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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


Bump and Grind, Southern Style:
New Orleans' Shim Shamettes

by Alison Fensterstock

Photo © Jorge Bastille

Excess. That was the zeitgeist of the 1950s in America. From the voluptuous, bubbly shape of cars to Vegas as the vacation hotspot to pinups like Monroe and Mansfield, the U.S. of A. was busting out all over. And nothing captured the mood better than the surging popularity of the entertainment industry's most flamboyant, ostentatious and fabulously over-the-top niche: burlesque.

Burlesque was a genre unlike any other; its stars were queens of sexy excess, featured alongside Hollywood's most glamorous starlets in movies and "photography" magazines.

Their dancing was backed by the top names in jazz and the nightclubs where they performed were palaces of theatrical splendor, frequented by business moguls, politicians and film stars. And now? Now, it would seem, the heirs to the tradition are a travesty: bored, assembly-line beauties shaking their silicone for straight cash in joints near the airport or on seedy side streets, with little enthusiasm and less talent. But as the rest of America yawns into the 21st century, one group of gals is bringing back the lost art of strip seduction. Down in New Orleans, they are always at the very forefront in terms of vice. And down in New Orleans, they have the Shim Shamettes.

Photo © Jorge Bastille

During the Golden Age of burlesque, when bawdy beauties like Lilly Christine and Tempest Storm launched a thousand cheap pinup magazines, New Orleans was the the seething hotbed of the art of striptease. Since its inception, this cosmopolitan port city has been a playground for luxe living, sin and sedition. And down on Bourbon Street, at least back then, decadence and frivolity had class, when jazzmen played and ladies danced raunchy, all in the very height of style.

The Shim Shamettes are deliberately harkening back to that feeling of saucy glamour.

Photo © Mick Vovers

The Shim Sham Club and Juke Joint, the New Orleans spot that is their home base, in fact, was named after a 1940s nightclub owned by Louis Prima's brother, which boasted its own Shim Shamettes Revue of dancing ladies. (Appropriately, the new club's opening show featured a performance by Sam Butera, who had frequently packed the original Shim Sham back in the day.) Their show isn't strictly 1950s; they do a '60s go-go number and some just plain sexy little ensemble pieces. But in creating their production, the Shim Shamettes capture the feeling of burlesque to a T, exulting in the sexy, theatrical eroticism that celebrates women and makes naked ladies even more fun than they already are.

Photo © Jorge Bastille

Lorelei Fuller, the group's director and producer, is a longtime aficionado of classic burlesque and a collector of memorabilia as well as a formally trained dancer. She brings her passion and knowledge together with her talents to create, along with co-choreographer Nina Bozak, a tight, polished show that is as much a lush and erotic spectacle as a performance straight from the glory days of striptease. The idea for the Shim Shamettes Beauty Chorus was something Fuller and Bozak (alter ego: bombshell Nina "Boom Boom" Boomavitch) had been planning for some time, and with the opening  of the Shim Sham Club less than a year ago, the girls finally had a runway to call home. The revue boasts elaborate routines complete with comedy and stage sets to make each number a theatrical skit. What's more, the group is backed by a live eight-piece jazz band onstage, the Shim Sham Revue, whose musicians have played with acts like Pete Fountain, Dr. John, and Little Richard (a burlesque queen in his own right).

Photo © Jorge Bastille

The secret of the beauty of old burlesque is in the details; these girls don't just wiggle and show skin for three naked minutes, swinging on a pole to flash their goodies. The real appeal of burlesque glamour is in the talent, the presentation and the pure celebration of the female form. Modern go-go dancers can present your standard fashion mag body type; a striptease artist--and this title befits each and every Shim Shamette--can lure, tease, play and perform in a way that celebrates and presents women of a wide range of body types as saucy, glamorous, and simply fabulous. So feast your eyes; do a little New Orleans siteseeing, and make the Shim Shamettes your date for Valentine's Day.

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