Tulsa’s latest glittery, glamorous, edgy burlesque incarnation, TwoLips Burlesk, is a sexy mix of cabaret and vaudeville all revealed one sparkly garter belt at a time through the delicate art of the tease. The dance troupe was founded in 2009 by Amanda "Stormy" Storms (but you can call her by her stage name, Poppy Pie), with Tarynn Archer (Honey du Jour) and Chris Dailey (Nikki Trash).
The current line-up of girls includes lovely ladies in all sizes and shapes. While most of them have been dancers and performers for years, burlesque brought them new insight into their own body image and sexuality.
Poppy is a tall redhead with a strong, toned dancer's body, but she wasn't always super-fit. Before she began belly dancing with Gypsy Fire, Poppy was heavier. As she grew more confident through belly dancing classes and performances, she was able to show off her stomach without feeling self-conscious.
As a nation, we're growing heavier and about one-third of U.S. adults -- 33.8 percent -- are obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2010 findings. Oklahoma's obesity rate is 30.4 percent, one of the worst in the nation.
Squeezing some gym time into our daily routines is difficult, and treadmills or complicated weight-lifting machines don't exactly beckon for our time. Meanwhile, women face increasing societal pressure to conform to a certain body type.
"I don't think it's fair the pressure society places on women to look a certain way," Poppy said. "Women, no matter what shape or size are valuable."
Ginger Slap, the saucy moniker for Kimberly Sisemore, is the troupe's honorary proprietor who rocks a well-rounded figure. The burlesque dancer, hip-hopper, bluesy-soulful singer and photographer said, "Since I had my son, I've been a big girl. And I've never let that stop me and I've done everything I wanted to do."
"This is me, this is who I am," Ginger said. "I have embraced it."
Forget embracing it, Ginger has thrown her bigger-girl curves a bear hug. She's an outspoken burlesque dancer who can bust a hip hop move as easily as she can roll out on stage to perform an entire burlesque dance on roller skates.
She's also a songbird, and has shown off her bluesy-soulful voice at places like Oklahoma City's Blues Fest.
Meanwhile, other troupe members, Leggs Benedict (thin, long and adorable), Tangy Tart (voluptuous with a casual, girl-next-door vibe), Miss Artichoke'u (the tall, naughty rocker) and Whisky St. Cyr (who cuts a classic, hourglass figure) show off their unique body types on stage at the Nightingale Theater.
"We aren't magazine pretty girls, I think, but we are beautiful girls. Real-life beautiful girls, doing crazy things within burlesque," Poppy said.
Those crazy things include a touch of horror, bawdy comedy, some spinning fire tassels and the crack of a bull-whip. The girls have unique talents and specialties, but as Ginger said, they're united in one goal: "To burlesque your face off!"
Spider Lilies and Eye Candy
A burlesque troupe called the Spider Lilies kick-started Tulsa's burgeoning burlesque revival several years ago. They were a bit gothic with a Rockabilly twang.
One of those girls was Kira Von Sutra, who has since moved to Los Angeles.
"Kira was one of the original well-known burlesque dancers," Poppy said, "She gained a footing for what others did."
Kira works as a make-up artist and hair stylist. She's also furthering her career in performance art and burlesque in L.A., though she still pops in for surprise performances in Tulsa when she's back in town.
Not long after the Lilies bloomed, Eye Candy Burlesque coalesced with the help of founders Storms and Lu Foxxx, another Tulsa-based performer and dancer. Lu said she had asked Kira to tell her everything she knew about this new "burlesque thing," when she heard about Spider Lilies.
The original line-up of Eye Candy consisted of Lu, Savonne the Minx and Katarina the Naughty Ballerina. Poppy came up with the name Eye Candy, but got pregnant and had to leave the group shortly before they began performing.
Early on, Eye Candy made a big, bawdy splash in town. The group won three Absolute Best of Tulsa Awards (courtesy of UTW readers), and put on sold-out shows at the Nightingale Theater.
Even though Lu was a part of the hottest burlesque troupe in town, the sultry brunette said she still didn't feel drop-dead gorgeous. Savonne and Katarina are both slender, tall dancers and Lu said, "I struggled with being the chunky one in the middle...I had to become comfortable with my body and realize I was a part of [Eye Candy], too."
The roster of burlesque girls transitioned and later, Savonne moved to Austin and Lu got pregnant, too. Eye Candy eventually went dormant.
But wait! "I'm bringing [Eye Candy] back and it's coming back full force...There will be more Eye Candy shows," Lu promised.
The troupe is planning a benefit called Trick 'R Tease on Oct. 1 at Shadia Dalahl Belly Dance Academy. The girls will perform for free and all the proceeds benefit a non-profit organization to help girls learn international dance.
As Eye Candy gained popularity, some of the talented dancers began touring out-of-state. Other girls had babies or moved away, and after a few years, the troupe disbanded though a few members, like Lu Foxx and Ilsa the Wolf (See Cover, Page 1), still put together performances a few times a year.
