The new, new burlesque
Reno troupe BohoCrush kick starts the naughty phenomenon in Northern Nevada with a website, joyful nudity and dirty dancing
Nipple tassels and underwear is all that Georgette O’Leare and Kaycee Martin wear during their burlesque shows once they finish their stripteases. But before the rush of flesh, before the crowd of guys and gals cheers louder as each piece of clothing falls, before the dancers begin to invite audience members onstage for a bit of improv, O’Leare and Martin—usually accompanied by six or seven more female dancers—act out their set.All the while, O’Leare’s boyfriend, Shone Jensen, takes photographs that are available online soon afterward.
O’Leare, 32, and Jensen, 36, run Bohocrush.com (Boho is short for Bohemian), which is all about artistic nudity… and some other stuff. The site has photos of mostly Reno women, nude and not, in all sorts of different backgrounds, from Jensen’s basement to Burning Man to natural landscapes.
Memberships to the website are 10 bucks a month.
“Our goal was to create something that provided us the opportunity to never leave each others’ side,” says O’Leare. “It really comes from our love for each other.”
Many of their subscribers and fans are regular participants at Burning Man. (O’Leare and Jensen do photo shoots there every year.) They also get a lot of subscribers from Europe, which they attribute to that continent’s relaxed views on adult material.
Though he cites the weeklong party as an influence, Jensen says Burning Man isn’t a huge factor in his art.
“It’s more about being able to be who you are 24/7,” says O’Leare.
Bohocrush.com also has its own networking area, Planet Boho, which is like Myspace.com but for models, subscribers of the site and artists looking to collaborate and network. From there, members can post photos—often risqué photos—and videos, write blogs and email each other.
O’Leare describes the website as a work in progress. She and Jensen do all the online programming themselves and are “learning as we go,” as she explains it.
The site has a strong following, but so do porn sites with pictures of naked women. That leads to the inevitable question: What makes BohoCrush art?
“Our art is very important to us,” O’Leare says. “It’s our way to express, to enjoy, and to explore life. Our art is also fueled by our passions and our sexualities. Sexuality in its natural form. A loving, conscious state of mind, treating all with love and respect. Each of us has different paths to pursue, and we know that not everybody has the same flavor in this world.
“It would be difficult for us to play by others’ rules, and so we do not wish to impart them on others. We share love. Not harm. We feel that love and sexuality can be expressed in a positive world, that through communication and honesty, anything is possible. It is good to try things and share things. We are all human, and as humans, we all have desires.”
In short, “nudity and sexuality are not the same things,” O’Leare says.
With anything sexual, there is a fine line between exhibitionism and exploitation.
There are no absolute definitions, says Daniel Enrique Perez, affiliated professor of women’s studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I think it can be liberating if the woman has complete control over the display of her body.”
Perez defined exploitation as women being used as a commodity. Basically, it comes down to money and circumstance. If a woman is forced to display herself sexually, for money or any other reason, that is exploitation.
“I think one has to look at if there is money involved and how money is involved,” he says.
BohoCrush has a strict policy of not exchanging money with models and an equally strict policy of letting models control how the photo shoots are done.
The rise of burlesque
Burlesque originated in the 1840s as a musical parody of the Victorian upper social classes for the working class. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Burlesque grew more and more risqué, reaching its highest point in the 1930s and 1940s, not long after flappers—don’t laugh, your grandmother might have been a flapper—defied women’s role in American society in the 1920s.
In its simplest terms, burlesque is a bunch of female dancers in sexually suggestive outfits—in BohoCrush’s case, nipple tassels and fishnet stockings—either singing or acting out witty but not-so-complex comedy themes. It sometimes involves a lot of aerobics and a lot—a whole lot, in BohoCrush’s case—of crowd interaction.
