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Posted:  |  Updated: 11/27/13 EST

The Powerful World Of New York's Neo-Burlesque Dancers (NSFW)

Burlesque dance is the perfect marriage of vaudevillian spectacle and striptease. The term itself dates as far back as the 16th century, but the act as we know it is a 20th century phenomenon, marked by elaborate costumes, satirical performances and many, many tassles.

The evolution of the practice -- one that has, in the past, involved demure soubrettes and "cooch" dances -- has even garnered a new moniker. Contemporary stars like Dita Von Tesse and World Famous BOB are icons of Neo-Burlesque, a craft that boomed in the 1990s with its edgier ensembles, gender-bending tendencies and oft-political undertones. It's this particular brand of performance that attracted the lens of New York-based photographer Leland Bobbe.


World Famous BOB

Bobbe was intrigued by the "realness and grittiness" of the New York Neo-Burlesque scene in particular. But after a bit of research, he noticed that photographs of the risqué performers were typically shot during performances, backstage in behind-the-scenes photographs or in the posed, pin-up style. There were no traditional portraits of the men and women who populated the NYC clubs and theaters; photographs that revealed the individuals behind the song and dance of it all.

So Bobbe embarked on his own project, a collection of around 100 portraits, simply titled "Neo-Burlesque."


Dottie Lux

"Burlesque in New York City tends to be very performance art oriented as opposed to the more traditional 'fan dance' burlesque. It’s more about delivering a message or telling a story than it is about revealing a perfect body." Bobbe explained in an email to The Huffington Post. "There is also a DIY aspect to Neo-Burlesque that I like very much. The concept, the music, the costuming... it’s all up to the individual performer."

Standing before the camera, Bobbe's subjects gaze into the camera, forgoing the movement and dynamism of their performances to stand bare (emotionally and otherwise). While their costumes often remain overtly sensual and provocative, their striking poses reveal the darker side of Neo-Burlesque we crave. Behold, 12 Neo-Burlesque stars of New York:


Evil Hate Monkey


Ms. Tickle

cheelie lane

Cheekie Lane

perle noir

Perle Noir

nasy canasta

Nasty Canasta

little brooklyn

Little Brooklyn


Madam Rosebud



velocity chyaldd

Velocity Chyaldd

boo bess

Boo Bess

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • GiGi La Femme

    Known for: Producing and occasionally performing in "<a href="" target="_hplink">Revealed</a>," a fully nude show in Manhattan's East Village. The risque creation became such a hit, the New York Times <a href="" target="_hplink">bid La Femme a pointed farewell</a> when the slower rhythms of Nashville, and a nice man, came calling. Signature act: Performing as <a href="" target="_hplink">her sci-fi doppleganger Princess Leia</a>. Based in: Nashville

  • The World Famous *BOB*

    Known for: Playing with gender. From her <a href="" target="_hplink">Robert Smith-inspired stage name</a> to her self-billing as a "<a href="" target="_hplink">female-female impersonator</a>", WFB has a genius for avoiding pigeon holes. She even <a href="" target="_hplink">made a living as a drag queen</a> at one point, despite not needing any drag to be a woman. That's what we call a can-do spirit! Signature act: Mixing a martini in her cleavage. Based in: New York City

  • Calamity Chang

    Known for: Conjuring an <a href="" target="_hplink">evocative and campy WWII-era atmosphere</a>. The Taipei born, Texas bred performer calls herself "<a href="" target="_hplink">the Asian Sexsation</a>." Signature act: Dancing with black fan in hand to a Japanese cover of "St Louis Blues," a combination Chang <a href="" target="_hplink">calls "sad" and "glamorous</a>." Based in: New York City

  • Dita Von Teese

    Known for: Being the "queen of burlesque," briefly marrying Marilyn Manson, and courting a high-flying audience (especially <a href="" target="_hplink">the fashion elite</a>), by which she's managed to jettison burlesque sensibilities into <a href="" target="_hplink">the mainstream</a>. Signature act: Anything and everything old school -- from <a href="" target="_hplink">corsetting her waist down to 16 inches (oof)</a> to <a href="" target="_hplink">posing in Japanese bondage</a>. Based in: Hollywood and Paris

