A Little Bump and Grind the Old Fashioned Way

Standing outside the Shim Sham Revue in New Orleans listening to the sultry jazz of the 1940s and 50s might make you think of music your grandmother listened to. But in this sexy stage show, which brings back old-fashioned burlesque entertainment, you won't find anything that looks like your grandmother. Feeling like you have entered an old classy bordello, you see each feathered and powdered girl roll her hips on stage to reveal her ruffled bloomers and her red lips under an over-sized billowing hat. Suddenly, 40s and 50s jazz reminds you less of your grandmother and more of scantily-clad women and strip-tease.

This is old-fashioned burlesque in the heart of New Orleans where the musical genre was born. The cast of dancers are all young new-comers, although several grandmothers actually choreographed the sexy moves that undress each supple showgirl. In an age where strip-tease means swinging on a pole half-naked, these dancing veterans are happy to lend their expertise to bring back this sensual art of entertainment.

Burlesque was more about the art of entertainment, teasing the audience, and performing in a reputable show. Burlesque dancers were classically trained in dance, as well as acting and acrobatics. Their numbers always had a theme and incorporated humor, skill and grace. These women were well-known for their ability to entertain, and never had contact with the audience. The burlesque dancers believe this is worlds apart from the stripping of today, where dancers walk among patrons in their underwear and swing on poles for dollar bills.

The Shim Sham Revue grew out of a movement to preserve historic parts of New Orleans as the French Quarter slowly gives way to shot bars for Spring Breakers, live sex shows and chain restaurant snack spots. Three legendary local dancers - Wild Cherry, Tajmah and Kitty West, or Evangeline the Oyster Girl - helped bring some zing and authenticity to the show. All three were famous in burlesque circles at the height of their fame, packing the local show houses with their top-star billing, traveling to perform in shows throughout the east coast and even appearing in Life magazine.

These three grandmothers worked closely with the director, choreographer and dancers to make sure the movements, music, costumes, dance themes and even the master of ceremonies would be represented as they were in their own shows. They even lent their own signature numbers from the past to be performed move-for-move by the younger Southern Jeze-Belles, the talented dancers of the Shim Sham Revue. Every number in the show takes the audience back to the jazz-filled streets of a 1940s French Quarter, in all its southern raunchy glory.

In one number, the shadow of a beautiful naked girl appears behind a sheet, as she is getting dressed and being helped by her two scantily-clad attendants. She is powdered and lotioned by the girls, and then sits on a stool to slowly stretch her long legs and roll on her stockings and garter. When the girls are finally dressed and ready, they turn to the audience to reveal that they are nuns, and that the two attendants have plenty to confess.

One of the historic numbers is a Jeze-Belle dancer dressed like a kitty cat, sulkily crawling across the stage, licking her paws and arching her back. After some leaps and turn across the stage, she is subdued back into a sexy kitten by the song titled "Here Pussy Pussy." Another historic number is the "Can Can de Vieux Carre," reminiscent of the famous can can dance born in Paris and picked up by the French Quarter as its own.

Some of the Southern Jeze-Belles say this type of entertainment is what made them want to become a dancer. They love the creativity and sensuality of burlesque, as well as being a part of an artistic performance where all the dancers play an important part in the show as well as perform solos. Not to mention that it tells a part of our history in the Big Easy, showing us one face our culture's fondness for being entertained by women taking their clothes off.

After seeing such a rousing rendition of southern-style burlesque, I have to agree that the almost forgotten art of the strip-tease really is the ultimate art of entertainment.

Burlesque in New Orleans

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