“Of course, the nature of burlesque was to push the envelope as far as they could do it back in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” says Dr. Jim Bernardi, a theater instructor at UNR.
in the mid-20th century, Bernardi explains, burlesque reached a point of high society. Casinos in Reno often hosted burlesque shows that people would go to on weekends after a fancy meal.
The most famous burlesque dancer, Gypsy Rose Lee, 1911-1970, often performed in Reno at The Mapes, one of the most stylish hotel-casinos here in the 1950s. Lee helped burlesque reach its peak when her autobiography “Gypsy” was made into a Broadway show in 1959— regarded by some as one of the best Broadway shows of all time.
Another famous dancer, Tempest Storm, born 1928, often performed in Reno around the same time. Along with being known for her 40-inch bosoms, 22-inch waist and bright red hair, Storm was said to have been romantically linked with John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr. and Vic Damone during her career.
Storm is now 80 and living in Las Vegas. She has done burlesque performances as recently as 2006.
Burlesque appeals to people for a different reason than, say, strip clubs.
“Tease,” says Dr. Bernardi. “The tease rather than the display of nudity.” Often, burlesque shows have no nudity or just brief nudity at the end.
“It’s very strong to me,” he says of nudity’s impact in theatrical arts. “It’s just one of the elements of expression that’s at your disposal.”
While still focusing on tease and humor, burlesque has evolved throughout the decades.
In the 1990s, burlesque reemerged in popular culture, commonly known as New Burlesque. The reemergence began in Los Angeles and New York City. A New York Times story from 2003 reported that “Burlesque has gained so much momentum that now hardly a night goes by where there is not a show scheduled at a nightclub in Manhattan or Brooklyn.” Last October, the first annual Tease-O-Rama, a convention with more than 200 burlesque dancers took place in San Francisco.
Reno may just now be starting to revive its once-thriving burlesque scene. But just like every other sub-culture in this city, if Reno isn’t going to be the first city to do something, and if Reno isn’t going to be the biggest city to do it, then Reno will sure as hell put its own spin on it.
Sex sells. But with an overwhelming amount of sex in mainstream America, people are looking for something … something sexual … but something fun.
“It’s always different,” Martin says of the BohoCrush burlesque shows. “I don’t think they’re ever the same.”
The dancers stick around after the show, still sporting nipple tassels and underwear, hanging out and taking photos with fans.
BohoCrush did its first burlesque show in November at the now-defunct Green Room. They also ran a skit that night with a man dressed as Santa Claus getting a lap dance and a strip tease where one of the models dressed in balloons and popped them as she danced till she was left in her nipple tassels and underwear.
BohoCrush also did a burlesque show at a tutu party at Club Underground, 555 E. Fourth St. They recently began doing a monthly burlesque show at Satellite Lounge, 188 California Ave., on the last Thursday of the month.
Martin says the shows focus on sex and humor.
“A lot of skits … the first one we did, all the girls were dressed as men in suits playing poker … then they were down to nipple tassels and underwear,” she says. “Most everything I’ve done has been improv. I’ve never practiced. I’ve never had a skit. A lot of the girls have skits they practice every week or whatever.”
Burlesque shows are new to BohoCrush. The shows are still in their experimental stage. But these women seem down for experimenting.
Sometimes sex is a little dirty
Martin, 24, has been modeling with BohoCrush since O’Leare and Jensen started the website a little more than two years ago. Of the BohoCrush models, she probably spends the most time naked.
BohoCrush does a lot of events and parties around town besides burlesque. Their models, “Crush Dolls,” usually show up to take photos with attendees and participate with whatever is going on that day—everything from burlesque to guest-bartending at various clubs in Reno to tutu parties.
Until recently, Martin, with her jet-black hair and tattoo-eclipsed back, guest-bartended at Club Underground on Wednesday nights. This is where a lot of the nudity came in.
She had a white dry-erase board and kept tally of how many people—guys and girls—flashed her. Flashes are categorized by breasts, butt, vagina, penis, camel toe (a vaginal wedgie), moose knuckle (seeing the penis outline through a man’s pants), and the occasional fruit bowl.
