More Tease, Please
The fourth installment of Katy K.'s Girlesque burlesque revue brought a host of well-proportioned, flesh-baring dancers to the Mercy Lounge stage last weekend. Once again, this semi-regular event featured the adorably creative World Famous Pontani Sisters and also welcomed the Juno-esque Dirty Martinirecently crowned Ms. Exotic World 2004to Nashville. L.A. lady Ming Dynatease and Kentucky-based Honey Duvet also came to shake things up, so to speak, and no Girlesque would be complete without Nashville's own Panty Raid, featuring Kicky La Rue, Gorgeous Greta and chanteuse Mamma Tassel. The infamous Bianca Paige even made a cameo as emcee.
The pint-sized Pontani Sisters have been instrumental in defining "new burlesque," which has revived the art of the striptease with nightclub shows in cities across the U.S. There's a definite retro appeal here, and even if the women onstage are clad in nothing but pasties, plenty of people in the audience can be spotted wearing vintage duds. Angie, Tara and Helen Pontani have been dancing and performing since childhood, but "gave up their day jobs" to go pro about five years ago, just as the burlesque revival started to rise. At that time, the Brooklynites had trouble booking gigs because booking agents had a hard time understanding the difference between burlesque and plain old smut. (The difference is pretty obvious to me.) The spunky sisters have since performed internationally, spawned the New York Burlesque Festival, created the workout video Go Go Robics, and are the subject of a documentary, Showy and 5'2", that recently screened at Cannes. The Pontanis have watched the burlesque movement go from obscure to en vogue, and they encourage would-be performers to "put a number together and give it a go." What they love about burlesque is that, to be good, a performer must understand "the sass that is burlesque."
The Girlesque performers and their playful audience were all about sass. The bubbly Pontanis' cheeky costumes and bouncy numbers cleverly contrasted with the twirling tassels and old-timey striptease of Dirty Martini. Whether decked out as waitresses, Vegas showgirls or powwowing Indians, the Pontanis knocked our socks off while keeping their tops on. Dirty, with her hourglass figure, gave the most confident performance of all and proved that sexy is an attitude, not a dress size.
After a sizzling show of bountiful bosoms, a nightcap at a normal bar just wouldn't do. My contingent of married women, couples, single gals, and straight and gay men decided to do something different. In search of certain scandal, we bought some beer and headed for Babes.
Strangely enough, Babes, a "gentlemen's club," was one the cleanest bars I've ever been to. The Formica tabletops were spotless, and the sleek, black-tiled bathroom seemed plucked from a chic West Hollywood hotel. A top-notch ventilation system whisked away evidence of cigar smoke, perfume and Eau de Bubba. While the clean air may be a boon to men who visit Babes on the sly, the antiseptic atmosphere hit us like a shot of Novocain. The ladies of Girlesque had brought our blood to a boil, and we were craving a somewhat seedy, lascivious den of sin, or at least some dazzling stripper moves. Instead, the dancers, more girl-next-door-gets-naked than exotic, systematically stripped on either of two stages or quietly milled about looking for lap-dance customers. There was nothing erotic here.
Lap dances were conducted in back rooms off of the main floor. A few people in my group wanted private danceswhich were $30 per person, plus a tip for "good service"but balked at the price. Better to grab some dollar bills and sit by the nearest stage. Once free of their pesky clothes, the girls got up close and very personal. They slithered, pouted, flirted and even wrapped their legs around customers' heads. It seemed like an awful lot of work for a few dollars. One friend, equal parts bored and brave, finally went in for a lap dance. He emerged a few minutes later with mussed hair, rumpled lapels and a crooked little smile. "Best lap dance I ever had," he pronounced.
After the titillating antics of the Girlesque dancers, especially the passionate disrobing of Dirty Martini, the routine twirls and canned gyrations at Babes felt lifeless and banal. Something vital was missingthe tease. None of the Girlesque performers had "perfect" bodies, but they had raw sensuality to spare. They enchanted us with old-fashioned feminine wiles and seduced us, as Angie Pontani would say, with that sass.
Amy Waddell, photos by Darek Bell
It's the funniest thing. Here I was, sitting in the midst of two brand-new, high-performance sports cars whose combined output exceeded 800 horsepower, and I was having the best time simply being still. Both the SL600 from Mercedes-Benz and the XLR from Cadillac represent the latest tony trend for big-bucks convertibles: the retractable hardtop roadster. Pushing the activation buttons means setting in motion the most artful mechanical ballets you can imagine as the cars' roofs ply, glide and nestle into their respective positions. It's simply hypnotizing. And then you drive 'em...
