Interview with a burlesque dancer
Recently, a new burlesque group started shaking it up -- and taking it off -- in Milwaukee. The group, called the Alley Cat Revue, is an extension of a group in St. Louis with the same name.
Bella Sue DeVianti moved to Brew City from St. Louis -- where she was a part of The Alley Cat Revue -- to start the group here. Recently, the Milwaukee burlesque troupe road tripped to St. Louis to perform with the original group.
We tracked down Ava Von Sweets, also in the Alley Cat Revue, and asked her about the playfully bawdy life of a burlesque dancer. Meow.
OnMilwaukee.com: How many girls are in the Alley Cat Revue?
Ava Von Sweets: There are four local girls in the group: me, Bella Sue DeVianti, Vee Valentine and Raven Nevermore. We're looking for more (girls to participate). At our shows, we intend on always having a featured performer from somewhere else to perform with us.
OMC: Nice stage names. Any chance you can divulge your real name?
AVS: No, I really can't. I have a professional day job and I do not want my employer or clients to know about this aspect of my life.
OMC: How did you get started in burlesque? What is your performance and dance background?
AVS: I have always had a fascination with dancing around in sequin outfits. I started taking dance lessons when I was 5, and continued in grade school years. I was a cheerleader all throughout high school. I guess I've always liked the stage and performing.
I started taking a real interest in burlesque when I saw a reality show about Ivan Kaye's Forty Deuce, a burlesque club in L.A. and Las Vegas. I visited both the L.A. and Las Vegas club and was enamored by the entire show. I wanted to be one of the girls on stage. I also saw a Pontani Sisters show in New York and am very influenced by them as well.
OMC: Will you briefly describe a show?
AVS: So far we've had shows where each girl does two or three performances / routines / songs throughout the night. We've also incorporated some magic acts and plan to incorporate more non-burlesque performers to round it out and give the audience a little variety.
We have an emcee who plays with the crowd and introduces the girls. We break it up into two acts, with an intermission in between. Our first two shows have been at Stonefly Brewery and we have two more scheduled there.
OMC: Any nudity? What do you wear?
AVS: There's partial nudity. Most of the girls get down to underwear-like bottoms -- sometimes thongs -- and pasties. Not every performance will end with that, but that would be the bare minimum.
We all make and design our own costumes using lingerie, swimsuits, costume pieces, feathers, sequins, rhinestones, gloves, feather boas, fishnets and high heels. I recently did a German routine wearing a beer maiden outfit, dancing to a traditional march and serving beer and pretzels.
OMC: What is the purpose of your performances? What do you like about being in a burlesque group?
AVS: I think the main purpose is entertainment. We just want people to enjoy it and have a good time while we're enjoying it. I like being in the group because I like to entertain people and be on stage. I guess I've always been a ham for an audience. It's exciting to be up there and to be able to get a positive reaction from the audience. It makes me feel good when I know people are into it and enjoying it.
OMC: Have you lived in Milwaukee your whole life? What else do you do?
AVS: I moved here five years ago. I'm originally from Illinois. I have a full-time job as a graphic designer as well.
OMC: Does burlesque require a certain body type?
AVS: I don't think so. I have seen burlesque performed by women with all kinds of body shapes. Yes, I can understand that some people might prefer to see a certain physique over another, but people have all different tastes and burlesque can accommodate that. I believe you just have to know how to work with what you've got.
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