by J.D. Oxblood
Wednesday, July 13
Nurse Bettie & the Delancey
Nurse Bettie is kind of an awful venue for burlesque, in a wonderful, cramped and sweaty lower east side kind of way. For people from places with breathing room it must be insane to think that anyone would want to do a burlesque show in a bar no bigger than a Hollywood B-lister’s walk-in closet, on a stage no bigger than the nipple of your average Caribbean nanny on the morning uptown 4/5. But, welcome to New York, it’s a venue, and twice a week you can catch some burlesque there if you’re lucky—or pushy—enough to muscle back to the three-foot wide space between the bar and the wall AND close enough to the stage to see.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Julie Atlas Muz, former Miss Exotic World, the darling of the downtown experimental theatre scene even before she blew up in burlesque, the current darling of France—that whole “Tournee” movie showing at Cannes and whatnot—who’s spent months touring Australia, constantly tours Europe, who—fuck, can I just say it? One of the precious fucking few women of burlesque who makes her living strictly through performing, and one of those whom all struggling performers look up to and say, that’s where I want to be. There’s Dirty. There’s Dita. And there’s fucking Julie. So hearing that Julie was playing a venue that newbies hit to cut their teeth—it was like having my brains gently massaged by a porcupine. And I got the fuck over there.
When I rolled up Julie was out front on the sidewalk like she’d never left New York, chillin’ and chewing the fat with Darlinda Just Darlinda. Minutes later I was inside sipping a whiskey while Julie was up in the window in gold-bedazzled bra and panties held up by bedazzled suspenders, and sporting one black glove as she gogo-ed in the window facing the sidewalk of Norfolk street, illuminated with a crappy mini-parcan—which she had the sense to adjust so that it was sort of on her—and passersby on the sidewalk could catch glimpses of her through the non-blacked out keyhole shape in the window. It was a sight to behold. Pearls before fucking swine. She ass-jiggled to Peaches, and then really caught her stride with MIA’s ubiquitous-for-5-summers-now “Paper Planes,” winding up with leaning on the window to gently lift her ass, one cheek at a time, for the crowd in the bar.
I was on my second drink and thankful the crowd was relatively doucheless when Honi Harlow took the mike and sang a number from “Chicago” in a fringed 20s gown. She introduced Deity Del Gado, whom I’ve seen perform with Brown Girls but never solo. Billed as the “Frida Kahlo of burlesque,” she does have a prominent nose, but her eyebrows don’t do that Kahlo thing. She’s cute as hell, her face a little flower and her body lithe and small, appearing at home on the tiny stage. The act itself was simple, perfect for the venue, revolving mainly around unsnapping her sundress and exercising great stillness. Uber-charming. Something I never noticed about this space before was being able to watch the girls watching—next to the stage, so close they could touch the performer without even extending an arm, were Darlinda Just Darlinda, the host, and Tansy Tan Dora. You could watch their reactions without taking your eyes off of Deity. Stripping down to a heart-shaped patch on her pudendum, Deity slowly pulled a long string of pearls from her ass. Maybe that’s why they call her Frida.
Ekaterina busted a contortion act—no mean feat on this tiny stage—that was laced with humor, like a gymnast trying to get it right, that climaxed with shoving her foot in her mouth, literally, while standing on the other foot. She got heavy laughs and heavy looks. Then we had a man in the house—Mysterion, a mentalist from Toronto. I was worried—the bar was fucking loud and here’s a dude trying to talk. But he grabbed them, and he knew his shit. He pulled a guy from the crowd and gave him a die and had
him pick a side, and then called it by counting to six and reading the guy’s body language. He repeated the act with having the guy count off, and then really blew everyone’s mind by letting the guy pick a number between 1 and 1000 and having the correct number already written down on a pad. The classic Uri Geller act took the form of bending fork tines and corkscrewing it, but Mysterion’s wonderful twist was stomping on his own foot while the girl had her eyes closed, and the girl admitting that she felt him tapping her foot. The look on Tansy’s face was seriously “I just got mind fucked.”
Speaking of Tansy Tan Dora, the girl continues to prove herself as an up-and-comer. In a kimono and holding a coffee cup, she works it and her music fucks up. She started over, and the second time the music farted she just kept pushing. It was a simple act, with simple lacy bra and panties covering her simply amazingly gorgeous body, but the way she worked through it was balls-out—totally grinning and admitting this was not the act she rehearsed, but bullishly pushing through like she was Julie Atlas Muz or something. Turns out the producer didn’t download her whole song, so the DJ was doing the only thing he could—playing the first 30 seconds over and over.
Then we get Darlinda in a really (wowser) tight dark dress—not like I would have any idea what color it actually is with that punishing amber-gelled light belting down on her—but it’s a hot strapless dress topped with a multi colored boa, which she drops, and the act is all ass, and she’s sporting these hot tight-blocked fishnet hose with little rhinestones scattered across them. Superlike. Takes out her hairpins and licks on… hair down and worked like a whip, and working that dress zipper so super slow… and one finger gently massaging the crack while the English girls behind me just laugh.
And Julie Atlas Muz… damn. That cop routine? Remember the genesis of it in Vegas in 2009? The spread-leg shoe kick off and the stocking going over her head? Which came out again with a different song—“Whoop! Whoop! That’s the sound of the police!”—and a powdered-donut eating rap and a full-on cop costume that gets ripped apart to the stocking-wearing criminal with the gun—where WAS she keeping that?—at the end of the act? Not only nut job but a, er, complicated social commentary on the similarity between cops and criminals? No? Well, if you haven’t seen this shit, you should get out more. And seeing it in this tiny space was like burlesque terrorism—or at least burlesque guerilla warefare. Girl ended by jumping off the stage and taking a fucking hostage.
And THAT’S the true take-no-prisoners downtown New York burlesque aesthetic, if you ask me. Not that you did.
That wasn’t it, though. I was too jacked up on Jack and ginger to call it, so we bounced around the corner to the Delancey where Runaround Sue and Scooter Pie were rocking their weekly fest in another dicey downtown venue—this one comes with the occasional free shot, so it’s a fucking grab bag whether the crowd is pure douchery looking for a sugar shot and a nip slip, or actual decent scenesters. Tonight was decent—and not for nothing, since burlesquers Gal Friday (hot from Kenball’s gig) and Stormy Leather (hot from Affaire) and Femme Appeal were in the crowd. Wednesday night is a big burlesque night downtown.
We got to hear super cutie-pie Runaround Sue tell some truly awful jokes (I did like the one about “tweetable,” and no, that ain’t a Twitter ref) and got to hear Scooter Pie sing, and then it was the “caboose”—the last act of the night, which was up-and-comer Gemini Rising, in a truly stunning long, silver dress, working it out to a jazz flute line and building it up to blasting horns that crashed on a sudden stop. You gotta give it to her—and anyone working this stage—considering that it’s the only place in New York with WORSE lighting than Nurse Betty. The sheer angle of the front light pretty much guarantees that the performer has no fucking idea where the stage ends, which is a good argument for waiting until after you perform before you start in on the free shots. Not a rule, just a recommendation.
Ok, that’s enough about a random Wednesday night. But it’s summer, so get out there and tear it up downtown-style. You’re never too old to have an unexpected hangover on a Thursday morning.
All photos ©2011 Melody Mudd. Please respect copyrights and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions. Performers, please do use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece. Performers who would like hi-rez images, get in touch.