Eva D’Luscious knows how to make an entrance.
The statuesque queen of the North Bay burlesque scene slides across the stage of a Sebastopol nightclub in a floor-length, python-patterned dress and fishnet stockings. In her hands, she carries a provocative prop — a giant, shiny, red satin apple.
Over the next several minutes, to the throbbing, bluesy beat and plaintive wails of Led Zeppelin’s “You Shook Me,” D’Luscious gives the enraptured audience a taste of temptation.
And they eat it up.
By the time she sheds the last of her snake-skin outfit and emerges reborn, wearing little more than shiny pasties, the crowd at Sebastopol’s 755 After Dark club roars in approval.
While her outfit doesn’t leave much to the imagination, D’Luscious says after the show that she hopes her Garden of Eden-themed act leaves the audience with something deeper to think about.
“That whole act is my statement about patriarchy demonizing women’s sexuality,” she said, using by her stage name for privacy. “It’s good, natural, normal, healthy and important for women to feel comfortable in their own sexuality and be able to express that in a safe way.”
After fading from the scene in the 1970s, the century-old art of burlesque dancing has steadily found a new audience in the past two decades.
Participation in burlesque competitions in Las Vegas, the strip tease mecca, has doubled in the last four years. New venues are opening all the time, and burlesque festivals are appearing in every corner of the country, said Dustin Wax, executive director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
“There’s been a huge explosion in the last five years in places you’d never think of, like Davenport, Iowa, Birmingham, Alabama and Kansas City,” Wax said.
Multi-day burlesque festivals are now held in 39 of the 50 states, and 900 burlesque organizers sell more than $1 million worth of tickets each year, according to the online ticket broker Brown Paper Tickets.
Interest in what is often referred to as the neo-burlesque movement is being driven largely by educated, middle class women who reject the notion that they must conform to the images of female beauty that dominate mainstream media, Wax said.
“Burlesque gives women the opportunity to kind of imagine and present themselves in a way that is sexual, that is desirable, that is powerful,” he said.
The result is a proliferation of burlesque and pole dancing classes, workshops and performance opportunities for average women — and to a lesser degree, men — who are attracted to the art form as a way to stay fit and build their sexual self-confidence.
D’Luscious and her husband, also a burlesque performer who goes by the stage name of Will Longfellow, have been involved in several aspects of the growing industry. They own Cabaret de Caliente, a production company, and D’Luscious teaches dance classes in Rohnert Park. Until recently, they co-owned GlitterTix, a Sebastopol-based ticketing provider that specialized in burlesque events.
They started the company as way to help raise money for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Fund, and sold it in January to the Seattle-based Brown Paper Tickets, which continues to raise money for the fund.
Cabaret de Caliente produces regular events at Sebastopol’s 755 After Dark (formerly Aubergine), and occasional performances at HopMonk Tavern and Christy’s on the Square, but it’s not the only bawdy game in town.