  • Julie Atlas Muz

    Known for: Mixing sweetness and horror. Jeffrey Deitch, whose gallery hosted <a href="" target="_hplink">one of Muz's exhibits in 2007</a>, compares the sculptural quality and gender play of her work to "<a href="" target="_hplink">the early work of Duchamp and Man Ray. </a>There's a conceptual comedy to it." Aside from looking like living art, the muscular girly girl fulfilled a long-held dream of many 8-year-old selves when she became Head Mermaid at the now defunct <a href="" target="_hplink">Coral Room</a>. Signature act: Taking a (staged) beating as Italian opera plays in the background, and emerging nude and covered in fake blood. Based in: Manhattan

  • Brown Girls Burlesque

    Known for: Enabling a tradition of smart commentary for women of color. This permanent troupe with a rotating cast of members espouses an <a href="" target="_hplink">anti-"fembot"</a> philosophy, and is geared to audiences who want a little gravity with their G-strings. Signature act: "Jezebel," <a href="" target="_hplink">the BGB show that kicked off 2012</a>, explored the 19th century extralegal system of placage, by which white men took Creole mistresses as common law wives. Based in: New York City

  • Tigger!

    Known for: Irreverence, "<a href="" target="_hplink">high camp</a>," being a pioneering male star in a heavily female world. Tigger! (pictured to the right) often gets the Dita-esque moniker of the "King of Boylesque," the term for <a href="" target="_hplink">burlesque as performed by boys</a>. Signature act: <a href="" target="_hplink">Becoming Father McTigger</a>, an altar boy-loving priest who pulls a communion wafer from his shimmering purple thong to the strains of Olivia Newton John's "I Honestly Love You." Based in: New York City

  • Jo Boobs

    Known for: Being to burlesque what <a href="" target="_hplink">William Strunk and E.B. White</a> are to novelists, by writing the definitive guide to her subject of choice, "<a href="" target="_hplink">The Burlesque Handbook</a>." <a href="" target="_hplink">Jo Boobs</a> also presides as the fantastical-sounding Headmistress of the <a href="" target="_hplink">New York School of Burlesque</a>, and rooms with another star on this list, Julie Atlas Muz (<a href="" target="_hplink">who she canoodled with on an episode of "Gossip Girl"</a>). Signature act: Wearing a Godzilla mask that <a href="" target="_hplink">hides that pretty face</a>. Based in: New York City

  • Tempest Storm

    Known for: Being one of the longest performing burlesque stars, with a career that began in the 1950s and continues today. The octogenarian known as "<a href="" target="_hplink">The Tempest in a D-Cup</a>" says she was <a href="" target="_hplink">one of Elvis Presley's lovers</a> in her Hollywood days, but even in her 70s, she <a href="" target="_hplink">managed to charm Robert Ebert</a>. Signature act: The "time capsule," <a href="" target="_hplink">as the AP coined it</a>: "She knows nothing of poles. She would never put her derriere in some man's face. Her prop of choice is a boa, perhaps the occasional divan." Based in: Las Vegas

  • Angie Pontani

    Known for: Being one-third of the "<a href="" target="_hplink">world famous Pontani sisters</a>," and <a href="" target="_hplink">the closest thing to a household name</a> to come out of New York's scrappy scene. As the host of the traveling variety show <a href="" target="_hplink">Burlesque-A-Pades</a>, she's introducing the country to some of burlesque's biggest stars. Signature act: The "Gold Digger," a crowd-pleaser <a href="" target="_hplink">styled after traditional 1940s</a> acts. Based in: New York City

  • Little Brooklyn

    Known for: Raunchy and comic high-concept acts that usually involve pulling something (or many things) out of her orifices. She's considered <a href="" target="_hplink">as much a comedienne</a> as she is a burlesque star. Signature act: The "Pee-Wee Herman," in which she dresses up like the "Playhouse" host and <a href=" brooklyn pee wee herman&f=false" target="_hplink">pulls platonic joke props</a> (rubber chicken, whoopee cushion) out from where they're lodged around her body. Because: "<a href="" target="_hplink">How can you receive a Pee Wee Herman suit and not find a way to turn it into an act?" </a> Based in: New York City

  • Foxy Tann

    Known for: Being a self-described <a href="" target="_hplink">radical feminist</a> so at home in the drag community, even the queens <a href="" target="_hplink">started to get weird</a> about how "confusing" her gender was. Signature act: <a href="" target="_hplink">Drag Jimi Hendrix</a>, set to -- what else? -- "Foxy Lady." Based in: Minneapolis

