Exploring the other side of Philly's kinky side.
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.” ■
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.
A few years before my wife and I met, she made porn with her boyfriend. I was a bit upset when she told me, but the idea of seeing the hottest woman I’ve ever met—and am now married to—doing porn might be really enjoyable.
In honor of PW's "Sexy Issue," we went to one of the sexiest restaurants in town -- Varga Bar -- and got a lesson in how to make a scrumptious salad.
“It’s porn. It should be fun and humorous. You don’t have to be a complete dirty pornhound to enjoy it, and you don’t have to be a complete right-wing Christian to be against it. There’s a middle ground that a lot of people fall into.”
As she wraps her hands delicately around a teacup, Patricia explains how discomfort and insecurity snuck inside her world. “I was two different people,” she says, “I was a soccer mom with a secret life as a sex addict.”
Convicted baby slayers, lethal arsonists, cop killers and other evildoers—they all languish behind razor wire at State Correctional Institution Greene. Most people wouldn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day weekend there. But one person does.
Aside from munching edible undies, there’s nothing that brings out the goofier side of sex quite like painting on your partner’s sensitive spots. PW's got a few suggestions for that situation -- and a few others.
There are an abundance of theatrical roles that call for a young, good-looking man, and there is little doubt Evan Jonigkeit could float by on his looks alone. The characters he inhabits are typically handsome and know how to use it.
Tradition tells us to rut the day away like frantic animals on February 14. We’re prescribing edible aphrodisiacs because, believe us, we feel your pain. Goodbye emptiness, hello orgasm!
Sometimes that sex on the screen in mainstream movies isn't simulated. Here are six movies that showed us the real thing.
Whether you’re single or partnered, looking for a playmate or drowning in a pool of LGBT inertia, Valentine’s Day fun is yours for the taking this weekend. Stay home and be a Debbie Downer if you like, but don’t blame us.
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide
PW's Winter Coffee Tour