up a block of metal on a belt and slid it up her legs. Then she picked up an angle grinder, and, encouraged by roars from the crowd, took it to the metal plate that covered her crotch.
Sparks flew. Literally. For a good 3-4 minutes, she contorted herself into a variety of positions and shot sparks out over the crowd. It was a spectacular and unforgettable act, especially when people started hiding behind each other to take cover from the burning hot pieces of metal. I was impressed at her resilence and apparent immunity to heat as well as flexibility and creativity. We left shortly after the show ended, and drove home (we were both sober, thanks to the long delay in when we had the beers and when the show got started).
We arrived a little late, about 30 minutes into the first set. This was a disadvantage because (like at the first club), tall people insisted on standing towards the front. I get that you want to see! But you have your choice of spot that could be NOT in front of the 6 or 7 people who are also trying to see but have the biological disadvantage (in this case) of being shorter than you. One nice thing about the Lincoln Tap room was that they had large-screen TVs scattered throughout the bar and were showing the show on the TVs as well as on stage. Bonus points to the bar for also having Angry Orchard hard cider on tap!
This was a great, more "old-timey," Rockabilly-esque show. The women were mostly sporting vintage-style hair and makeup, in addition to elaborate costume pieces they had designed themselves. The first complete striptease we saw was about a woman trying to hitchike to Texas, and finally ended up wearing nothing but her heels and stockings and covering herself with her Texas-shaped cutout. After the next striptease from a petite woman with a lot of sass, they took about an hour intermission, which meant that we got to choose a better spot to view the next set from and buy a couple more drinks and chat with some of the patrons and dancers.
It was a cute, fun show, complete with an elaborate flower-headress striptease, hip control I didn't even know was possible, and a tap-dancing military striptease. Here are a couple of photos in black-and-and white, but it was definitely impressive in living color.
Photos courtesy Gray Dragon Photography, all rights reserved. More photos by Gray Dragon Photography of this troupe can be found here.
Of the two, Original Tease was my favorite, and I'll definitely be going again. Debonaire Social Club does the "No-Tell Motel" every Wednesday (starting around 12:15, remember) and Original Tease does a show on the second Friday of every month (two sets, one starting at 9 and one at 10:30). Chicago Burlesque has a bunch of shows up and updates daily, so if you want to shell out a few dollars or want to keep it free (except for drinks, perhaps), check them out. Both shows fulfilled my expectations and were a great time, complete with a Rockabilly asthetic and women with tattos (I think out of all the dancers, only one didn't have any ink).