All That Tease: Burlesque at Erotica


As I lay abed on Sunday, nibbling on a coddled quail’s egg quivering atop a slice of brumal truffle, my eye chanced upon a piece in The Sunday Times written by my dear friend and admired colleague Stephen Armstrong on the subject of burlesque. “Ah,” I thought as my delicious young houseboy popped my cork and filled me up, “where Erotic Review leads, of course, the others will follow.” I sipped my chilled Prosecco and read.

Hollywood has rediscovered burlesque, he observes…albeit only as a vehicle for Christina Aguilera’s breasts and Cher’s Christmas single, but it is back there in the mainstream. Which brings him, as Iggy took to insurance and Johnny Rotten turned to butter, to Dita von Teese. Unarguably the A-Lister in the burlesque star system. She is the ‘name’ on the lips of even those who have never seen a tassel twirl. She is the accepted and acceptable face of burlesque. In many ways, Dita von Teese may be proof that women have won the war.

Stephen’s charming feature took my mind back to last weekend, which the entire Erotic Ensemble spent at Erotica 2010 – which had spread itself over all those parts of Olympia not taken up with some sort of antiques fayre. We occupied a grace and favour stand in a prime spot with an enviable view of the shoe department of Pole Position (the things you see when a girl in a tiny skirt bends to try on a set of heels the size of a SmartCar!), the charming ladies running vibrating gloves over unwary passers-by on our right and the delightful LunchBox girls next door (what do you give the girl who already has all the sex toys she could want? Something to put them in! A LunchBox to be precise – more of this loveliness elsewhere on the site).

We turned our little corner into an island of intelligent eroticism in a sea of heaving commercialism. We had erotic reviews, dazzling onscreen displays, a rich variety of ER Books publications and – the secret weapon in the armoury of our persuasion – a cluster of small but seductively formed bottles of U’Luvka vodka – smoother than George Clooney, more sophisticated than a French aristocrat and goes down like me on my houseboy. The über-sexy bottles attracted more attention than the website, for a time. In fairness, it was a pretty impressive operation. The stalls were inviting, the stallholders a jolly, friendly lot. The general effect, while several body parts wide of any erogenous zones, was also well clear of tacky. Anywhere that is good enough for the Queen of Corsetry Velda Lauder is more than good enough for me. The tangible drop in exhibitors, while, I am sure, a worry for the organisers, made for a much-improved experience for what I am reliably informed was a robust number of ticket holders.

Everywhere smiling girlies bounced up and down on fun swings, rocked energetically on cunningly configured sex chairs, wiggled on couches, bent over supports and generally looked to be having a right old giggle. There were chocolate willies and kits to take a plaster cast of your bum, boobs or bits (not a bad idea while you still have something firm enough to make a cast of, I thought), games of Sexopoly and a chance to meet a girl from The Sport. They should be allowed to let kids in next year – they’d have a great time. Because this is British Sex. Sex with “No Nudity” – as the sign under the Erotica banner at the door commands. Upstairs the DreamBoys are giving it their all – well, what is left after the waxing and the buffing. The lady screams and giggles rise with the strains of Take My Breath Away. Across the balcony from the baked potato stall something Tantric is being taught.

On the enormous main stage, the entertainment begins. Beautiful bodies, dressed in beautiful fetish fashion fill the stage. Torture Garden’s latexed and leathered, rubbered and rhinestoned lovelies know how to strut their stuff. Once I had considered fabrics like latex and leather to be somehow ‘sexy’ sui generis, with the effect of making anyone who wore them ‘sexy’. But watching this, I changed my mind. There was something determinedly asexual about the bodies onstage. Put DelBoy in a Ferrari and he’ll still look like a Reliant Robin man.

I noticed, with joy, that the burlesque community was out in force and lookin’ gooooooood! And here, in the not inconsiderable massed bosoms of the kind of girls who have perfected the art of SeXy without a double let alone a triple X we have the scent of sensuality. Here the air crackles. Here we are flirting. And it is fun with a ‘come and fuck me if you think you’re hard enough’ twinkle. Here are the women who are going to eradicate the ‘rot’ that is spoiling erotica in Britain. From the moment Kitten de Ville had men lining up outside The Velvet Hammer in LA, paying three times as much there to see her keep clothes on as they regularly paid at Club Fuck to see her take them off, New burlesque was unstoppable. Now, here in London it is a fabulous force to be reckoned with. Wherever the name of Chaz Royal, La Soirée, Burlesque Baby and a select few more is above the door, entertainment coupled with sexiness red in lip and nail lies within.

Talking of which, onstage now, the effortlessly elegant Dusty Limits is introducing a genuinely impressive show. Now we ticket holders to Erotica get to flirt with some of cabaret and burlesque’s seriously sexpert performers. Zlata is a seemingly boneless beauty. What she does onstage with herself just doesn’t…well, to be honest, it bears rather a lot of thinking about. High above the stage The Amazing Ari hangs and twists and dances with space. This is sexy, spell-binding stuff.

And then, at six o’clock each night we have the star of the show. Six fat figures have brought the biggest name in Tease since Gypsy Rose Lee and the most famous stripper since Nitromors to Olympia. Dita von Teese is the Betty Page lookalike who is the face and the legs of burlesque in the mainstream. The brand name of burlesque, if you will. The Hoover. The Walkman. Although as anyone who owns a Dyson will tell you, Hoover may have the name, but it doesn’t have half the suck. And while the Walkman was a revelation in its time, now it really has only its iconic name. Dita spends around twelve minutes onstage. During which time she, broadly speaking, takes off a glittery dressing gown. To be absolutely fair, Dita’s chosen style of performance tends to the tableau. But what was onstage under the fabulous frock, through the wafted smoke and to the heavily produced soundtrack was…nothing. I wanted to shout out, in the manner of Hans Christian Andersen’s eagle-eyed boy, “The empress has no clothes…oh, yes, she has…and she’s still wearing them.”

I wanted to reassure every bewildered, disappointed punter that this is not burlesque. Or Cabaret. Or Striptease. This is a woman who has forgotten the show to concentrate on the business. Dita is not the most beautiful of women (which probably accounts for her paranoia about people taking her picture – which is not allowed) but she brushes up well. Dita is not the most charismatic of women. Her one duty (in addition to removing her dressing gown and showing her profile) was a short book signing which she carried out in a manner made famous by The Stepford Wives. But she is at the top of her profession if not of her game.

On the one hand I am lost in admiration for a woman who can command a six figure sum for 36 minutes standing onstage and a swift book signing (no pictures, no interviews, no TV, no press call – I doubt Tom Cruise could cut a deal like that).

On the other I am deeply worried that she is now damaging the image of new burlesque. She has become the performer who puts the ‘less’ in burlesque. But, for now, she is what people know.

Unless, of course, you read Erotic Review, where you will always find what you need to point you to the best in burlesque. What would you do without us?

Photo credits: Sin Bozkurt(Dita Von Teese courtesy of the performer)

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