The Art of Tease
The New Mexico Burlesque Showcase takes it off at the KiMo Theatre
Picture her in five-inch heels, a sequined vintage outfit, stalking a stage in Albuquerque, maybe a bar, maybe a theater, maybe a movie house. She’s brash and bossy. She gets in your face, bats her eyelashes and the fans she’s holding. She plays with you, torments you, teasing.
This is Kitty Irreverent, a part of Albuquerque’s burlesque community, which has withstood the test of a few years, proving it wasn’t just a passing, kitschy trend but a full-on revivalist movement.
She’s never fully nude, so for Kitty, it’s all about the costumes. “If you’re going from something to nearly nothing, what you’re taking off needs to be really pretty interesting to capture people’s attention,” she says. The transformation for this pseudo punk-rock tomboy—a makeup-free CNM student by day, donning jeans, a worn black hoodie and steel toes—must be something to see. Her speaking voice is quiet and low, hesitant and shy, until she’s talking burlesque. “It’s our first dabble in public nudity being acceptable, but in such an innocent way as compared to now. It’s a pretty neat little chapter of history,” she says.
Kitty saw a special on burlesque one Sunday morning when she was 14 or 15 years old. Though she’d taken ballet lessons as a kid, the mindset just wasn’t for her. But here were beautiful, curvaceous women being rebellious through sexuality. “I was like, ‘That’s so neat. I can be a dancer, and I can be bad.” As Kitty tells the tale, her voice grows in volume. “I admired the glamor of it, and I admired the showmanship of it, and it wasn’t just a half naked chick on a pole. There was an art to it.”
She was hooked. Months back, Kitty put out an open invitation. Who among New Mexico’s handful of burly-q troupes would be willing to take the stage for a showcase?
The bill boasts an all-star lineup: September Smith, who performs striptease hanging from a circus hoop; Burlesque Noir, a troupe of performers that touts multi-girl choreographed numbers to modern music; Ms. Irreverent herself, with a retro tribute; and Cookie Fortune, a comedic performer from the meticulously classic Bella Donna Burlesque Review.
The polish? Organizers managed to commandeer what Cookie Fortune considers a proper venue, the KiMo Theatre. “One of the late great burlesque performers, Sally Rand , performed on that stage,” she says.
Like Kitty, Cookie’s stage persona stands in contrast to her personality. “When I’m Cookie Fortune, I don’t care about that other stuff,” she says. “It’s like wearing a mask. You feel a lot more confident.” She’s “office woman” by day and something else entirely by night.
The confidence the medium affords her is immeasurable. She recalls her first performance, so nervous she didn’t think she breathed the entire time. But the neo-burlesque movement is dominated by women who are not the norm of beauty, she says. Burlesque encourages women to be confident in their bodies. “I’ve come to terms with the way I look,” she says, “and who I am. I’m extraordinarily happy. That has been one of the major things that this whole experience has given me.”
Cookie’s learned a few things about sexiness, too. For instance, a little comedy goes a long way. “When someone is trying to be sexy, it doesn’t necessarily always come across sexy. But when you’re trying to be funny, sometimes it is sexy.”
Nowadays, Cookie’s mostly worried about the little things—her music getting screwed up, costume malfunctions. Removing clothes is the least of her worries. “I’ve learned that if you’re confident and at least act like you know what you’re doing, the audience won’t question it.”