  • Lady Scoutington

    Known for: A studied "<a href="" target="_hplink">wide-eyed innocence</a>" coupled with an academic bent (she graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College) that makes for exuberantly self-aware silliness. Case in point: her full stage name is <a href="" target="_hplink">Doctor Princess Lady Scoutington</a>. She's also <a href="" target="_hplink">one of a few out-and-proud</a> female burlesque stars. Signature act: Anything musical, whether its <a href="" target="_hplink">a Broadway medley</a>, or a "<a href="" target="_hplink">glorious ukulele solo</a>." Based in: Los Angeles

  • Murray Hill

    Known for: A 1950s variety show host's showman sensibilities, which has <a href="" target="_hplink">endeared him to Hollywood and TV executives alike</a> as boylesque's answer to Dita Von Teese (whom he emcees for regularly on stage). Signature act: "Have Yourselves A Murray Little Christmas," a retrofitted holiday song that Hill pulls out every December for his <a href="" target="_hplink">annual Christmas show</a>. Based in: New York City

  • Bambi The Mermaid

    Known for: Being the <a href="" target="_hplink">Queen of Coney Island</a>, where she's performed in the annual mermaid parade for more than a decade. Her pantyless, psychosexual hijinks <a href="" target="_hplink">made her a longtime muse</a> of fetish photographer Doris Kloster. Signature act: Eating crickets and goldfish in her "<a href="" target="_hplink">Geek Act</a>," holding Burmese pythons for the "<a href="" target="_hplink">Snake Charmer</a>," dressing as fantastical half-human creatures (not just a mermaid) in "<a href="" target="_hplink">Sideshow</a>." Really, take your pick. Based in: New York City

  • Stormy Leather

    Known for: Her <a href="" target="_hplink">androgynous good looks</a> and rocker sensibility. We trembled at her perfect bone structure and profile shots in the Magnetic Fields' video for "Andrew In Drag." (She's <a href="" target="_hplink">the dapper gent</a>). Signature act: A <a href="" target="_hplink">Cylon strip routine</a> that involves dressing like a Battlestar Galactica robot and stripping down to the skin. Based in: New York City (Photograph Courtesy <a href="" target="_hplink">Alex Colby</a>.)

  • Legs Malone

    Known for: Being "the girl with the 34 and a half inch inseam." A co-producer of New York's Sugar Shack Burlesque, Malone blurs the line between defining herself by her body <a href="" target="_hplink">and transforming it</a>. Signature act: She does a <a href="" target="_hplink">mean Bettie Page</a>. Based in: New York City

  • Minsky Sisters

    Known for: Channeling the 20s with a <a href="" target="_hplink">carefully referential name</a> and skill -- <a href="" target="_hplink">tap dancing</a>, not striptease. Their canniness at transforming into ladies of another era makes them <a href="" target="_hplink">perfect subjects for escapist imagery</a>. Signature act: If Tempest Storm does the "time capsule," the Minskys are <a href="" target="_hplink">operating a time machine</a>. For tapping, swinging and beauty marks, they're your gals. Based in: New York City (Photograph courtesy <a href="" target="_hplink">Jason Goodman</a>.)

  • Nasty Canasta

    Known for: Being one half of a burlesque power couple along with husband Johnny Porkpie, until they called it quits. Luckily the two were together long enough to found <a href="" target="_hplink">Pinchbottom Burlesque</a>, one of the city's most <a href="" target="_hplink">ingenious burlesque spots</a>. Signature acts: Performing as her alter-ego <a href="" target="_hplink">Kobayashi Maru</a>, an android creature. Based in: New York City

  • Dirty Martini

    Known for: Being a key player in <a href="" target="_hplink">the "new burlesque" movement</a> in New York along with Julie Atlas Muz, The World Famous Bob and other burlesque royalty. In the process, becoming a plus-size poster girl to whom even the bone-obsessed <a href="" target="_hplink">Karl Lagerfield bowed down</a>. Signature act: The "balloon strip," in which she slowly pops a constellation of balloons surrounding her body, closing <a href="" target="_hplink">with a pair in an obvious spot</a>. Winky face! Based in: New York City


Filed by Katherine Brooks  |