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Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009

Pasties and a G-String

Beer and a shot

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This week, I continue my series of interviews with local artists and activists who are working to sexify Milwaukee.

The lovely Miss Bella Sue DeVianti is clearly a fan of the color purple. She has striking purple eyebrow tattoos, purple hair and a fabulous purple feather boa that she went to great lengths to obtain at Closet Classics on North Avenue. DeVianti is working hard to add more color to our fair city through monthly performances of the burlesque troupe she founded last year,the Alley Cat Revue Milwaukee. The Alley Cats have a number of shows, classes and auditions coming up in February and March, so I talked with DeVianti to find out more about when you can see them or even get up on stage with them yourself.

After performing with both BenchPress Burlesque and the original Alley Cat Revue in St. Louis, DeVianti moved to Milwaukee on Halloween in 2007.

"When I found out that Milwaukee didn't have a current burlesque group, I couldn't imagine a city without one," she says. "The founder of the Alley Cat Revue in St. Louis gave me the idea to start an Alley Cat troupe here. We advertised through word of mouth, and girls started popping up out of the woodwork."

Auditions were held in May 2008, and in August the troupe held their first show at the Stonefly Brewery in Riverwest, where they've performed every month since.

From relatively humble beginnings ("We practiced and choreographed all the numbers for our first show in my den," DeVianti says, laughing), the Alley Cat Revue has risen quickly in the Milwaukee scene.

"The response has been great," she says. "We've grown a lot faster than I thought. We have a good crowd at our shows, and afterward we get all kinds of messages from people saying how much they enjoyed it. It makes me really happy that people are liking it as much as they are."

The Alley Cat Revue Milwaukee was born on the tail end of a burlesque revival that has been growing in major U.S. cities for at least the past decade. Proponents of neo-burlesque say that the return of the retro striptease, with the emphasis on "tease" rather than "strip," is a reaction to our hypersexualized culture. Burlesque shows tend to be run by women in venues that are friendly spaces for all genders, and usually feature a wider variety of body types and performance styles than you might see at a typical strip club.

Like many of her peers, DeVianti says that burlesque is empowering for women. "It's about being comfortable in your own skin," she says. "It's sexy and we do take our clothes off, but it's not just about that; we're on stage, performing and having a good time with each other. My favorite thing about it is girls being together and having fun. Plus, it's like being a little kid and playing dress-up. I love the big feathers, the glitter and the costumes."

In keeping with the idea that tassel-twirling can be empowering for all women, DeVianti and another Alley Cat member, Vee Valentine, will teach an"Art of the Tease" burlesque dance class at the Tool Shed on Friday, Feb. 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. Class participants can choose to do a number with the troupe at their next Stonefly show. When we held this workshop in November, I was thrilled to see that every single person from the class took the stage at Stonefly the following week, proudly worked their feather boas and got lots of cheers from the audience.

DeVianti has big plans for her troupe. The Alley Cats will continue their monthly shows at Stonefly (their next performance there is on Friday, Feb. 13, at 10 p.m.), and they also have a Valentine's Day show at Frank's Power Plant. Auditions for new troupe members will be held on March 28. In addition to dancers, they hope to add a singer and ladies with gymnastic skills.

"Honestly, I would love to take this group as far as I can take them," DeVianti says. "I want to book shows on the road for the summer and take my girls to festivals and international shows to perform-then I will be totally happy!"

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.