Poppy has a four-year-old daughter, Raya, and didn't want to travel to venues across the country to perform burlesque. "They were touring all the time, but I needed to be home with Raya...It just dissolved, unfortunately," she said.
So she formed TwoLips, a new group of burlesque dancers who mostly perform in Tulsa with a few dates here and there in Dallas, among other cities.
Poppy and Ginger have both been dancing from a young age. When she was two, Poppy began doing tap, ballet and jazz. "I fell in love with it," she said. "I danced all through high school, and started choreographing shows at Will Rogers High School."
She traced her love of the artful tease back to a school production of Cabaret. One of the dances she choreographed was deemed "so sexy they had to put a screen up in front of us during the performance," Poppy laughed.
After she graduated, Poppy choreographed for and performed with Gypsy Fire, a local belly dancing group, for six years.
A Brief History of Kim Sisemore
Ginger was raised by strict Church of Christ parents who didn't believe in dancing. When she was about 15, Ginger started sneaking out to go to clubs -- not to drink, but to dance.
"The desire to dance and sing and to be an artist, really, has been in me forever," Ginger said. "I remember my mom asking me, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I said, 'I want to be a star.' My mom thought that was really funny. And I was serious. I wanted to be a singer."
By the time she was 10, Ginger had lived in 36 different states. Her father was a traveling artist, who painted (often religious art) and sold his work around the country. The family lived in a travel trailer.
By then, she realized her family wasn't ordinary. She asked her minister father, Jack, why they didn't have a house. "I said, 'Hey, everybody else has a house. What is up with that?' Dad said, 'I was just waiting for you to notice.'"
So he moved the family to a two-story log cabin on acreage in Mannford, where her parents still reside.
Her mom and dad disapproved of her dancing, and she had been forbidden to dance while she was growing up. "I was not allowed to dance, I never went to prom. I was asked, and never was able to go. Look at me now!" she laughed.
Growing up, she said, "I wanted to dance more than anything." But the Church of Christ didn't allow for it. When she began performing with the belly dancing group Gypsy Fire, her dad took it hard.
"He can't talk about it," Ginger said. "I love my parents so much, and I don't want to disrespect them in any way, but I cannot hold back myself and how I want to live my life."
Ginger is married to Jay Sisemore, a tattoo artist at Karma Tattoo, the shop featured in our photoshoot, and she has a 12-year-old son.
Her husband said he's living his "burlesque dreams" through Ginger, and helps her pick out perfect songs to go with her dance numbers. On the commitment front, Jay said he thinks Kimberly Sisemore is married, but her alter-ego, Ginger Slap, isn't.
Ginger's father still doesn't know about her burlesque dancing project with TwoLips.
"I'm in for a fight with my dad," Ginger said. "I'll wait for them to come around. Either we'll meet in the middle and we're going to be the happy family we've always been or we can let this ruin our relationship."
Patron Saints of TwoLips
Ginger met Poppy through the belly dancing community, and the two became closer friends when Poppy signed up for Ginger's hip-hop class.
The two Tulsa stars love collaborating together, and performed in TwoLips' debut show, Pucker Up and Take It! at the Nightingale Theater in February 2010.
"We packed out the house," Poppy said. "We turned people away from Oklahoma City. For me, it was a personal accomplishment."
The troupe ramped up its shows by adding a touch of vaudeville, courtesy of the patron saints Tulsa burlesque: Nikki Trash and Mr. Crispy. "Burlesque is already left-of-center," Poppy said. But that wasn't nearly enough.
Mr. Crispy, a local vaudeville performer, does sword swallowing and fire-eating, and taught Tangy Tart to eat fire, too. Tangy can also wield a wicked bull-whip, cracking it close enough to the audience to send shivers down collective spines.
"Mr. Crispy got me into fire hula-hooping," Poppy said. "There are surprises and danger involved, but we're spicy and sexy, too."
Crispy also showed Poppy how to set fire to her nipple tassels for a little extra hotness at the end of her performance.
Miss Artichoke'u performs a grinder act, a newish trend in the neo-sideshow movement. The bad-ass, spiky-haired dancer applies a power tool to the erogenous zones of her custom-made metal costume, and, well, sparks fly.
Nikki Trash is one of Tulsa's top drag queens, who was dragged into burlesque by Poppy. Trash was originally signed on to emcee for TwoLips' shows, but is now performing daring fetish acts in other cities. "She'll start slinging dildos on stage. You don't know what's going to happen with Nikki Trash," Ginger laughed.
She still offers her unique viewpoint to the girls and performs her drag-burlesque numbers in TwoLips shows.
Poppy is proud of the new group with the funky talents. The lineup has changed since the first show, but TwoLips now has a core group of dedicated dancers, which isn't to say they don't need new, talented girls once in awhile.
