Somehow in Vegas, city of sin and beacon of debauchery, excess and immodesty, a burlesque show of all things was censored this weekend. Never mind that there are strip clubs every five hundred feet, including all nude joints where everything ends up on the floor. Never mind that just outside Clark County limits anyone of age with a bit of cash can indulge in a sexual escapade at a totally legal brothel. The Nevada Gaming Commission simply cannot allow these women, professionals dancers some of whom have traveled more than 13 hours to disrobe in alluring fashion, to perform unimpeded.
This is not just any striptease. This is the queen of take-it-off revues – an evening in which countless satin gloves, sequined bras, and feather boas are flung across the stage. Tonight boasts so many jeweled pasties, jeweled high heels, jeweled hats and jeweled G-strings that the rhinestone industry must enjoy a marked spike in sales in the weeks prior. This is Miss Exotic World 2008, and as mistress of ceremonies Miss Astrid informs the audience, “They’ll be covering it up, bitches.”
“It” is the bottom of the breast, an area of flesh that is, as Astrid deadpans in an affected German accent, “so inflammatory that when met with gambling is like putting a flame to a powder keg.” The crowd gathered around the Palms pool boos in unison, but law is law and the show must go on.
Now in its 18th year, the annual Miss Exotic World pageant is a celebration of all things burlesque and the climax of the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s All-Star Burlesque Weekend. Over the course of the evening’s competition an international assortment of strip-tease artists with names like The Knicker Kittens, Clams Casino and Fanny Tastic take to the stage to take off their elaborate costumes and compete before a panel of judges in five categories: Best Debut, Best Duo, Best Troupe, Best Boylesque and of course, Miss Exotic World 2008.
Around the pool, newcomers mix with industry greats. The legendary Tempest Storm relaxes in a cabana, while Dusty Summers sits up front surrounded by costumed fans and retro-philes that could pass for competitors with their Bette Page hair cuts and tightly cinched waistlines.
Dressed in a scarlet dress with white fishnet stockings, white satin gloves studded with red jewels and a miniature matching hat that sits cockeyed atop her bleach blond curls, burlesque artist Flame Cynders whose performance opened the weekend, says winning the Miss Exotic World title is about being the total package. “It’s a combination of street cred, extravagant costumes, the way your eyes look, the way your face looks, how you interact with the audience and how sexy you are,” she says, leaving bright red lipstick stains on the cigarette that she pulls from as she talks.
But dancer and audience member Balla Fire of California offers a different strategy. “It’s who you know and who you blow,” she says dryly. “It is a pageant after all.”
The event kicks off with the debut dancers who are alternately polished and awkward. Some have trouble fighting the gusts that whip across the stage as well as their towering heels. Others struggle with unruly clasps, snaps that won’t unsnap or sticky gloves. The bottom of their breasts stay covered with nude or clear tape or sheer bras. The amount of tear away clothing is nothing short of incredible.
Fanny Tastic appears dressed as an old-school airline stewardess. She demonstrates how to buckle your seatbelt and properly handle a beverage before shedding her dress to reveal pasties with gold propellers that spin gleefully in the strong wind. “Yes! Oh my god!” screams a mohawked woman in a purple gown with nipple tassels hanging on the outside of her dress.
And then a tennis player emerges. She’s wearing cotton. And sneakers. And sweatbands. Miss Clams Casino pulls out a jeweled racket and gives the strings a good long lick. Soon she is battling for game point, hitting slow motion strikes as a tennis ball at the end of a long stick swings towards her and then away in an assistants’ hands. Queen’s “We are the Champions” blares while she strips down to a G-string decorated like a tennis court and pasties with mini tennis ball for tassels. The crowd explodes into applause as Miss Casino does the pasty hop in her sneakers and sweatbands.
The evening proceeds in much the same vein; classically sexy burlesque is blended with a heavy doses of humor as women of all shapes and sizes (and a few men) step onstage to tease off costumes piece by shimmering piece.
Between acts El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, dressed in an array of sparkling bell-bottomed jumpsuits, kills time swigging tequila straight from a bottle of Patron and joking with the crowd. Next to him Miss Astrid is immense, her short black bob frames a severely made-up face, a decorated eye patch covering one eye.
“Buying costume for Miss Exotic World: $700. Travel and accommodation for Miss Exotic World: $1200. Getting your period the night of Miss Exotic World: priceless.”
Just before 11:30 p.m. it is time for the main event: Miss Exotic World 2008.
Miss Bambi is the first of the 15 competitors, a leggy blond with an enormous smile and equally huge hair who pops out of a giant clam. She strips down to a barely there g-string then sits atop a huge “pearl” kicking her legs apart as the song blares “Do the clam. Do the clam.” I think I can see her clam, but she looks like she is having the time of her life.
There are sing ’n’ strip acts, theatrical numbers and classic pieces. These dancers are perfectly professional, their choreography tighter, their movements crisp, sexy and refined. Miss Sparkly Devil performs a Betsy Ross tribute that takes her from sewing the American flag in bonnet and matronly dress to a patriotic red and blue bikini dripping with fringe. Draped in the flag she looks like a burlesque Olympian after the big strip.
Bunny Love steps on stage completely hidden by a costume that looks like a giant wedding cake. She ends the act slathering frosting on her breasts. New York’s Angie Pontani arrives in a glamorous gold dress. She dances through a classic routine, teasing the crowd with every twist and thrust before ending the number with a smile and a wave, like a 1940’s pin-up transported to modern day Vegas.
There are more dancers, more sequins, more ladies doing the pasty hop to make their tassels twirl in synchronized circles and even a bit of facial hair. Finally last year’s Miss Exotic World Immodesty Blaize emerges to perform a final number while the votes are tallied. Wearing only silver pasties on top and bottom, the voluptuous diva performs a tongue in cheek reverse strip tease, slowly putting clothing back onto her nearly nude frame.
Close to 1 a.m. the moment has arrived. Immodestly Blaize carries on a towering three-tier affair of a trophy and pauses as the last few votes are counted. Amid the chaos a name is shouted. It is Angie Pontani the new Miss Exotic World ’08! The crown is passed, the trophy handed over, and Miss Pontani looks out over the crowd, beginning her reign in true pageant fashion with a smile and a wave.