Mar 102010
Authors: Lincoln Greenhaw

A new era of one of the most notoriously risqué traditions in American history has begun right here in Fort Collins.

The attraction: an old school variety show featuring a bellowing ringmaster, musical acts, acrobats and elaborately dressed dancing girls –– a burlesque.

And the first self-produced performance of the Cupcake Cabaret was a good one Saturday night with a line that snaked out the door of Avogadro’s Number for most of the evening.

“I’ve been telling people to start sitting in each other’s laps, and so far no one’s taken me up on it,” said Julia DiVerdi, a dancer and one of the founders of the Cupcake Cabaret.

At the center of the chaos, singer Alana Rolfe of the band Stella Luce looked coy while lip-synching to a song played over the sound system.

“All they have to do is play eight bars of ‘Come to Me (My Melancholy Baby),’ and my spine turns to custard. I get goosepimply all over,” she told the crowd before kicking off a gypsy-inspired song.

After the band’s set, a man with mutton chop sideburns and an Elvis Presley haircut jumped onstage to whip the audience into a roar.

Bringing back the tradition of burlesque

To some, the word burlesque is synonymous with striptease. But the word means “to imitate” or “to mock.” It was originally applied to the artform because of its mockery of the operas and the upper class of 1800s.

Arguably the first American counter-culture, burlesque in the 1900s grew into vaudeville variety shows of the East Coast, which were all-inclusive evenings of entertainment for masses of working people.

Modern Burlesque is to a strip club like Billie Holiday is to Kid Rock.

“There were dancers who did ballet and tap and all sorts of things,” DiVerdi said, “Then you had your actors who did sketches, … (and) you had your strippers, or stripteuses as they like to be called. Burlesque encompasses all of that.”

According to historians and biographers, these shows would eventually birth stand-up comedy and lay the foundations for the modern rock and roll tour.

“I think what we’re trying to bring to the table is how people used to see entertainment,” said Holly deLite, a performer in the cabaret. “I think that we’re so used to having entertainment fed to us through the TV and movies.”

“ … I feel like this is live, to be experienced at that time … We want to bring that back.”

Leading in a new sense of variety and fashion

The Cupcake Cabaret embodies the variety of the burlesque style.

The ringleader, a master of ceremonies of sorts, Jimmy “Fast-Fingers” Gibson, said the elaborate production transforms the atmosphere where they perform, making local entertainment extraordinary again.

“It lets you see a celebrity because the girls are beautiful up there,” he said.

Their latest show featured a sensual acrobat who threw sparks from her hands, a chorus girl covered in silver and rhinestones who whistled a jazz solo to “Dream a Little Dream,” and a 6-foot-5-inch percussion virtuoso dressed as a cat.

White Cat Pink, who calls himself “the magic white cat from the planet Saturn,” met the women of the Cupcake Cabaret at a Scene Magazine party.

“They were all dressed up and I was dressed up. We were the only people who were in costume,” he said.

The glam rocker represents a different, modern type of glam culture –– one that fits with the Cupcake Cabaret’s commitment to bringing style back to everyday life.

“I’m a practical modern woman,” DiVerdi said. “I don’t need to take two hours to get ready to leave my house, but sometimes I like to take two hours to get ready to leave my house … I think we need to advocate glamour in today’s society.”

Many in the audience at Avogadro’s looked as if they were a part of a traditional supper club, watching Frank Sinatra and sipping sophisticated drinks among the rotating stage lights.

But if it was burlesque in that room between Avo’s bar and dining room, it was burlesque updated for the 21st century.

Burlesque: empowering or controversial?

Burlesque personifies the sense of making boring, or even hopeless situations magical, affecting the lives of working class people, even in Depression-era cities.

The members of the Cupcake Cabaret agreed such magic shouldn’t be a rarity in everyday life.

Despite the enchanted spectacle, the recipe for burlesque calls for two parts rebellion to one part style, as White Cat Pink was reminded recently during a trip to the CSU campus.

“I got in trouble for handing out some flyers,” he said. “A professor got mad and said that the flyer was objectifying the female body … that was a drag.”

He added, “But oddly enough, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people (at the show) who saw the posters anyway.”

The topic of objectifying the female form is a sensitive one, but the performers don’t shy away from the subject and don’t think the conflict is strictly necessary.

“I can say for us, we like to be sexy without being explicit. We are mostly interested in the tease,” DiVerdi said. “I think there’s a lot of people like us who find it very invigorating and very embracing of all body types, and just a really comfortable, empowering thing to do.”

Midnite Martini, an aerialist, acrobat and dancer from Denver, agreed.

“I went to school for musical theater for years and there were a lot of body image issues, a lot of competition,” she said. “… I went away from that and found the world of burlesque, which was so welcoming.”

Despite the sometimes-controversial nature of the shows, all Cupcake Cabaret performers were optimistic about the future of burlesque in Colorado.

Midnite Martini, fellow performer Fanny Spankings, and two Denver-based burlesque dancers, Lola Spitfire and Honey Touché, will be hosting the first ever Colorado Burlesque Festival, which is set to run July 8 through July 11 in Denver.

The Fort Collins dancers, however, also have showbiz ambitions for their hometown.

“The big fantasy is to open a real performance venue in Fort Collins,” DiVerdi said, “How cool would that be, to actually open “The Cupcake Cabaret?”

Staff writer Lincoln Greenhaw can be reached at

See their next performance

What: The Cupcake Cabaret Student Recital and Studio Open House

When: March 26, 7:45 p.m.

Where: Canyon Concert Dance Center South
4103 S. Mason St.

Cost: Free admission

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