A downstairs theater in the basement of Casa Mezcal in the lower part of the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City houses a weekly burlesque show every Thursday evening. Last night, I went to see my dear, old friend, the very talented and very beautiful Hazel Honeysuckle, (also known to some as "The Delicate Flower of Burlesque") performing in Mr. Choade's Upstairs/Downstairs burlesque show. She is almost a Bettie Page reincarnate, and her newest act, a mythical Tahitian-esque Islander, borderline cannibal, seductively removes the articles of her own costume while she dominates her human slave, played by Lucille T. Amore. As co-founder of the Rhinestone Follies, New York's only all-classic burlesque troupe, Hazel also constantly shows her wide range of styles in her performances, not limiting herself to either just classic burlesque or the more modern approach (satirical, funny, and off-beat).
Last night's performance (of three separate acts) included other traditional burlesque dancers (also performance artists) such as Bunny Love (a frontrunner in the resurgence of the NY Burlesque scene), comedians, hula hoopers, contortionists, puppets, wrestling and acts that were there for the shock value (think a gross Neti Pot interpretation involving a teapot and a shoe...). Burlesque is often misunderstood and compared to stripping, which yes, there are elements of stripping, however burlesque is an art form for all body types to express themselves as they wish in the means that they wish to do so. Pasties or no pasties? Topless? Fringe? Feathers? Props? Singing and cabaret? It is all up to the performer, the theme of the show, and the comfort level of the dancer. And the audience is not there to shove dollar bills in these girls' thongs - often made up of groups of friends of both sexes, audience members are sometimes part of the performance (dancers move off of the stage and break that fourth wall that everyone is always so afraid of). I wouldn't say this is a family show, by no means, but there is an element of artistry in these shows that you could never find anywhere else. Of course, sometimes that feeling of borderline uneasiness along with the MC's jokes that just went too far across the line are just what everyone is looking for on a Thursday night.
I don't think I would ever have the guts to get up on stage in front of complete strangers and take my clothes off to an elaborately choreographed tease, however I'm sure trying something along those lines would be great for my selective stage freight. And being in New York City, it should come with no shock that there is a New York School of Burlesque. Maybe with enough glasses of champagne in me, I might try this one day...maybe...
Hazel Honeysuckle performs regularly throughout New York City - be sure to check her out at one of her upcoming shows!