We settled into our seats, ordered a bottle of red wine, and prepared ourselves. “Who’s ready to see some beautiful women take their clothes off?” boomed a woman, clad in black lingerie and a translucent floral dress, who introduced herself to the audience as Dot Mitzvah, our host for the evening. Hesitant, I took a large swig of wine.
It sounded just as absurd then as it does now—“Hey, I’m blowing off my homework to go see a burlesque show; do you wanna join me?” It was a Sunday night, and I was inviting friends to see the “Burlesque Sun- day Sizzle,” hosted by the Boom Boom Re- vue every Sunday night at The 9th Note on Orange Street. Despite my haphazard pitch, there we were—Andrea Villena, TC ’15, Joe Giammittorio, JE ’15, Josh Isackson, JE ’15, and I—having crossed the New Haven Green to arrive at The 9th Note just a few minutes after 9 p.m.
The 9th Note, which opened in early March, is owner Christian O’Dowd’s second attempt at a restaurant in the Orange Street space. When he bought it about a year ago, it was a Brazilian restaurant, Palmeira; now, the restaurant revolves around a Roaring Twenties theme. And while the attendance on this particular Sunday might not have suggested a thriving neo-burlesque scene—the audience was notably sparse—the performers were a dedicated crew, and they expected no less from us. This is how I found myself—mid-tweet—being whisked up on “stage” by Dot Mitzvah, whose ensemble was complemented by the “fascinating fascinator” that sat atop her head. A fascinator, Dot later ex- plained, is just that—an accessory added to a dancer’s wardrobe for visual interest. This particular fascinator, adorned with bright red feathers, turned out to be a thong—just a thong—that happened to be within arm’s reach when she left for work that evening.
Dot Mitzvah proceeded to use me as a stage prop to demonstrate the “rules,” which included a series of demonstrations of appropriate moments to applaud. Follow- ing Dot’s instructions, I ran my hand down my leg as sensually as I could, did a quick shoulder shimmy, and got on my hands and knees, shaking my head wildly. Luckily, the show upheld a strict no-nudity, no-touching rule: “more tease than strip,” as one New Haven Living article described New Haven neo-burlesque.
I was glad to have been the act that came before—and not after—the cast of perform- ers for the evening. One by one, dancers with clever, one-of-a-kind names—Ginny Nightshade, Kitty Katastrophe, and Vanil LaFrappe, to name a few—took the stage in themed costumes ranging from sexy scien- tist to circus ringleader. Each told an elabo- rate story while gradually removing articles of clothing (under which they wore tassels or pasties), all the while eliciting cheers of support and excitement from the audience.
Pasties aside, the burlesque show turned out to be much more than the den of female objectification we’d expected it might be. Among the host, performers, and 25 or so patrons in The 9th Note that night—comprised, perhaps surprisingly, of an equal number of women and men—was a sense of conviviality and a common understand- ing that what we were watching was not just sensual stripping. It was intimate self- expression, an art form in its own right.
After the last performer had left the stage, I spoke with one couple from Wallingford, Conn. who told me they came to the show because they knew five out of the seven women performing that evening. They regu- larly frequented burlesque performances, and wanted to come show support for their friends. “We think burlesque is empowering to women. Boobs shouldn’t be taboo,” they explained.
Dot Mitzvah echoed the same sentiments. She said that, contrary to the expectations of many, there is a large and growing commu- nity of burlesque supporters and aficionados in Connecticut and around the country—she herself is the owner and head instructor at the Ivy League School of Burlesque (ILSB), located right here in New Haven on Orange Street. As stated on its website, the mission of ILSB is to “encourage all performers to embrace their bodies, souls, and personali- ties in a fun, body-positive, noncompetitive atmosphere.”
As for the future of the Boom Boom Revue, Dot is unabashedly confident. “We’ve been around for years and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” she said.
At the very end of the show, Dot Mitzvah made the audience lift our pinkies and promise to tell at least one friend about Sunday nights at The 9th Note. Dottie, I think I’m doing you one better.