WBEZ | Karen Abbott http://www.wbez.org/tags/karen-abbott Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Exposing the world’s most famous burlesque dancer http://www.wbez.org/story/1930s/exposing-world%E2%80%99s-most-famous-burlesque-dancer <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//gypsy photo 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Burlesque dancers from around the region converge in Minneapolis this weekend for the <a href="http://midwestburlesk.com/midwestburlesk.com/Home.html">Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival</a>. Chicago performers Ray Gunn, Rhonda Vous and Siren Jinx are among those shaking, shimmy-ing, twirling and teasing their way to glory.</p> <div>In honor of the event we&rsquo;re taking a look back at the woman who was once saluted by Eleanor Roosevelt with a bawdy, &ldquo;May your bare ass always be shining!&rdquo; This would be the world&rsquo;s most famous burlesque dancer, the one who pioneered the art form back in its early days - Gypsy Rose Lee.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Lee made a name for herself during the Depression, but she isn&rsquo;t just a dusty historical figure to the men and women gathering this weekend. Local burlesque expert Franky Vivid said in an email that Gypsy Rose Lee is &ldquo;pretty much universally adored by the modern dancers.&nbsp;In fact, she's regarded as probably the top star in our community. Until Gypsy, there really had not been a mainstream burlesque star.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Vivid runs Chicago-based <a href="http://studiolamour.com/">Studio L&rsquo;amour</a> with wife <a href="http://michellelamour.com/">Michelle L&rsquo;amour</a>, a renowned dancer who won burlesque&rsquo;s top prize in 2005. In addition to running <a href="http://chicagostarlets.com/">their own troupe</a> the couple offers classes and has taught thousands of women and many men the art of the striptease. &nbsp;He argues that you can still see Lee&rsquo;s influence in the work of contemporary burlesque dancers like his wife. &ldquo;A good thing that Gypsy left us is that intelligence and cleverness are transcendently sexy,&rdquo; says Vivid. &ldquo;Another world famous performer, Trixie Little, said recently in an interview that Michelle had the ability to perform the dirtiest stripper moves and make you feel smart for watching.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>On the other hand, Vivid argues, Lee helped spark the notion that each dancer must have some trick or gimmick to distinguish her from the stripping masses. This idea was <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFRSawe33sA">put into song</a> in the musical <em>Gypsy</em>, a fictionalized adaptation of Lee&rsquo;s 1957 memoir. The 1962 film version starred Natalie Wood as ingénue Louise whose infamously aggressive stage mother &ldquo;Mama Rose,&rdquo; played by Bette Midler in the 1993 version, pushes her to become burlesque dancer Gypsy despite her shyness and hesitation. As Louise is nudged into her first routine, a gaggle of dancers backstage rattle off their own gimmicks, which include playing a bugle, wearing Christmas tree lights and flapping butterfly wings. &ldquo;I often find myself saying, &lsquo;Here's a gimmick - be talented!&rsquo; Vivid recounts, explaining why he hates this mentality. &ldquo;There's got to be some cake under the icing.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>In real life &ldquo;Mama Rose&rdquo; was an abusive, calculating figure who blackmailed her daughter more than once, and Lee was a one-time prostitute who ran with the mob. &ldquo;A lot of the girls today think that the old burlesque was all glamorous and cheeky,&rdquo; says Vivid. &ldquo;But the truth is that much of it was dodgy, talentless and often criminal.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That secret history is chronicled in Karen Abbott&rsquo;s new biography of Lee, <em>American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare</em>. Abbott is also known for <em>Sin in the Second City</em>, her historical exploration of an infamous Chicago brothel. She spoke to an audience at <a href="http://www.newberry.org/">The Newberry Library</a> just after what would have been Lee&rsquo;s 100th birthday, and shared some delicious tidbits from Lee&rsquo;s life story. Check out the audio excerpt of Abbott&rsquo;s talk above, and if you can&rsquo;t make it to Minneapolis this weekend, you can check out Michelle L&rsquo;amour&rsquo;s <a href="http://frankyvivid.bluedomino.com/ML3/ML3-shows.html">upcoming Valentine&rsquo;s Day performances</a> or the <a href="http://www.windycityburlesquefest.com/">Windy City Burlesque Festival</a> in March.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div><a href="../../../../../../series/dynamic-range"><em>Dynamic Range</em></a><em> showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Karen Abbott spoke to an audience at </em><a href="http://www.newberry.org/"><em>The Newberry Library</em></a><em> earlier this month. Click </em><a href="../../../../../../story/culture/books/american-rose-nation-laid-bare-life-and-times-gypsy-rose"><em>here</em></a><em> to hear her talk in its entirety, and click </em><a target="_blank" href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/wbez/id364380278"><em>here</em></a><em> to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast.</em></div></p> Fri, 28 Jan 2011 22:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/1930s/exposing-world%E2%80%99s-most-famous-burlesque-dancer