Burlesque Festival Brings “Sexy” Back to Fort Lauderdale

Burlesque isn’t just for paunchy middle-aged men in smoky dive bars anymore, promises Bambi la Fleur, producer of the First Annual Florida Burlesque Festival.

On Friday, Sept. 5 and Saturday, Sept. 6, South Florida audiences will get a rare opportunity to witness the evolution of this sexy form of entertainment that was popular in vaudeville houses a century ago.

La Fleur has assembled more than 40 of the leading performers in the industry for the performances at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso.

“They’re hot or they’re funny or they’re both,” said la Fleur, who has traveled the world with her own act. “There’s literally something for everybody.”

Performers include legends Dusty Summers, “Las Vegas’ only nude magician”; Holly Carol, “the sexy songbird of striptease”; the Jewish Schlep Sisters, Minnie Tonka and Darlinda Just Darlinda; and mistress of ceremonies Blanche DeBris, who will perform “The Sound of Music” in six minutes.

South Florida was the perfect location for her first festival. During the 1940s and 50s, the Rat Pack singers frequented glitzy clubs in Miami Beach and Connie Francis put Fort Lauderdale on the map as a glamorous destination for the young and beautiful. There was even a Playboy Club, she said.

“It seemed natural to do this in Florida” explained la Fleur, who has devoted more than 40 hours per week for the last year to the many details of organizing a world class festival.

One of the festival’s headliners, Ophelia Flame, was inspired to try burlesque after visiting the Miss Exotic World Museum (now the Burlesque Hall of Fame) in Las Vegas.

“I was this Minnesota girl, but then I learned about all the greats—Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm — and I knew I had found my tribe,” Flame said. “For me, working as a real gosh darn stripper, it was a wonderful experience. People want to portray that as women who are exploited or coerced, but I only do the good gigs I really want to do.”

At 45, Flame is one of the mature performers, but she says her experience has only made her performers more alluring, because “sexy is subjective.”

And burlesque isn’t just for straight men, either. A special treat for Fort Lauderdale audiences are featured “boylesque” performances from internationally-acclaimed performers Ray Gunn and Bazuka Joe, who la Fleur says have become “a wonderful addition to the burlesque movement” and opened the art form to women and gay men.

La Fleur is particularly proud of her support from the gay community.

She pointed out, “In my experience, the people who enjoy the shows most have been predominantly gay. Most of my friends are gay and I just happen to like gay men and they like me — they say I’m a lot of work. We share a love of glamour, color, respect for the female form and the costuming. For me it’s the most sincere form of flattery.”

After a short pause, la Fleur pondered, “If I was a man, I’m sure I’d be a fabulous drag queen.”

The First Annual Florida Burlesque Festival will be held at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5 and Saturday, Sept. 6 at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE 6th St. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 and $50 at FloridaBurlesqueFestival.com.

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