Femmes Fatales

Estrogen explosion: A theater troupe offers a politically tinged burlesque show, and a group of durable dames muscles in on Ulster County — all for fun, of course


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burlesque dancerRisqué business: Angelique A’Lamode is sweet but sassy

Photograph by Andrew T. Foster

It’s no secret that women often struggle with confidence and self-esteem — a quick survey of the many self-help titles at your local bookstore can attest to that. Although it’s a weighty problem, who says the solution can’t be fun? Two local girl-power groups — a traveling burlesque show and a ladies’ arm-wrestling league — take unconventional approaches to helping their members feel confident, strong, and beautiful.

“There’s no wrong way to enjoy a burlesque show,” says Lucida Sans, founder of Alpha Psi Ecdysia, the Valley’s only vaudevillian striptease group. This eight-member troupe of professional entertainers started out in 2008 as a popular performing arts club at SUNY New Paltz. Most of their shows take place in Albany, New Paltz, and New York City, and tend to draw quite a crowd. (During the troupe’s first show in New Paltz in May 2008, the audience filled the joint to maximum capacity; latecomers had to be turned away.) Performances usually last about two hours, with anywhere from 10-20 different acts.

Sans (it’s her stage name) explains that the group’s act is not simply a form of exotic dancing, but “more of a choreographed theater show.” Beyond just taking-it-all-off, performers attempt to engage the audience by mixing song, dance, and a storyline into brief skits which, according to Sans, combine “narrative, politics, commentary, identity — and a real, real fun party.”

We want to prove that women can be sexual, powerful, and intellectually provocative at the same time

Wait a minute. Politics? Social commentary? In a striptease show? “We want to prove that women can be sexual, powerful, and intellectually provocative at the same time,” Sans says. Like a variety show, the acts include some fun, frivolous numbers for purely entertainment purposes. Other performers play colorful characters and depict scenes that challenge the stereotypes that women often face. In one act, Izébel Vivant of New Paltz — a women’s rights activist when she’s offstage — portrays a wife who is continuously ignored by her husband. Rather than beg for his attention, her character finds fulfillment by taking matters into her own hands (in a humorous and decidedly seductive way).

Sans, 21, admits the group has faced opposition from those who believe the entertainers are simply objectifying themselves. “It’s a different generation of feminism,” she says. “[The previous generation] fought by saying, ‘Don’t sexualize me.’ But we’re reclaiming that sexuality, saying ‘You’re allowed to want me, but from a distance — and I’ll control the way you do so.’ ”

brawlersWomen at war: Above, members of an all-female arm-wrestling league put on a tough fight; below, two B.R.A.W.L.ers duke it out at Keegan Ales in Kingston

Photographs by Jonathan Hubschman

brawlers

Another manifestation of contemporary feminism that would no doubt shock the bra-burners of yesteryear is the Broads Regional Arm Wrestling League (or B.R.A.W.L. for short). This group formed just a year ago for three main reasons: “to raise money for charity, to have fun, and to have an excuse to wear costumes,” laughs founder and Stone Ridge resident Jacinta Bunnell.

The league has roughly 40 members, each of whom picks a name, a persona, and an outfit to match: Jackie O’Nasty, for example, dons a stately First Lady-esque getup when she competes against the crusading Joan of Arm, who does battle in aluminum armor. Tournaments take place at various locations throughout the Valley, including Keegan Ales in Kingston and the Water Street Market in New Paltz. Each competitor shows up with her own entourage, a group of offbeat cheerleaders responsible for riling up the crowd. (Goldirox, for instance, brings along her vicious Three Bears.) Before the wrestlers begin, the crowd places bets on the outcome of the match. These bets are actually donations, which are given to local charities that benefit women and girls. In 2009, more than $5,000 was raised and distributed.

Club members have various lifestyles, from stay-at-home mom to retired firefighter; math teacher to sheep herder. And the competition is all in fun; after an event, even the most ferocious contenders can be seen chatting and dancing together. Bunnell notes that most ladies in the league tend to undergo a sort of transformation, becoming more confident and social. “Women’s strength is often made fun of in our culture,” she noted. “But these women are truly strong, powerful, and amazing leaders.”

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