The raucous tradition of burlesque—with its dance style combining choreographed numbers and striptease—calls to mind turn-of-the-century entrepreneurs like the Minsky brothers, provided the launching ground for performers like Abbott & Costello, and produced luminous visions like the famed Dee Milo. But it’s not just a relic of the past.
Among the neo-burlesque groups keeping this tradition alive is Utah’s Slippery Kittens dance troupe, whose MySpace page cheerfully notes, “We are a group of choreographed sultry sinners with a cuddly, kittenish quality.” The current members (founder Lorrie Ann, Nina La Taunt, Dia Diabolique, Wicked Lee Devine, Mia O’Mya, Mary Miss & Mona Moore) have managed to sashay their way into the hearts (and other regions) of audiences fortunate enough to catch their act. On the success that has allowed them to reach their one-year anniversary this month, Moore explains, “I think that it is very classy in a kitschy way, and there’s nothing naughty about it. It exudes confidence and glamour.” She adds with a laugh, “Plus, there are beads and feathers!”
The members of Slippery Kittens each took different paths before finding their way into the group. Some, like Nina, had performed in burlesque before. “I started doing burlesque dancing at Zanzibar three years ago with the other cocktail waitresses” Nina recalled. “My friend Tenile pushed me into doing it, and after I got over my nervousness I fell in love with it.”
Others, like Mona Moore, had a more traditional dancing background that translated into burlesque. “I used to do modern dance when I lived in L.A.,” said Mona “and I would also work as a go-go dancer for clubs on the side.”
But the members would eventually form after a casting call by Lorrie Ann. An Arizona native who has brought her talents to jobs from teaching jazz and tap to performing in gentlemen’s clubs, she says, “I had the idea three or four years ago, but could never find the time.” But forefront in her mind, Lorrie said, “I though to myself, ‘There has got to be something more that I can offer here in Utah than what’s in the gentlemen clubs.’”
As her other projects subsided, in July of last year she placed an ad in SLUG magazine for tryouts. “I had over 20 to 25 girls come out, and then managed to come up with 13 for the final group,” she recalls. While some would leave for various reasons, a dedicated core of seven remains today.
For first-time viewers of the Slippery Kittens burlesque shows, the thing that stands out is the level of choreography that each skit offers, but there is a sense of modernity. Among the dance routines, Nina performs a cabaret-style number that evokes memories of old-school Hollywood glamour; Wicked Lee, meanwhile, does a humorous magic show/striptease set to The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
“We try to be as innovative as possible, and put a spin on the old,” Lorrie says, “But we keep as much within the realm of the burlesque feel.”
Each of the girls proudly states that she takes the time to not only go over the choreography for each show, but also to create the necessary costumes and props to go with each set. “I’m sort of the prop queen,” says Nina, “because I try to put as much glamour as I can into each performance.”
Sometimes the humor can come out during a routine’s … wardrobe malfunction. Mary Miss told of a particular issue during a “Jailhouse Rock” number. “We had these great jailhouse costumes, and I had trouble with these rip-away pants,” she said with a laugh. “I could not, for the life of me, get these pants off. So I’m hopping around onstage [during the routine] in heels, trying to get these pants off me. I finally get them off and I just fling them off into the crowd!”
However, burlesque dancing is not the same thing as stripping in a gentlemen’s club. As Lorrie explains, “Stripping, as I see it, is an art form. But the style is more simplistic, with the outcome being to get out of your clothes quickly. … [Burlesque] is more complex; there are costumes and dance numbers.”
Dia notes, “There is a lot of humor in burlesque that I don’t see in the strip joints. In Minsky’s day, burlesque and stripping were the same thing. Times have changed. I see burlesque as a form of performance art. … I believe burlesque is all about charisma, charm and confidence. If you have the 3 C’s, you’ve got what it takes to be an ‘a-peeling’ temptress.”
Since their inception last year, response to the Slippery Kittens has been phenomenal, including a November fund-raiser at Club Suede. Most interesting has been the type of audience coming to their shows. “Over half our audience has been women coming to our shows,” said Moore, “and the response to our shows has been extremely positive.”
With their anniversary show in August, and other upcoming projects, the Kittens future looks especially bright. Says Nina, “We gonna keep doing it until the day we die!”
SLIPPERY KITTENS BURLESQUE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY Bar Deluxe, 666 S. State, Friday Aug. 17, 10 p.m.