Sexy Issue: Erotica in Philly

Exploring the other side of Philly's kinky side.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Feb. 9, 2010

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Instructor 'The Big H'

Photo by Jeff Fusco

It’s not like she hates the industry, or the work. In fact, it sounds like she’ll miss it.

“I’m happy to take off my clothes for you, I’m happy to give you a lap dance. I’m happy to get on the pole, but can we just have a good time? Can’t we understand what we’re here for?” she asks.

That’s the problem of course, and she knows it. The types of customers she’s talking about know exactly what they’re there for—faceless treats—and aren’t willing to buy into the agreement that girls like Henderson are trying to sell: fantasy with mutual respect.

“That’s why I don’t dance anymore,” says Henderson. “Fuck ‘em.” ■

Burlesque 101, or, How I learned to stop worrying and learn to love the A-Bomb

Some people are comfortable being naked wherever. They walk around naked at home, watch TV naked. Then there are people who won't even sleep nude. Skins and Shirts rarely mix. Shirts are usually uncomfortable around skins, and Skins of course, are comfortable everywhere. This is the story of how I found myself, a self-identified Shirt, topless in front of a group of strangers, jumping up and down, arms in the air like I was blocking a lay-up on a basketball court. This is the first time this has happened to me. (Completely sober, at least.)

In the upstairs black-box theater at Plays and Players, 16 women of all ages sit attentively in folding metal chairs. There’s a huge plaster dinosaur perched on a piano and brightly colored sequined bras and tangled garter belts spilling out of a vintage suitcase splayed open on the ground. We’re all gathered here for the same reason: To learn how to gracefully remove our clothes. But really, we’re also here to learn a thing or two about the smart, glamorous showgirl confidence that burlesque performers radiate. In today’s hyper-pornified culture, old school burlesque is a mini-oasis where vamp will always trump tramp.

“I strive to show people what burlesque really was in its heyday,” says Anna Frangiosa, AKA Annie A-Bomb, co-founder of Cabaret Red Light and founder of Revival Burlesque. “Sexy shows, yes, nudity, sometimes, populist entertainment, yes, but not just a bunch of strippers with boas!”

To that end, Frangiosa opened the Philadelphia School of Burlesque. After initially offering successful four-week workshops complete with a student show at the end, Frangiosa designed a one-day workshop for sexual souls looking for instantaneous burlesque satisfaction. Without a doubt, the highlight of the one-day class is the make-n-shake portion, during which students make homemade pasties then hopefully get swingin.’ Show me a woman who doesn’t want to learn how to twirl tassels with her tits and I will show you a creature with no dreams at all.

We prep by watching the famous clip of The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock drags beautiful, sad-eyed Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) to a gentlemen’s club on a date. The camera pans to the torpedo-boobed burlesque performer as she furiously whips the tassels dangling from her nipples into perfect circles just over Elaine’s head.

The film clicks off and Frangiosa, pretty and prim in a vintage dress, church heels and dirty-librarian glasses, takes the floor for questions.

A hand shoots in the air. “What’s the difference between stripping and burlesque?”

“Burlesque is more theatrical,” says Frangiosa. “Not that a stripper can’t be theatrical, but what they’re selling is different.”

Frangiosa, professional sexpot, has done both, and encounters this issue all the time.

With an anthropology degree from Temple and one from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Frangiosa is as much about subverting expectations of gender and class through burlesque as she is about sewing the awesome outfits.

“It’s always been political for women to expose their bodies,” she says. “I often lure people with boobs, and then throw some politics in the mix.”

Burlesque is a different kind of fantasy factory than strip joints. It can be argued that burlesque uses titillation to distract while poking fun at social norms and the status quo; strip clubs amplify the status quo.

As students, we’re here because it’s cool and sexy. A few will go on to learn more about the history of burlesque and the finer theatrical points, like Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams, theater chicks who are presenting their own show Chlamydia dell’Arte: A Sex-Ed Burlesque next month.

“I’m super into going to see shows. I do a Queen of Jeans annual revue, and I want to make my role bawdier,” says 30-year-old Nicole Restaino, who put on her first theatrical performance last year. But most students are here for the take-home tassels. “Once I got an email that said, 'Make your own pasties,' that was it,” says Laura Walter, who drove down from Collegeville to take the class.

