The art of the tease

The ladies (and gentlemen) of Best of the Midwest Burlesk serve up a striptease with a wink.

Minne Tonka helps make the Midwest best in Burlesque.

Minne Tonka helps make the Midwest best in Burlesque. PHOTO COURTESY MINNIE TONKA

by Kara Nesvig

Best of Midwest Burlesk WHEN: Jan. 28-30 WHERE: Varsity Theater (Thursday)/The Ritz Theater (Friday-Saturday) WHEN: 9 p.m. âÄî Thursday/7 & 10 p.m. âÄî Friday-Saturday Burlesque, just like its dancers, is having a long, drawn-out moment in the spotlight. Before the Pussycat Dolls were a third-rate girl group, they were a posse of glamorous burlesque dancers who took the stage at nightclubs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and invited celebrities like Gwen Stefani and the late Brittany Murphy to join in on their sexy (but not skanky) fun and games. Throwback superstar Dita von Teese has based an entire career on writhing around in a champagne glass, and currently Christina Aguilera and Cher are in the midst of filming a movie called, what else, âÄúBurlesque .âÄù In the local sphere, Minneapolis just happens to be home to a thriving troupe, the ladies of LiliâÄôs Burlesque, who will be celebrating the time-honored tradition of the striptease at The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival. So what makes the movement, often thought of as a relic of the past, so popular? Nadine Dubois âÄî LiliâÄôs emcee and narrator for the festival âÄî finds the burlesque revival a tribute to the innocence of the past. âÄúItâÄôs an antidote to the in-your-face sexuality now, and thereâÄôs a journey and a connection between the audience and the performer.âÄù The festival, now in its third year, showcases not only local talent, like the ladies from LiliâÄôs, but also spans the nation. âÄúItâÄôs awesome because youâÄôre seeing a huge variety of performers,âÄù said Dubois. TheyâÄôll be coming from all corners of the country, St. Louis to Minneapolis. âÄúWeâÄôve got the Queen of Carnaval from San Francisco. WeâÄôre paying tribute to an art form of the past,âÄù Dubois said. One performer comes to us from New York City, but her roots are right here in the Twin Cities. Minnie Tonka, so named in honor of her Midwestern heritage, told A&E she plans to do a âÄúMary Tyler Moore âÄù themed act. She didnâÄôt want to give away the surprise, but like any good burlesque girl delights in the excitement a good tease can bring. LiliâÄôs performer Gina Louise, who was an English teacher before retiring to perform burlesque and choreograph on the side, finds the practice âÄúsmart and sexy.âÄù âÄúWhen something is intelligent itâÄôs always more interesting,âÄù she says. âÄúItâÄôs power.âÄù This year, the festival boasts not only scantily clad ladies who can shimmy, shake, tease and titillate with the best of them, but âÄúboylesqueâÄù (a male version), drag kings and vaudeville performers, too. In total, 75 performers will take the stage in any number of acts. The festival runs through five nights as to best pack in all the pasties and feather fans the burlesque enthusiast can handle.