Posted Online: Feb. 03, 2010, 6:03 pm

Bringing back burlesque: Local troupe to heat up the Capitol Saturday

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By Jonathan Turner,

Photo: Submitted
Danielle Colby-Cushman (aka Dannie Diesel), director/choreographer of the Burlesque Le'Moustache troupe, checks herself out.
Photo: Submitted
Director/choreographer Danielle Colby-Cushman, second from left, visits with some of the performers in Burlesque Le'Moustache, coming Saturday to the Capitol Theatre.
At first glance, punk, roller derby and 1930s burlesque may not seem to have much in common. For Danielle Colby-Cushman -- a fan of all three -- they certainly do.

The 34-year-old manager of Antique Archeology in LeClaire helped start the Big Mouth Mickies women's roller-derby team and now has organized Burlesque Le'Moustache -- 10 women who will perform their version of "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" Saturday at the Capitol Theatre.

"I lived next door to the founder of Windy City Rollers in Chicago. She really inspired me," Ms. Cushman said this week. She and two sisters started a roller-derby team in 2007, but Ms. Cushman quit about six months ago, after injuries. "Three years of roller derby destroyed my body," she said.

She already had started to teach burlesque-style dance. She studied dance for eight years growing up in Clinton, Iowa, and got into burlesque after attending her first show in Chicago eight years ago, which featured comedian Margaret Cho.

"It was such an incredible, intense experience," Ms. Cushman remembered. "I'm a bigger girl, and I walked in, felt fairly self-conscious, a little worried what I was gong to see. I left there with the most amazing renewed sense of self-esteem. There were amazing body parodies, for them to be able to laugh at themselves, appreciate themselves."

In burlesque (which typically involves stripping and some nudity), most routines are "comedy put to music," she said. "What I love about burlesque is, for the most part, it's really just making fun of people who take themselves too seriously. At the end of the day, all of us are human beings with flaws. It's a wonderful experience."

Burlesque encompasses pastiche, parody and wit, with a variety of acts like dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians, mime artists and striptease artistes, "all satirical and with a saucy edge," according to the group's promotional release.

"Our goal is to create the most entertaining show the Quad-Cities has ever seen," said Ms. Cushman, the producer and one of the performers. "Our love of all things glittery, with a healthy portion of smoke, mirrors and other, shall I say, entertaining assets, will assure that you'll leave the Burlesque Le'Moustache with a dazed look and an ear-to-ear smile."

The show -- for ages 21 and over only -- is accompanied by the Hot Club of Davenport with "an intoxicating blend of gypsy jazz and New Orleans funeral-march music." It's a "celebration of the human form," with girls from size 0 to size 14, said Ms. Cushman, who performs under her derby name, Dannie Diesel.

"The show is very deeply entrenched in the tradition of classic burlesque. What we do is not really so much about the strip, the nudity, as about the journey," she said. "We focus on the tease, not the sleaze. It's classic 1930s style -- bawdy acts, bawdy comedy.

"What makes it exciting, several acts don't take much of anything off, but they're so provocative in their movements that it doesn't matter," she added.

Most of the women (from 20 to 40 years old) come from roller derby, Ms. Cushman said, and lots of tattoos will be on display.

"What they have in common is that edgy feel," she said. "Most of them are deeply ingrained in the punk lifestyle. I don't know one person who listens to punk music who doesn't absolutely adore roller derby or burlesque. We love high-adrenaline things.

"There's a resurgence of self-esteem right now," Ms. Cushman said. "When I was growing up, it was not cool to like yourself, feel good about yourself. Now it seems all of us need something to hold onto that's fun, entertaining, empowering for men and women, to leave with a smile on your face. Honestly, the feel is so different from walking into a strip club.

"We are strippers, but we are performers above and beyond," she said. "We are comedians, legitimate dancers."

She said the group practices three or four days a week, up to four hours at a time. "I go over my routines on my own, 10 hours a week, so this is more of a lifestyle. 'Stripping' is not a lifestyle," Ms. Cushman said.

"At the same time, also in no way do I want to slam the stripper," she said. "We're all taking our clothes off. By no means do we feel we're above. It's just different."

Ms. Cushman has taught burlesque at Blank Canvas Studio in East Moline. Her goal is to offer at least bi-monthly performances and a Quad-Cities Burlesque Festival this summer.

The cast

Burlesque Le'Moustache's troupe of "misfits," and their publicity blurbs, includes:

-- Carbomb Bettie: Though her soft and demure routines may portray her as a lady, beware not to cross this gal off stage. Graceful and ladylike, she is a diamond in the rough, vicious to the core, and can drink the burliest man under the table.

-- Birdie Belleville: The darling of her day, she is spirited, cunning, curious and, last but never least, provocative, as seen in her half-man, half-woman role, providing the best strong-woman routine this side of the Mississippi River. Sultry as the day is long, she will thrill, chill and leave you gasping for air.

-- Miss Cheeky Rood: A fierce, tattooed woman, she is mysterious, exotic, and ready to run off with the carnies at the drop of a hat.

-- Scarlet Van Tassle: Her "Fosse-esque" cabaret style is steamy and untamed, making her a renegade dancing temptress.

-- Lily L'Amour: This fallen French film star is adored by her fans for her demure and shy demeanor. However, a dark secret lies beneath her creamy white skin and sparkling blue eyes. After the tragic death of her lover, she became a courtesan and has been linked to French figureheads ... but Lily, ever the lady, never kisses and tells.

Director/choreographer Danielle Colby-Cushman characterized her own character, Dannie Diesel, as a smarmy nymph. "I have a very in-your-face personality," she said. "What I do is just funny more than anything else."

If you go

-- What: Burlesque Le'Moustache's "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre."
-- When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
-- Where: Capitol Theatre, 330 W. 3rd St., Davenport.
-- Tickets: $18; available at the theater box office; Moline Co-op Records;; or (563) 326-8820. Only 21 and older admitted.