Burlesque is Back

Photos courtesy of Jenny Weinbloom
Photo by Roberto Hull

Jenny Weinbloom was shaking in her heels as she approached the stage of Original Sin in Brooklyn, N.Y. three years ago. She could barely see out of her fluttering fake eyelashes into the crowd of 15 to 20 middle-aged men. The sweat that covered her skin suddenly shined in the spotlight when the glittering pieces of her costume fell to floor – as did the drippings of purple body paint meant to transform her into Ursula the sea witch.  She was down to panties and pasties. One popped off; a “nipple slip” at her first show.

Weinbloom was sure that she would never take the burlesque stage again.

“Everything went wrong,” she said. “But I was still so excited by the idea that I couldn’t let it go.”

Weinbloom, 21, now said she is “ridiculously excited” about reviving her first act as a duet with adult film actress Justine Joli (who will play Ariel), with costumes including custom-made latex tentacles and fins. With the help of Alpha Psi Ecdysia (APE), Weinbloom gained the sense of community that she needed to be able to shed both her fears and her clothing – a closeness that she’s hoping to bring back by reviving the campus troupe after a one-year hiatus.

A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., Weinbloom transferred to the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz in Spring 2008 from New York University. She was exposed to the city’s neo-burlesque scene during the time she spent at her first college, attending show clubs like the Slipper Room and the Box.

Photo by Robert Hull

Weinbloom said she was attracted to this branch of the art form because it was more than “a pretty girl taking off a pretty gown” during a performance. To Weinbloom, burlesque is about making an artistic statement, thinking about the “tease” of “striptease.” She said the act of shedding one’s clothing can also be a freeing way to accept one’s body for the way it is.

“What makes New York burlesque unique is that it is politically subversive,” Weinbloom said. “There is this prevailing idea that people should accept whatever sexuality they may have.”

Other students became interested in burlesque when Weinbloom began talking about her exposure to it in New York before arriving at SUNY New Paltz. A group of about 15 students welcomed Jo Boobs Weldon, the headmistress of New York School of Burlesque, to the area for a workshop. Four weeks later, the same group put on a show of their own as APE.

The group, which has exceeded 75 participants, has attracted others newcomers.

“I wish I had been here for that first workshop, but I am so glad they continued on to form the group,” said third-year undeclared student Kim Kelly, a member of APE. “I owe those girls for the great experiences I have had with burlesque.”

According to Weinbloom, she and the other members of APE received a generally positive response from parents, classmates and others in the community after they began performing. Parents have cried after seeing their children perform; Weinbloom’s parents make it to every show they can.

The group also had little to no trouble requesting funding from the Student Activities office at SUNY New Paltz, according to Weinbloom. The office’s director, Michael Patterson, has watched APE perform, discussing what he felt were the messages behind several acts with performers afterward.

However, the performers did receive some opposition. Weinbloom said several female professors have expressed their disapproval, with one professor telling her that she was turning female students that were like daughters to her into “stripper trash.”

Weinbloom said she considers burlesque a very progressively feminist act, one that older women may not understand.

“Feminism has changed a lot over the past 50 years, and I think there are a lot of women who are still stuck in this sort of

Photo by Lauren Peralta

old-school, academic feminism,” she said. “They have not made a lot of room in their minds for progress within the realm.”

In spite of her detractors, Weinbloom continues to book, produce and perform in shows on campus and around the country.

Several of the original members of APE travel and perform as a professional troupe, which will soon be using the name Rhinestone Gorilla Burlesque to differentiate themselves from their collegiate colleagues. Taking the stage in New York, N.Y., Boston, Mass., Los Angeles, Calif., Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, the professional group has been paid to put on similar performances to those rehearsed in Parker Theater at SUNY New Paltz.

Weinbloom said she will continue to produce burlesque shows and perform after graduating in December with an interdisciplinary degree in performance studies. She is also getting involved in producing other kinds of theatre off-Broadway, such as circus-style performances and other sorts of avant-garde, downtown, variety acts.

On campus, Weinbloom hopes to revive the sense of community shared by the original group after the long hiatus. With two shows booked in McKenna Theater this fall, she hopes to bring the group closer together again.

Kelly said she couldn’t have been more excited that Weinbloom revived the student group this year.

“I love Jenny and I am so grateful that burlesque is back,” she said. “It gives me the chance to use my imagination on stage.”

Weinbloom encourages men and women of all shapes, sizes and personalities to think about burlesque. She feels her work in the field has helped challenge social dialogue about what it means to be beautiful and sexy, and that this is all she can ask for as someone who once struggled with her own body image.

“I think most women and men who are called to burlesque are not or were not traditionally attractive,” she said. “But through burlesque, we can be ourselves – magnified by 1,000.”

APE will be hosting another burlesque workshop on Oct. 9 at 11 a.m. in Parker Theater, when Weldon will return to campus to work with participants of all genders, majors and dance backgrounds. The troupe will take the stage for this first time this semester on Oct. 22, a Halloween show entitled “Alpha Psi Ecdysia: Invasion of the Booby Snatchers” to be held at 8 p.m. in McKenna Theater. Weinbloom said those interested in becoming involved with the group should e-mail AlphaPsiEcdysia@gmail.com.