Tulsa Burlesque Society & School
TwoLips holds auditions when it needs a loyal, trustworthy, hard-working dancer. "I work full-time and am a mom. I put a lot of thought and time into burlesque," Poppy said. "I'm always thinking about it. When Raya goes to bed, I work on costuming or choreographing."
The diligent mom and dancer who works for a midtown architecture firm said she hasn't always felt like a sexy burlesque bombshell. "After having Raya, I didn't feel like a woman. I just felt like a mommy," Poppy said.
"Now I feel like I've come back to life, and this gives me the opportunity to be self-expressive. And then I can be happy and excited for my daughter. I know that I need that," Poppy said.
Recently, the troupe founded the Tulsa Burlesque Society, with the goal of encouraging "everyone to find their inner vixen," Poppy said. "Men, too!"
"My goal in Tulsa is to get [people] more forward-thinking. Tulsa has accepted us so far, so I want to push it a little further," Poppy said.
Classes in the art of movement, tease and dance are being held at Liggett Studios on Tuesday evenings starting at 6:30pm.
Lu has started up the Eye Candy School of Burlesque. The first group of girls finished its month of classes two weeks ago. "We had a blast," Lu said.
She didn't realize the classes would be so popular. "I thought it would just be a few students in my wide open living room," Lu laughed. But eight have already signed up for her next set of classes.
Several of her students are busy moms and professional women who wanted "something that was theirs," Lu said, something away from the everyday hubbub of daily life, with a dash of fitness to boot.
Lu said she's had women of all shapes, sizes and ages in her burlesque classes. Eye Candy's fall schedule begins Saturday, Oct. 8, and runs through Oct. 29, with a closed recital on Nov. 5. Classes are from 6-8pm at Shadia Dalahl Belly Dance Academy.
"We're getting our doors beat down by girls who want to be a part of this," Ginger said of TwoLips. "We're opening the school, so if you want to be a part, that's your way in. We're trying to make it as affordable as possible."
Ginger believes burlesque helps make her a healthier person, and allows women to embrace their sexuality.
Pole Dancing Fitness
Teaze Dance and Fitness owner Lynn Crowe-Simon said her two-year-old studio is seeing a rise in clients who want to get fit while expressing their inner diva.
"Women don't like to go to the gym and use the machines, but with pole dance you're doing these beautiful spins and moves," Crowe-Simon said.
"It's more than just the goal of firming up your body, which just comes along as an added bonus," she laughed.
Teaze Dance Studio.
The Teaze Dance studio is in Oklahoma City, near Bricktown, and Crowe-Simon is planning to expand into Tulsa in the near future. Her studio offers five levels of pole dance classes, plus classes in pole fitness, classic and Pussycat Dolls-style burlesque, chair dance and hula-hoop fitness, in addition to a variety of everyday classes like jazz, ballet and Pilates.
She opened the Teaze Dance studio in summer 2009, but Crowe-Simon formed a few pole dancing teams long before that. Oklahoma Showgirls and Teaze Pole Team (also called Oklahoma Pole Team) perform all over Oklahoma.
Even if you're not ready for performing in front of a group, taking these sexy, fun fitness classes will get you in shape fast.
"I think dance is a great workout in general, a pretty high calorie-burning workout. And our pole classes are going to be our biggest body-changing class that we offer," Crowe-Simon said.
"People who pole dance notice a quick change within just two or three weeks of doing it," she said, "People are pretty shocked at how fast it happens."
But she wants you to know she's not a stripper, and the classes shouldn't be mistaken for Stripper 101.
"If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. We're not strippers," Crowe-Simon said. "Studios like mine are opening up all over, and it's a good place to get in great shape and have a good time and meet new friends."
Until Crowe-Simon opens up a new studio in Tulsa, belly dancing classes gives Tulsans a way to express themselves through movement while staying healthy.
Gypsy Fire offers a beginner's class in Egyptian slow and fast moves as well as American Tribal style basics on Mondays at 7:45pm. Classes in belly dance, tribal fusion, Taiji and Cardio Shimmy are held at Belly Dance Academy of Tulsa.
The Queens of Chaos is a new belly dance troupe in town, and leader "Kitty Sparkle" is teaching classes in beginners' and advanced/intermediate belly dance plus a belly dance 101 course.
Future for Tulsa
In the future, the TwoLips performers would like to move to a larger theater to accommodate their ever-growing audience and popularity. Poppy would also like people to understand the clear difference between a burlesque dancer and a stripper.
"This is an art form for us," she said.
"I'll always be curvy. When I started out, I was a lot heavier, and doing this gave me confidence in myself," Lu said. Burlesque "teaches you it's not about some image that's been crammed down your throat by society. It's about teaching the audience to either laugh at themselves or to tell them what is sexy."
In the end, sexy is in the eye of the beholder.
"For guys, sexy is so simple," Poppy said. "Women make sexy more complicated."
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