A new era of one of the most notoriously risquÃ© 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 â€“â€“ 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 Avogadroâ€™s Number for most of the evening.
â€œIâ€™ve been telling people to start sitting in each otherâ€™s laps, and so far no oneâ€™s taken me up on it,â€ 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.
â€œAll they have to do is play eight bars of â€˜Come to Me (My Melancholy Baby),â€™ and my spine turns to custard. I get goosepimply all over,â€ she told the crowd before kicking off a gypsy-inspired song.
After the bandâ€™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 â€œto imitateâ€ or â€œto mock.â€ 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.
â€œThere were dancers who did ballet and tap and all sorts of things,â€ DiVerdi said, â€œThen you had your actors who did sketches, â€¦ (and) you had your strippers, or stripteuses as they like to be called. Burlesque encompasses all of that.â€
According to historians and biographers, these shows would eventually birth stand-up comedy and lay the foundations for the modern rock and roll tour.
â€œI think what weâ€™re trying to bring to the table is how people used to see entertainment,â€ said Holly deLite, a performer in the cabaret. â€œI think that weâ€™re so used to having entertainment fed to us through the TV and movies.â€
â€œ â€¦ I feel like this is live, to be experienced at that time â€¦ We want to bring that back.â€
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 â€œFast-Fingersâ€ Gibson, said the elaborate production transforms the atmosphere where they perform, making local entertainment extraordinary again.
â€œIt lets you see a celebrity because the girls are beautiful up there,â€ 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 â€œDream a Little Dream,â€ and a 6-foot-5-inch percussion virtuoso dressed as a cat.
White Cat Pink, who calls himself â€œthe magic white cat from the planet Saturn,â€ met the women of the Cupcake Cabaret at a Scene Magazine party.
â€œThey were all dressed up and I was dressed up. We were the only people who were in costume,â€ he said.
The glam rocker represents a different, modern type of glam culture â€“â€“ one that fits with the Cupcake Cabaretâ€™s commitment to bringing style back to everyday life.
â€œIâ€™m a practical modern woman,â€ DiVerdi said. â€œI donâ€™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 â€¦ I think we need to advocate glamour in todayâ€™s society.â€
Many in the audience at Avogadroâ€™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 Avoâ€™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 shouldnâ€™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.
â€œI got in trouble for handing out some flyers,â€ he said. â€œA professor got mad and said that the flyer was objectifying the female body â€¦ that was a drag.â€
He added, â€œBut oddly enough, Iâ€™ve noticed that there are a lot of people (at the show) who saw the posters anyway.â€
The topic of objectifying the female form is a sensitive one, but the performers donâ€™t shy away from the subject and donâ€™t think the conflict is strictly necessary.
â€œI can say for us, we like to be sexy without being explicit. We are mostly interested in the tease,â€ DiVerdi said. â€œI think thereâ€™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.â€
Midnite Martini, an aerialist, acrobat and dancer from Denver, agreed.
â€œI went to school for musical theater for years and there were a lot of body image issues, a lot of competition,â€ she said. â€œâ€¦ I went away from that and found the world of burlesque, which was so welcoming.â€
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 TouchÃ©, 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.
â€œThe big fantasy is to open a real performance venue in Fort Collins,â€ DiVerdi said, â€œHow cool would that be, to actually open â€œThe Cupcake Cabaret?â€
Staff writer Lincoln Greenhaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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