2004 Mercedes-Benz XL600
Although I am one, I've never really thought of myself as a member of the plebs. I do now. I just said good-bye to Mercedes' SL600 after a week of pretending I actually deserved the thing.
Low self-esteem? Not really. Only, you try living up to a car that makes 493 horsepower, 590 ft.-lbs. of torque, costs $137,280 as-tested and requires a gas-guzzler ransom of $2,600 to roll out of the showroom. Just looking at the thing makes women tingle and men pudgy. Pulling up to restaurants with the top down precipitates a shower of thumbs-up and knowing winks from guys waiting for a valet to bring the Taurus back. "I wonder who he is?" they think. "Music Row guy? Can he sing on-key without ProTools?"
Parking tips commensurate with this car just about bankrupted me in one week's time.
For an avowed aficionado, however, it was worth it. This is a masterpiece car, not least for the way it successfully harmonizes a number of competing agendas. It's a luxury-and-image car, of course. It's also a serious performer, whose 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 accomplishes sprints from zero-to-60 in 4.5 seconds.
The SL600 is also a high-tech showcase. It dissolves from hardtop coupe to open-air roadster in less than 30 seconds. Its "Keyless-Go" system is an encrypted wireless scheme for locking, unlocking, starting and stopping the car without ever fumbling with a key. If the fob's in your pocket, the SL knows "you da man." Step up; get in; start up, simply by touching the top of the gear shifter.
Mercedes' SL-Class represents the might-makes-right school of automotive design, hence the apparent cost-is-no-object result. In order to be plush, fast, sporty and techie simultaneously, the SL600 has inspired all manner of electronic driving aidsActive Body Control suspension, Electronic Stability Program, Electronic Braking, automatic pop-up rollover bar, not to mention anti-lock braking and traction control. Therein lies sufficient explanation for a chubby total weight of 4,429 lbs. So it's ironical that the SL-Class, which celebrates a 50th birthday this year, derives its very name from the German designation sports leichti.e., "sports light."
Yet the SL feels almost as nimble and responsive as a serious sporter. Acceleration is more aptly termed exhilaration. Active suspension combines with huge 40-profile front, 35-profile rear tires to push cornering limits well past the white-knuckle threshold. The SL's body rolls so little, in fact, that engineers had to induce a slight lean just to tip off drivers that traditional rules of physics still apply.
The rules of human concentration do too; and in this regard, Mercedes has stumbled slightly. COMAND, the SL's complicated telematics system for audio, navigation, telephone use and vehicle information simply defies instinctive comprehension, especially while driving. With some glee, therefore, did I note the Automotive News headline for May 31: "Mercedes ditches glitches with electronics." It's a little late for the current SL, alas.
That's all a memory now, of coursea distinctly fond one. Others may find it easier than I to afford an SL600. Few will appreciate driving, parading, playing with one more.
2004 Cadillac XLR
How long has it beenif eversince an American automaker fielded a luxurious, sporty roadster that can confidently compete with the best Europe and Asia have to offer?
Pore over the spec sheet for the Cadillac XLR: Keyless access, just like the SL. Pushbutton retractable hardtop, just like the SL. Magnetic Ride Control active suspension, with StabiliTrak skid control, just like the SL.
One thing the XLR doesn't have, though, is excess, performance-robbing weight. At 3,647 lbs., the XLR is 782 lbs. lighter than the SL600, 418 lbs. lighter even than the V8-powered SL500. What's more, Caddy's 4.6-liter "Northstar" V8 out-powers Mercedes' 5.0-liter V8 in the SL500, 320 hp versus 302 hp. Clearly, these figures establish a contexta level playing field, that isfor a fair fight between worthy contenders. Moreover, at $76,525, no one will accuse the XLR of being affordable; but amongst the company it keeps, it's actually a bargain. I can't think of another American car in modern times that has ever been as well prepared to take on the world.
The XLR is fast (zero-to-60 in under six seconds). It corners aggressively. Caddy claims its magnetic ride control is the fastest-reacting active suspension currently available, and it feels positively sure-footed. Handling is edgynot rough, but taut, as if to prove the XLR is working its butt off to deliver serious thrills.
Edgy is the only way to describe XLR's looks, as well. All those facets, planes and creases positively contradict the fluid grace of an SL or Jaguar's XK roadster. If the rest of the world likes to think of America as brash and edgy, why not serve up a roadster in this very likeness?
Then, when they sneer, spank 'em with a legitimate, luxurious performer whose lofty pedigree derives from the next-generation Chevrolet Corvette, alongside which the XLR is being assembled in Kentucky. Imagine that: Self-indulgence as a patriotic gesture, as overt political theater