Bursting with fantasy in glittering gowns, Jacksonville’s burlesque scene has made its post-pandemic comeback, leaving a trail of dropped jaws and feather boas.
Sunny Parker went between the dressing room and the DJ booth as the crowd started trickling up to the second floor. A classic beauty in a satin robe with rhinestones peeking out from her chest, she was to host the launch of Shim Sham Burlesque, a new bimonthly cabaret show at the beaches.
At 10 p.m. Parker cleared the center of the room. Ever so sexy and cool, she welcomed an eager audience and listed out the rules: no touching the performers, no flash photography, no judging based on race, gender, age, sexuality.
“It’s important that everyone feels comfortable and safe at the shows. We also want to go outside the box,” said Parker, “I want it to feel like an inclusive and safe space.”
The lights dimmed and a sensuous cabaret song started to play as Misty Rose from Orlando emerged from the back of the crowd. She danced around the room, stopping to shimmy and shake, and removed one article of clothing after the other without missing a beat.
Tallahassee’s Indie Sinclair followed in fishnets and lingerie with an edgy, vivacious performance, then local Lyla Jay Blu presented an elegant strip-tease, leaving the floor covered in feathers and dead presidents.
Each performer ended their number in pasties and a thong, dollar bills flying into their baskets along with cheers and applause. It’s not like what you’d see at a gentlemen’s club, though—performers bring the elevated charm of Josephine Baker and Gypsy Rose Lee into the new millennium. The theatrical striptease is alluring rather than overtly sexual.
“We’ve been very lucky for our last few shows to have a really good crowd. The Cabaret Hour did not start out that way,” said Parker, reminiscing on shows from years ago. “For a while, when we first started, we were lucky to get 10 people in the door.”
Parker founded her troupe, Punk Rock Burlesque, five years ago after seeing a local Bada Bing Babes Burlesque show. “I thought it was really cool, did some research on the internet, bought a garter belt and dove in from there,” she said.
Led by Miss Parker, the troupe features Anita Nightcap, Chlora de Formme, Lyla Jay Blu, Vienna LePaige and Autumn Josette. They weave burlesque with a punk rock influence, bringing new life to a century-old tradition.
Parker’s Cabaret Hour features acts from out of town and is more of a variety show, with comedy and entertainment on top of the strip teases.
“We just kept at it, then we’d start getting 50 people in the door. Now we’re having to book bigger venues because the shows are selling out.”
While the dancers had a wardrobe change, two volunteers stepped up for a game. A pair of tennis balls in a sock was tied to their belts, and they were challenged to get them out without using their hands.
The second set of performances was as impressive as the first and ended in a bonafide champagne shower by Lyla Jay Blu.
Shim Sham Burlesque’s next bimonthly show is Oct. 20, and the Cabaret Hour will return with a prohibition style show at the Volstead December 3. Punk Rock Burlesque will be back in January.