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March 12th, 2014 12:01 am AARON SPENCER | Strip Club Guide

Strip Club Guide 2014: It’s Not Stripping, It’s Burlesque

Or is it?

SCG2014_(burlesque)TANA THE TATTOOED LADY - IMAGE: Beth Olson Creative

Portland, correctly or not, is known for its per-capita plenitude of strip clubs. Its burlesque scene, however, still has a ways to go if it’s to top San Francisco’s or Seattle’s. We’re moving that way, as the burlesque community has grown rapidly in the past five years, largely settling in the innovative neo-burlesque niche. But as it grows, tension arises. Many burlesque performers insist they’re not strippers, while others are happy to say they are. It’s complicated.

“Burlesque is a journey, while stripping is a destination,” says Zora Phoenix, a drag queen and one of Portland’s most prolific burlesque producers. “Burlesque performers are strip teasers as opposed to strippers.”

Not everyone buys that. Among them: 10-year burlesque performer Tana the Tattooed Lady, who for the past four years has also stripped at Mary’s Club downtown.

“Burlesque and stripping are definitely the same thing,” she says. “People have some really highfalutin ideas about what burlesque is, but in its essence, it’s just walking and stripping.”

The Tattooed Lady—she’s lost count of how many she has and she’s going for a full body suit—started stripping in 2009, but initially kept it a secret from her burlesque friends, mostly those in Seattle, where she says “you basically have to have a BA in dance to do burlesque.”

“There’s a lot of people who even get upset about being called a stripper if they are a burlesque dancer,” she says. “I think it’s a total judgment thing.” 

The philosophy behind the new wave of burlesque (not the original stuff, that was scandalous!) is one of taking ownership of your body, whatever it looks like, and encouraging others to do the same. By contrast, stripping, says Phoenix, is about “immediate enjoyment for the audience.” Crowds at burlesque shows are generally women. Crowds at strip clubs are usually men. 

While the Tattooed Lady concedes that some strippers may feel they’ve run out of options, she says every stripper she knows enjoys stripping.

“I strip because I enjoy it and I love money,” she says. “I get a lot of pleasure interacting with people and getting playful with couples.... I think the general consensus is that women are being subjected to this male-dominated society that’s making them leave their five kids to go in there and dance, but not everybody has daddy issues.”

Phoenix, by the way, wants to be clear that she does not judge strippers. In fact, she says, without the grand gowns covered in Swarovskis, strippers are free to express themselves in ways burlesque dancers can’t. As Dita Von Teese, who’s credited for repopularizing burlesque, once said, “...if your outfit can fit in your closed fist, you’re probably not a burlesque performer.”

Burlesque Picks 

The Mad Marquis’ Hump Day Happy Hour Sip & Strip. 

A mix of fresh and experienced performers in a casual atmosphere that encourages experimentation. 

7 pm Wednesdays. The Analog Cafe, 720 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 206-7439. $5. 21+.

Rue Royale Burlesque. 

Classic feathered-fan burlesque with a big band, a big stage and out-of-town headliners. 

Quarterly. Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave., 248-4700. $15-$18. 21+.

Burlesque S’il Vous Plait. 

Playful and creative numbers from established locals, and a fun crowd. 

9 pm on first Fridays. Crush, 1400 SE Morrison St., 235-8150. $10. 21+.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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