Walk into Dallas' Red Light Lounge on the second Thursday of any month and it's obvious this isn't your typical evening on the town. The venue has seemingly been transported back in time. Women dress in 1950s pinup garb -- it's a sea of corsets, glitter, boas, and fishnet tights.
This is the Red Light Lounge Vintage Cocktail Hour, one event where almost anything goes. The venue is normally a dance club, evident from the DJ booth set up on the right wall, but once a month, the dance floor is transformed into a stage where area burlesque troupes shake what their mamas gave them.
Burlesque is an increasingly popular art form in Dallas-Fort Worth. Performances, which have thrived as part of a body positive movement, showcase variety acts, such as comedy and dance, often coupled with a striptease. But what makes the Red Light Lounge show different from the average burlesque performance, you ask?
Well, it's the audience.
While Vintage Cocktail Hour is open to the public, it's also an opportunity for burlesque dancers to watch one another perform. The show offers newcomers an opportunity to test out their skills and boost their clout.
"Some shows are really easy or have a standard crowd. It ups your street cred if you perform here," says Roxxy Reckless, one of the dancers.
Burlesque was most popular from the 1860s to the 1940s, and throughout its reign evolved into several different styles. The most well known is American Burlesque, which was popularized in cabarets, clubs and theaters as a kind of variety show. Since the 1940s burlesque has developed into an anything goes type of affair and spawned new subcategories such as Cirque Burlesque, which includes sideshow acts like beds of nails and aerial ropes, and gorelesque, which uses fake blood and horror-style drag. Boylesque performances feature men on stage.
A new generation revived American Burlesque in the 1990s and has reshaped it with certain nostalgia for the art’s glamour, which is now known as the Neo Classic or New Burlesque style.
In Dallas, the scene has become so lively, it has its own festival, the Dallas Burlesque Festival, which just celebrated its eighth year.
"A lot of regulars in the community go to every show every day of the week," said performer Mary Lynn Mayhem.
Becoming infatuated with burlesque is not unusual; it’s known as an accepting and body-positive community. Roxxy is a new-to-the-scene dancer and signed up for her first show just six weeks after she saw her first performance.
"I actually saw someone do it at an open mic and she was terrified the whole time," says Roxxy, "but at the end she was glowing with radiance. I found it inspiring."
Burlesque notably attracts a diverse group of women. At Roxxy's first show, the lineup ranged from girls in their early 20s to a 70-year-old. Roxxy felt hooked from then on. She rehearses for an hour every day, regardless of whether she will be performing that evening.
Since she started in 2014, Roxxy has become a bonafide burlesque babe, earning a feature on the cover of Pink Peacock Pin Up magazine and working with Penny Ruffles on a collaboration, Ruffles n' Reckless. The accolades are great, but the performer attributes her personal growth to one thing:
"An amazing burlesque family made up of the friends of my choosing," she says.
See the women of Dallas' burlesque movement in action at the Red Light Lounge Vintage Cocktail Hour; the next occur April 14 and May 12. Shows happen every second Thursday of the month, with a happy hour from 7-10 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. and the club, which is in Deep Ellum, is 21 and up; $5 cover charge. Find more local shows at DFWburlesque.com.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to attribute one quote to the appropriate source.
Robyn Langley is a graduating senior at SMU from Boca Raton, Florida. She is a fashion media major with a minor in art and will be the first student to minor in Judaic studies.