After the films, we move on to the first lesson: how to (gracefully) remove opera gloves and stockings. Frangiosa poises on stage, swings her hip out and raises a satin-gloved fingertip to her lips. “This is what I call the ‘bite and stroke,’” she says, and slips her arm out of a glove, leaving it dangling from her mouth. For the next few minutes, we think about all the things you can do with an opera glove once you take it off: you can rub it across your breasts, swing around and hammock your buns, maybe use it as a faux whip or gag. If you see a blushing bald guy in the front row, Frangiosa suggests polishing his noggin. “They love it,” she chirps.

Next up, we practice removing a stocking with our toe. The room looks like an old Jane Fonda workout video as the women all recline sideways on their chairs, bicycle-pumping their legs—long and short, big and slim—high in the air. Everyone is laughing. There’s a real camaraderie.

When students clumsily struggle, Frangiosa, who at 34 years old calls herself a grandmom of the burlesque scene in Philadelphia, reassures, “Seriously, burlesque crowds are very forgiving.”

Finally, we begin the much-anticipated arts and crafts section of the workshop. The group splits into two long tables and soon we’re sharing and passing glue, boxes of beads and plastic bags full of fringe like kindergartners.

When it comes to pasty shapes and colors, people are surprisingly specific, answering as quickly and surely as if they’d been waiting to be asked that question all of their dull, pasty-less lives. “Oh, black, definitely. A star, thank you,” says the girl across from me, an immigration reporter from Camden. “Red circle, please, yellow tassel,” says another.

As we cut felt, thread beads and glue, Frangiosa walks over in fringe panties, a garter belt and pasties, cracking boob jokes and demonstrating the pinwheel. She advises raising your arms in the air and bouncing. “It’s all in the heels,” she says, shimmying forward and then way back, like she’s about to limbo.

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Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. Anonymous said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 04:27AM

“Who is that woman on the cover? She's hott! Is there an article on her?”

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2. J Davidson said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 05:34AM

“Nice work Heather & Tara !!
I've seen an ATM machine, and no, you mos def do not look like a phreegin' ATM machine.....”

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3. jesselun said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 05:47AM

“I agree with J...great stories. Heather rocks”

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4. Scott said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 07:45AM

“Heather this a great article. Stop by later and we can celebrate. You rock.”

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5. CandyMayhem said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 09:10AM

“Heather, you are amazing!!!”

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6. D'Arcy said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 12:46PM

“Heather, you are an absolute goddess! Strong, beautiful and always true to yourself.”

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7. Goddess Thain said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 01:19PM

“Thank you, Tara!
This was a great article! :-)”

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8. Deep C said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 01:59PM

“Heather is the bomb diggity!!!”

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9. OJ said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 02:10PM

“Great article. Probably one of my all-time favorite lines, "Show me a woman who doesn’t want to learn how to twirl tassels with her tits and I will show you a creature with no dreams at all."”

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10. Beth the ninja said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 02:28PM

“That Heather is a hot one!”

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11. Bowman T Bowman said... on Feb 10, 2010 at 08:47PM

“How did we not hear about this issue at Naughty Girl Web before it happened so we could be a part of it!? Somebody dropped the ball. I blame D'Arcy.”

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12. kati kill said... on Feb 11, 2010 at 02:13AM

“love the article, couldn't stop laughing... and im the one quoted at the begining of the story with the boots and atm comment, hehe. The things us girls hear when we dance. Also I was happy that the Dolphin Tavern was mention more people should really go to this place. It's a hidden gem.”

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13. Rick said... on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:36AM


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14. Heather Henderson said... on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:58AM

“The star of the Stripper Rant Podcast”

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15. JohnnyZito said... on Feb 13, 2010 at 09:55AM

“Hells Yes. Need to upgrade this series to Vod Cast :)”

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16. The Pantyhose Prince said... on Feb 13, 2010 at 10:45AM

“Since Heather has no more use for stilleto heels, I was wondering if she would sell them to m.”

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17. PhillyDaddy said... on Feb 22, 2010 at 04:29PM

“I've been attacked by the walking ATM machines more than I can count. I tip them because I'm glad they put their clothes back on. Most can't dance, aren't appealing when naked or dressed. C'mon, saggy tits on a stripper, with Bubba tattoed on her ass. Other than rubbing their tits on my back to get my attention for a tip, they have no personality whatsoever. After paying the outrageous cover, double the rate for a drink and tip everytime a girl comes off stage, the least that I should expect is a decent body to look at on a girl that at least has rythm. I often attend with my GF and they are downright rude to her. Pushing her out of the way with their flat asses to get at my dollar. Change? You should be paying me to come and watch, like you pay the DJ and club owner to be there!”


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