The Downtown Delilahs
Tucked away behind bustling Historic River Street is a secret night club known only to those who have a key. Inside is a throwback to the era of speakeasies, debauchery, and, of course, burlesque. This back-alley bar’s resident burlesque troupe has perfected the art of the tease with intricate costumes, bold dance routines, and sheer style.
God as my witness, I never thought anything could make Pat Boone sexy.
And yet there I was, getting hot under the collar to a perilously unprofessional extent as the Downtown Delilahs ran through a rehearsal that infused Boone-defying sensuality into the aggressively milquetoast crooner’s hit “Love Letters in the Sand.”
While Boone sang about a day like today, I watched Bambi D. mime ironing laundry, her hips swaying hypnotically along to the music. Beside her, Kiki D. mimed sewing, an arched eyebrow signifying more on her mind than just needlework. Roxy D., fiery red hair framing a look of erotic nonchalance, swept, while Penny D. stared daggers of sexual tension into the empty rehearsal seats.
I can promise you, when you see the final product, you will never listen to Pat Boone the same way again.
Especially when the record scratches, smash cutting the music into blistering saxophone from The Coaster’s “Yakety Yak” and the pantomime of housework gives way to… well it was a rehearsal, so it was all pantomimed, but suffice it to say the tasteful frocks of the bored housefraus don’t make it to the end of the song.
This is the trademark of the Downtown Delilahs: taking all of the raw sexuality of burlesque, and tweaking the formula into bold and energetic permutations. They represent the new generation of cabaret, a blast of erotic cold water from an era before every sexual act imaginable was available in an instant on every smartphone in every pocket in the world. Theirs is the era when sex was Sex, capitalized, important, spoken of only in hushed tones and even then never in public.
Theirs is the era of the speakeasy burlesque show, and that era is returning in a big way.
But before you go thinking it’s all sin and scintillation, a brief primer on the art of the tease that is burlesque. The origins of the term are actually comedic in nature, as it was used to refer to satirical plays generally meant to lampoon anything from high art to contemporary culture, with an exposed leg here and there as a side dish. It wasn’t long before that exposed leg took center stage, and the vaudeville halls of late 19th century America erupted with this majestically sexy new American art form.
The comedy was still there, but it was punctuated by extravaganzas of raw sexuality, over the top costumes and a sense of artistry sorely missing from the smartphone erotica of the modern age.
The art of the tease reached its zenith just as the entire country took a turn for the boring in the 1930s with the advent of prohibition. A general societal backlash against everything fun drove burlesque underground, off of the vaudeville stage and into the speakeasies of the era.
But now, much like the speakeasies themselves, burlesque is making its comeback, and the Delilahs have been able to capitalize on both. For starters, they perform in an honest-to-God speakeasy, their black box theater tucked away through a hidden door along one wall of Mata Hari, itself a speakeasy tucked behind a nondescript door off of Factor’s Walk. Plus, they bring all the comedy, the spectacle and the sex of good old fashioned Burlesque. Even if they don’t call it that.
“As the show has grown and evolved into something a little different than how we started, I feel most comfortable describing the show as a ‘dance cabaret,’” said Delilahs founder Jade Bills, known on stage as Lana D. “We are definitely burlesque inspired, but it’s grown… to an actual experience. Inside our own private theater, you are actually transported to a place where people can dress up, go to a nice private club, have drinks, and see a show.”
That show is a meticulously planned and choreographed routine whose every aspect begins and ends with Bills. Since her early days watching and mimicking the great starlets of late-90s MTV – Britney, Christina, J-Lo, et. al. – Jade has been enraptured with the art of dance. She carried that with her to 309 West, a bar famed for its Coyote …