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Burlesque Wed Nov 20 2013

Behind the Burlesque: Catching Up with Kiss Kiss Cabaret's Coquettes

Kiss Kiss Cabaret Holiday 2013.jpgIt's the night of the first snow in Chicago. The buses are running slowly and I'm running late. But even though it's cold outside, it's warm...even "hot" where I'm headed.

As I enter the darkened Greenhouse Theater, I hear Marc Bolan's "Get it On/Back Door Santa" fire up. "Get it on...HOHOHOHO...Get it on, bang a gong, get it on...they call me backdoor Santa, I make my runs around the break of day..." Over the heavy-metal and pop-inspired mashup, Elle Rioux, a petite brunette clad in black leggings, a coral scoopneck sweatshirt and black character shoes counts out steps and shouts instructions. The 20-strong ensemble of attractive young women behind her, grouped into fours, all shimmy their shoulders, pop their hips, throw their hair back and execute retro-'60s go-go dances again and again.

"WORM! ASS! SHIMMY! PONY!" Elle yells instructions, rapidfire one after the other, as she provides a steady eight count. The girls respond in perfect unison. They are learning a new dance for the holiday show. All in a day's work at Kiss Kiss Cabaret.

I've entered this world of sassiness and sexiness to uncover what makes a burlesque show tick and what makes a woman want to artfully disrobe in front of audiences of strangers. If the locker room at the West Loop Athletic Club is any example, I think it takes a very special mix of bravery and pride in one's appearance to make onstage striptease a regular thing. I spoke with five of the show's new "Coquettes," Ada Lavender, Miss Kitty Oaks, Jezebel Giselle, Valentine and Gaea Lady to try to unlock their secrets.

First and foremost, burlesque dancers can't be shy about nudity. This was a consistent theme, "Anytime that I can be naked and dancing around is good for me," said Jezebel Giselle. "I love being naked!" exclaimed Gaea Lady. It also helps to have a heaping helping of body confidence. All of the women I interviewed seemed confident and comfortable with themselves.

A love of glamor and "girliness" is also helpful for the aspiring burlesque dancer. "It was just fun to be girly and cute and also strong too," said Ada Lavender. Valentine, a professional exotic dancer, elaborated on this with her thought process in the beginning. "I've been naked before in front of tons of people, so it couldn't be too different to dress up with your friends in costumes and get glamorous."

All of the women interviewed had a strong foundation in dance. "I did ballet for 10 years growing up. I was always doing tap, lyrical, jazz...I did cheerleading for eight years," said Valentine.

Gaea Lady was also steeped in dance as a youth. "I'm trained in ballet, jazz, modern, classical bellydance, fire spinning, flag and veil, basically any dance form I can get my hands I was excited to add burlesque to the mix."

Ada Lavender had a strong dance background as well, and was inspired by the art form. "I danced a lot in my youth and I think it was going to a lot of burlesque shows and going 'Oh my gosh! Look at how powerful it is! How affirming it is to women!'" she said. "How I describe it is as a conversation between the performer and the audience rather than the audience ogling the woman or the performer. Rather than 'You're there for my pleasure,' it's the performer being in control and saying "I'm going to show you what I want when I want and you're going to like it.'"

Miss Kitty Oakes likes to "challenge people's expectations...I like having the form and structure of classical training...and then doing something that is not what they would project and see happening. It's how we live our lives, by anticipating and expecting what's going to come next and moving along that path. I like that burlesque allows you to manipulate that...Shaking up people's 'normal' is an exciting thing for me." Gaea Lady, who is a firedancer and hooper, summed up her reason for doing burlesque as "it scares me and it's the only thing that scares me onstage anymore."

Want to see the ladies in action? You can catch Kiss Kiss Cabaret's Holiday Spectacular!every Friday at 11pm at the Greenhouse Theater through December 20.

The Greenhouse Theater is at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., two blocks south of Fullerton Avenue. $15 advance tickets are available at 773-404-7336 or (Recommended for ages 18+.)

Also check out their New Year's Eve Show: The Kiss Kiss Cabaret New Year's Eve Hullabaloo burlesque show is on December 31 and begins at 9 p.m. with a pre-show food and beverage reception catered by Simply It. Included with the "NYE Hullabaloo" ticket will be a Runway Entrance with photographers, an inclusive hors d'oeuvres buffet and cash bar, a commemorative gift to remember the evening, and a midnight champagne toast. The two-hour, two-act show will culminate with a countdown and champagne toast onstage with the cast and crew and follow with a two-hour mega-dance party. Tickets are $42 or $75 a couple. See for more information.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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