Six Young Women Don Brassieres, Garters And Pasties To Celebrate This Art Form
By BETTINA HANSEN
October 28, 2011
Clustered in the narrow stairwell of Black-Eyed Sally's in Hartford, several young women peer nervously out the door, trying to catch a glimpse of friends and family members through heavy fake eyelashes. Hundreds of people are crammed into the small performance area, as dance music blares over loudspeakers.
'Welcome to Black-Eyed burlesque!" the emcee screams over the din of the crowd. "My name is Maddy Hatter. Don't forget it because you'll be screaming it later," she says with a wink.
Five more women in decorative brassieres and skirts saunter to the stage to a Latin beat. By the end of their cheeky dance number, with backs turned and bras removed, they reveal glittering pasties while shaking maracas to "Mucha Muchacha," and the crowd swells with catcalls.
Introducing the Beat City Beauties — known as Hartford's premier (and only) burlesque troupe.
The group of six women in their 20s and 30s formed about a year ago.
"I had seen some burlesque in New York and had some friends doing it in San Francisco," says founding member Marisa Lindsey of Hartford, or "Glam Chop," as she's known onstage.
Several women committed to the troupe, and within the first few practices they had a show booked.
"It was a Halloween show, and we were basically like, OK, I guess we have a month to figure out how to do burlesque. So we met twice a week for the whole month and put together an hour worth of material, both group and single acts," Lindsey says. "And that's how the Beat City Beauties got born."
Ashley Kraushaar of Hartford didn't know what burlesque was until the first meeting.
"So we sat down and watched a bunch of videos, and I remember … this beautiful, curvaceous woman, and she was like, stuffing money in her mouth, being disgustingly funny and weird.
"She was having a blast and everyone loved it, and I was like, 'Aha! We have to do this.'"
In the last year, the Beat City Beauties have performed from Cafe Nine in New Haven to Real Art Ways in Hartford, as well as in clubs in Massachusetts. They've collaborated with local artist Dani Arranka in a music video, and usually appear with with other groups or performers, but the Black-Eyed Sally's appearance in August was their first solo.
It's Not Stripping
Humor and storytelling are two aspects that set burlesque apart from traditional stripping, as well as the fact these women aren't making a living from their performances.
"Burlesque is theatrical striptease," Lindsey explains. "For me, the similarity sort of ends there. ... I feel like stripping is very much about being consumed by the person who is watching you, whereas I feel like in burlesque, we engage with the audience a lot. It's not like a one-way mirror. We ask for response."
The experience is very much about women, too, she says — women in the audience and on the stage.
"All of our body types are very different, so I think it is very much about celebrating that a woman can feel good about being in her own skin."
Still, membership in the group has changed several times, as the racy nature of the performance conflicts with the professional lives of the group members. Pictures on Facebook and small social circles make anonymity nearly impossible. Earlier this year, two members left because they feared negative reactions from their employers.
Lindsey decided early on to embrace the identity. "I don't go around saying, 'I'm a burlesque dancer,' but my mom knows, my family knows, my friends all know, even people I've worked with in a professional setting know. It's not something I really want to lead a double life about. ... It would be too complicated and make it less fun."
Before each show, the group meets twice a week for several hours in their practice space on Pearl Street. Outside of the group meetings, they sew, knit, thrift-shop, paint, and piece together everything seen in the show. They've become so adept at crafting pasties that they started an online store on Etsy to sell the tasseled, sequined adornments.
All of the members have backgrounds in the performing arts and work in creative fields, be it dance, music or theater, and they draw on those backgrounds to conceptualize and choreograph each act, which are like little skits set to song.
"Well, it's rewarding to be in a group of six women who didn't know each other from anything, to be able to come together and come up with these amazing ideas and these great acts," Kraushaar says.
"I think we all put a lot of effort into this because it's something that, we're growing as women doing this, and I think we all agree, that if it wasn't important to all of us, we wouldn't do it."
As things progress, the Beat City Beauties are hoping to find a place in Hartford to host a regularly scheduled performance. They are performing Friday, Oct. 28, at the New Britain Museum of American Art for its "Museum After Dark" Halloween costume party.
But there's another way to find them.
"Follow the pasties and the loud catcalls and the stupid jokes," Kraushaar says. "You'll know when we're around."
>Information: http://www.beatcitybeauties.com and facebook.com/beatcitybeauties.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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