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Nerdy Dancing, Where Pasty Meets Pastie

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Nerdy Dancing, Where Pasty Meets Pastie; In Cheeky, Geeky Revues, Superhero and Videogame Characters Do the Striptease; 'Burl-X-Files'

CHICAGO--Two women dressed in bright overalls, large baseball hats and giant handlebar mustaches took to the stage of a storefront theater here as music from the "Super Mario Bros." videogame blared.

In coy moves aping those of the real characters, they sauntered across the stage, swung their hips and struck a few womanly poses. One peeled off an oversize white glove, as the audience cheered, and then they started to banter in mock Italian accents.

"I can never watch the Mario Brothers the same way again," says Joshua Thomas, a 29-year-old rental-car manager in Orlando, who saw the show--headlined "A Super Mario Burlesque"--while visiting with friends.

Welcome to the quirky world of nerdlesque, or nerd burlesque, a place where women performers of all shapes and sizes bare their geeky souls, strip down to pasties and panties--and boldly go where no man has gone before.

The genre is taking root from New York to Seattle and many smaller cities in between, riding a surge in popularity of both burlesque, an old-timey form of striptease, and nerd culture--everything from superheroes, fantasy and science fiction to video and role-playing games.

"It's about being inspired by nerd culture and pop culture and letting your sexy geek-flag fly," says Seattle performer Jessica Obrist, who goes by the stage name Jo Jo Stilletto, and is working on a book about nerdlesque.

For her first nerdlesque number in 2006, Ms. Obrist did a striptease as a mathematician, complete with a pi-adorned costume and music from the German electronic band Kraftwerk. Her burlesque troupe has since put on two entire shows devoted to the nerd-friendly oeuvre of Joss Whedon, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly" and "The Avengers." She is now working on a show called the "Burl-X-Files," based on exploits from the popular "The X Files."

Nelson Lugo is a New York magician who heads a troupe called Epic Win Burlesque, featuring female performers billed as the "four-eyed foxes." He says the group put on a videogame-themed burlesque show about four years ago, featuring acts based on everything from "Tomb Raider" to more obscure titles like "Metal Gear Solid."

"That was supposed to be it," he says, "but the show was so popular that we did another and another."

Now, the troupe routinely sells out venues with 200 to 300 seats, offering themed reviews featuring "Batman," "Ghostbusters" and "The Lord of the Rings." Mr. Lugo is planning an October convention in New York for producers and performers called Nerdlesque Fest.

Chicago's Gorilla Tango Theatre specializes in hourlong parody shows, with the musical numbers replaced by burlesque and all the characters--from Indiana Jones and Mr. Spock to Chewbacca and Doctor Who--played by women. Most of the goofy plots explore the characters' transformation into women. In "Super Mario" characters Mario and Luigi's case, they had been trying to save the princess for so long that everyone they saw started to look female.

Kelly Williams, co-owner of the theater with her husband, Dan Abbate, says they learned a thing or two about what does well in small venues, after years in the business. "If I could put them all together, it would be a parody, burlesque and a cat show with drinking games, and everyone would come," she says.

About three years ago, she and Mr. Abbate approached MsPixy, a local burlesque performer, with the idea of combining a parody show with burlesque. In traditional burlesque reviews, come-hither women are followed by male comics. "We wanted the women to be both funny and sexy," Ms. Williams says.

"I figured I'd write something nerdy, because that's what I know," says MsPixy, who asked to use only her stage name to avoid conflict with her day job in more family-friendly theater. She drew up a three-page list of potential themes and narrowed it down to two choices.

"My boyfriend and now-husband was furious when I chose Mario Brothers," she says. "He thought 'Star Trek' would do much better."

Instead, the initial eight-performance run extended for nearly two years, then went on tour, and is now back in Chicago. MsPixy went on to write tributes to "Dungeons & Dragons" and the superhero genre.

Almost from the beginning, demand was outstripping her ability to come up with new shows, and Gorilla Tango commissioned others to write a "Star Trek" burlesque; an Indiana Jones show and two "Star Wars" shows, "A Nude Hope" and "The Empire Brings Sexy Back."

Mr. Abbate and Ms. Williams have since bought a second venue in Skokie, Ill., and are working on a plan to package the shows in franchised theaters in other cities.

Audiences tend to be a mix of superfans--some of whom will come in costume--and casual theatergoers, Mr. Abbate says. "There's one bit in Mario Brothers that I love, where only half the audience laughs," Mr. Abbate says. "The superfans will respect that we know our stuff."

On the other hand, a group of women in their 70s came in to see "A Nude Hope," the "Star Wars" parody. "For some reason they picked us out of a list of shows to go to...and they loved it," he says.

One complication emerged when the theater was approached by Bandai Co., the Japanese toy maker, with a complaint about a show called "Go Go Power Rangers: A Mighty Morphin Burlesque."

Bandai "thought the title and some of the characters were a little too close," says Ms. Williams. So the name was quickly changed to "Hooter Rangers: A Spicy Morphing Burlesque," and the show went on.

Performances are restricted to people 18 and over, but there is no full-nudity and the aesthetic is "goofy and super silly" rather than overly sexy, Mr. Abbate says.

At a recent performance of the Indiana Jones parody, the actress playing the villain, who is about 5'8" and weighs 170 pounds, conducted a campy catfight with Indiana Jones, a much shorter, but no less Rubenesque performer.

In later scenes, they each stripped down to panties and pasties--with Indy making good use of her hat--winning howls and hoots from the audience.

"The hard-core fans come to see their favorite characters strip. It's hilarious," says Cassandra Hannan, a 25-year-old receptionist, who plays the villain, Pincha Nipol. "It's about owning what you have and representing that to a bunch of audiences. It definitely makes you a lot more fearless."

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  • APA 6th ed.: (2013-03-05). Nerdy Dancing, Where Pasty Meets Pastie. The Wall Street Journal .
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Nerdy Dancing, Where Pasty Meets Pastie | url=,_Where_Pasty_Meets_Pastie | work=The Wall Street Journal | pages= | date=2013-03-05 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
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