Milwaukee’s Bombshell Burlesque
Shaking up the Brew City
There are many misconceptions about burlesque. Literally, it means "In an upside-down style." For lead vocalist of Milwaukee’s Brew City Bombshells, Chanel le Meaux, burlesque means artistry and empowerment.
The early-20th-century American burlesque emerged as a blend of satire, ornate performance art and adult entertainment featuring striptease and lowbrow comedy. The new adaptation preserves many of the same traditions and aims to entice.
These talented performers all lead 9-to-5 jobs, some more accepting of their side gig than others. For most, leading a second life is all in a day’s work—hence the stage names.
Formerly known as the Alley Cat Revue, the Brew City Bombshells are: Raven Nevermore, Ava Von Sweets, Violetta DeMur, Vee Valentine, Chassy Dee Lux, Ruby DeVine and Chanel le Meaux. The group members range in age from 20 to 40 and in physique from petite to voluptuous.
The democratic group structure allows each performer to create her part of the show while also maintaining strong camaraderie. The Bombshells create all of their own choreography and collaborate on hair, makeup, costumes and dancing.
“We have people with degrees in marketing, art, graphic design, theater, dance, and a soon-to-be cosmetologist, so everyone contributes her diverse creative talents for the good of the group,” Chanel explains.
Becoming a Dancer
So how does one become a burlesque dancer? For Chanel, it was on a whim after she had been laid off from a software company. Looking for a creative outlet, she signed up for a burlesque dance class at the Tool Shed, one of Milwaukee’s favorite erotic boutiques. Other members of the Bombshells noticed her talent and immediately invited her to audition and join the group.
Chanel has a classic elegance. Her milky white skin, ruby-stained lips, beauty mark tickling her upper lip and sultry speaking voice assure you she can bring a crowd to its knees.
She trained at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and was always a karaoke star among her friends. Chanel draws inspiration from alluring stars of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s such as Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. On stage, she embraces the opportunity to act like a true diva with “larger-than-life” costumes.
Brew City Bombshells Burlesque often performs with other acts like bands, fire-eaters or drag queens. Performers will flip-flop sets to keep audiences on their toes. The “R-rated” shows typically last two hours with one or two intermissions.
“Some people think of it as stripping, but it’s so not that. This is artistry. It’s all about teasing and enticing; it’s not dirty,” Chanel explains.
Each Bombshell embodies a character, including the comedian, the diva, the prude and the seductress. One thing is for certain: The shows always end in some nudity. The girls typically bare carefully placed pasties and more-than-modest skivvies.
The Bombshells take turns performing their own numbers. Oftentimes Chanel will sing while another dances, but it’s hard to have all six in one act because of conflicting schedules and limited rehearsal time.
To entice, the girls engage the audience by calling people on stage or by walking through the crowd during their performances. Chanel might ask audience members to play the maracas or create a conga line while imitating Carmen Miranda. In true Wisconsin fashion, Ava Von Sweets has been known to toss giant pretzels to the crowd during her beer girl number.
“The audiences are incredibly diverse: nostalgic mature adults, suburban housewives, couples on a date, college-age guys,” Chanel says.
The Bombshells perform about every other month, mostly in Milwaukee but sometimes in other Midwestern cities. In addition, they book individual performances that range from corporate functions to bachelor parties.
The Brew City Bombshells perform March 6 at the Times Cinema.