Originally posted at Metromix Rochester and The Insider newspaper.
The art of burlesque relies heavily on performers getting naked; but don't be fooled, a burlesque show isn't something you'll find at your local strip club. Sure, burlesque performers and strippers both end up showing an audience some kind of nudity. But the difference, according to the co-directors of New Jersey's White Elephant Burlesque Society, is how performers get to that point.
"In burlesque it's much more about the journey," says co-director/performer George Blair IV, 26, who goes by Viktor Devonne onstage. "People say it's more about the tease, but in my opinion it's actually about the storytelling; and we are conveying our storytelling through our body movements and our choice of music ... With Internet pornography and the availability of the naked form, you have to make it interesting, otherwise there's no point."
Each performer in the White Elephant Burlesque Society (which will perform Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28, at the Rochester Erotic Arts Festival) has a specialty, whether it's comedy, miming, fan or mask work, walking on glass or escaping from a straitjacket.
Femme Fae La Butche, played by co-director Genevieve Steuber, plays the role of mother figure in the troupe, onstage and off. "I try to make sure people are hydrated, that they have what they need, that they're ready to go out and rock," says Steuber, 32. "I do love the whole thing to bits ... I get to dance, sing, feel sexy and foster that feeling in other people."
While Society members have been known to get down to pasties and a thong, Blair says the extent of the nudity depends on the comfort level of the individual performer and what she thinks is necessary to tell a character's story, as well as the venue the troupe is playing.
For the Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, Blair says, "it's about art, and you don't always have to take all your clothes off for it to be art." "In Rochester, people can expect to be entertained, tantalized and pushed," she says. "They'll laugh, they'll get turned on, and they might even be a bit uncomfortable."
Festival-goers can also expect to see burlesque performers of a variety of shapes and sizes. Blair says the troupe strives to appeal to different tastes. "You can't just have a bunch of skinny (women) running the stage because that'll only work for some of your clientele," he explains.
Although someone doesn't need to be a size 4 to be part of the troupe, it undoubtedly requires courage to get onstage and expose yourself to an audience.
"You have to be willing to ... move your body in a way that makes people want to look," Steuber says. "You also have to be willing to laugh at yourself. We want our performers to know how to own what they are. They have to celebrate it, flaunt it, revel in it."
Burlesque has gained popularity in the past decade, thanks to films like Moulin Rouge, Chicago, and, most recently, Nine. But Blair suggests that the art form will become "mainstream as hell" after the movie Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher, opens later this year.
"And that's ... what people are going to associate with burlesque, for better or for worse. But at least it will present itself as an outlet for performers."