In August 2014, when we noted that burlesque was returning to the stage at Cliff Bell's, we spoke with promoter Bobby Ray about his Bobby Ray's Blues & Burlesque Show. We've been covering burlesque for years, and it's always a fun scene to report on, full of funny, articulate people. You see, burlesque is a cheeky art involving plenty of slap and tickle, and it takes a pretty broad-minded sort of person to get involved.
That said, it seemed an article of faith that practitioners of burlesque tried to keep their shows sweet, soft, sexy, and suggestive, full of innuendo delivered with a wink. Burlesque promoters have told us in the past that the worlds of burlesque and "fetish performance" remain more or less discrete from each other, though they didn't put too fine a point on it.
So imagine our surprise when Bobby Ray called us up about a new show he's helping co-produce at the Hustler Club in Lincoln Park.
The show, Dom Divas Fetish Theater, however, isn't the raunchy, over-the-top, riding-the-pole sort of entertainment that prevails at most area "gentlemen's clubs." Yet it's more provocative than a fan-dancing striptease.
The hostess of the show, a buxom 27-year-old who goes by the name Jade Love, describes it more as "performance art." She says, "I wear a leather pencil skirt and I will have my chest out. But the difference between burlesque and the kind of fetish I do is I actually have crops and floggers and stuff. To kind of get the crowd going, I actually use those crops, versus burlesque, where they have their feathers and it's more of a striptease. I'm a little more hardcore even though we all keep it very classy."
Does she use the crops on the audience? Sometimes, she says. "I did the Dirty Show for six years, and normally I have a paddle. It doesn't really hurt anybody. It's just really loud. I would hang it on my belt and would hit it on my hand. At least 200 people would form a circle around me, and people would walk into middle. I would basically tell them to bend over, and then I would beat them. I have some crops and tools that are just for making a sound, and then some that will actually leave a mark. So it kind of depends on the mood. If they're drunk and telling me I'm not doing a good job, then I'll pull out the one that actually hurts. I don't want to be defied."
The former dominatrix has done burlesque before but says she's drawn to "the edgy stuff." She tells us, "My style isn't striptease burlesque. But I still think it's really awesome, and I think those outfits and the sparkles are beautiful. For some reason, I'm just drawn to the darker stuff."
And it's a good thing too for promoter Bobby Ray, who shows just as much class as he does with his blues and burlesque endeavors.
He tells us, "What we do with the Dom Divas, the whole focus is to bring a Fifty Shades of Grey type of fetish fantasy to the stage. Some nudity may be involved. And also we're looking to give a lot of local adult models and entertainers some stage performance, you know, showcase their art. Mainly it takes the form of girl-girl fetish scenes, like a routine. Most of the routines are scripted.
"I was kind of looking to see how fetish could work with a more mainstream audience. You know, it's not too provocative, 'cause I'm looking to do a more classy style of entertainment. And you have the two different audiences. You have one audience for the burlesque, another for the fetish. And a lot of the burlesque models, they won't do anything in the strip club, you know, so ... that separates the two. They're two forms of entertainment. And yet both of them involve a little fantasy, role-playing, things like that. And the Hustler Club is looking to get involved with more of the live shows, more than just the strip dancing."
In this way, Bobby Ray sees live entertainment, both burlesque and fetish, as growing niches for a promoter of his ilk.
"I think people want more of the live entertainment, you know? We do it more like a fetish theater. Maybe you don't go so far in a real theater with things like that, but, with plays like Kinky Boots, people are getting more open. People seem willing to do more exploring when it comes to their fantasies. People want to express their sexuality. And it's still taboo, but it's been becoming a little more mainstream. And that's where we're trying to go: not too raunchy, not too X-rated. Just kinda mainstream."
See domdivas.org to find out about future events.