Queens of the Burlesque Age
New all-girl band mixes rock, jokes and breasts
On any given night around Atlanta's club scene, performers recycle myriad styles and art forms. One of the newest, the Doll Squad, is a troupe of glamorous vamps that combines many of the hottest retro trends. Its nine members are renewing local interest in burlesque, a once-flagging hybrid of singing, dancing and bawdy comedy that is currently riding a national wave of interest.
"Burlesque never really went away," says Doll Squad founder Ginger. "But now, with people like Dita Von Teese and the Pussycat Doll Review, it's about the hottest thing going."
Von Teese's mix of cabaret-style posturing and body-baring earned her an appearance as December's Playboy cover girl, with a pictorial partially shot by burlesque fan (and current boyfriend) Marilyn Manson. The Pussycat Doll Review is an informal Hollywood-based "supergroup," that includes singers Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera, who gather to perform burlesque.
"A lot of rock people are catching on to burlesque," explains the Doll Squad's Calu, "because it is a very rock 'n' roll thing. I mean, nearly naked girls and music — that's pretty rockin'."
But what really sets the Doll Squad apart from many of today's burlesque acts, says Stacy, is its extensive use of music and humor. "It's one thing to just strip and dance, but we all sing — and we all do comedy bits," she says. "We're foxy and smart-asses. We're kinda like Britney Spears-meets-the-Cramps."
Calu, wife of local drummer Shane Morton, originally joined forces with Ginger in 1999 as part of the equally theatrical, outlandish and prop-happy Grand Moff Tarkin. Ginger's performing history dates back to the mid-'90s, when she was a member of her circus-obsessed husband (and Star Bar co-owner) Jim Stacy's band, Big Top. She was also part of Greasepaint before hatching her alter-ego, Glampira.
As pinup queen Glampira, Ginger has made personal appearances at Sci-Fi conventions, selling her glamour-girl photos and building a core of fanatical fans through her website (www.glampira.com). Meanwhile, Calu's Planet of the Vamps website has built a slavish international following thanks to its faux-raunchy, campy horror-based collection of images.
This past summer, Ginger and Calu teamed as a duo act for the first Doll Squad event. Opening for Dita Von Teese at the Chamber, the mini-Squad proved so popular they decided to add members and get serious. Since September, the Dolls have gone about perfecting a saucy hour-and-a-half show featuring jazz, torch and rock cover songs, and skits — all peppered with teases of nudity.
Most of the Squad has pretty impressive rock pedigrees. In addition to Ginger and Calu, the troupe includes singer/bassist Barb Smith (Lust) performing as Barbilicious, Snoopy (featured in the first Rob Zombie video) and several behind-the-scenes studio and production company veterans with stage names such as Double D-lux, Betty Torch, Naughtalie Rose, Daisey Delight and Dixie Dust.
Flathead Mike, of Flathead Mike and the Mercurys, is the Dolls' official soundman, and several local bands are currently competing to be the Doll Squad's live backing band. Already booked through September, the Squad plans a CD, a "reality-based" DVD and seasonal theme shows.
"We're gonna take this thing as far as we can," says Ginger, "In every way."
In today's world of pre-fab navels and cleavage, the Doll Squad stands firm in its perky, defiant independence.
"The way we look at the nudity part of our act is: It's our bodies and we can do what we like with them," says Ginger.
"Plus, boobs are just funny," adds Calu. "They hang there, they bounce. It's entertaining."