“We get a lot of cock flashes,” Martin says casually. “Guys are starting to realize that it’s the same as a tit flash.”
Martin defined fruit bowls, which she seemed most excited about, as: “You tuck your balls and cock—cock balls—then bend over. You get a banana, apple and an orange sitting in a fruit bowl.”
(OK, now visualize your old high school principal.)
Martin has been going to Burning Man every year since she was 15 years old, been around for almost all the BohoCrush photo shoots and attended all these crazy parties, all the while convincing people to flash her. As if that isn’t more nudity than any one person can handle—she needs more.
“I love being naked,” she says. “If I could be naked all the time, I would.”
Martin still asks men and women to flash her every day. And she keeps track of the results.
How many penis flashes does she get a week?
“At least 10,” she responds.
How many boob flashes does she give out?
“At least 20, double for sure,” she says.
“We could get two right now,” she says, nodding toward a group of women she knows. “At least one.” (Boob flashes are counted in pairs, not per breast.)
“Booty flashes,” as she refers to them, are a little scarce.
“I don’t ask for enough booty flashes. I do enough. I do enough of all of them.”
Marla Richardson, the ever-so-innocent-looking 19-year-old Crush Doll, got her first taste of a BohoCrush event at the tutu party at Club Underground in February. Along with her and a dozen other Crush Dolls, there were about a thousand people squeezed into the bar’s fairly large two rooms. One out of 10 of those people were middle-aged men wearing tutus.
The tutus were just for fun.
“It’s just a way of bringing us all together,” says Richardson, who was sporting a tutu and lace underwear while hula hooping during the party. “I’ve just met so many creative people. It’s just a lot of fun.
“The bigger parties that they have—it gets a little more crazy. The burlesque girls are performing. People get a little more rowdy. The Burning Man side comes out more.”
The tutu party was a fundraiser for a few different Burning Man camps. BohoCrush is invited to a lot of events hosted by other organizations, O’Leare says.
At one point in the night, O’Leare’s boyfriend Jensen, who was sporting a tutu and taking photographs at the party, politely asked an attractive 20-something woman he had met two minutes prior to show him her breasts. She gladly complied. A moment later, the young woman and three or four Crush Dolls are showing off their breasts to each other.
No wonder Jensen is so good at what he does.
Leave it on
Richardson had never done anything like what she’d seen with BohoCrush before. The somewhat shy college student, while pretty with tanned skin, brown eyes and a stunning smile, seems like an unlikely candidate to model naked. Self described as “kinda nerdy in high school,” the 2006 Galena High School graduate never planned on doing adult modeling. Maybe that’s why she decided to do her photo shoot dressed … well, sort of dressed … no girl parts showing.
“I was really nervous,” says Richardson of her first modeling experience. “But now I’ve been hanging out with them and having a lot of fun. … I feel so comfortable with them. They’re like family, you know.
“Honestly, I think it’s more creative than risqué,” she says of the photo shoot. “I think a little goes a long way. I’m not as crazy as a lot of the girls. I think you have to leave something for the imagination. … I would never get nude in front of the camera.”
“No,” she says with a laugh.
“I think I’m more what they stand for—showing the beauty of individuals and capturing it on film. If you want to get naked, more power to you. The girls who do are beautiful. But the girls who don’t are just as beautiful.”
Richardson says she has been dancing since early childhood and now makes her living by teaching dance seminars across the West Coast and dancing at various venues in Reno. All that considered, she’s still not quite ready to tackle anything as wild as burlesque dancing.
She attends BohoCrush events on a regular basis, though, and plans on doing more photo shoots for Bohocrush.com soon.
One person’s porn is another’s erotica
While the Crush Dolls are entertaining audiences, Jensen is shooting as many photos for Bohocrush.com as he can. He knows that many people would consider his photography porn.
Jensen says he mostly disregards how other people interpret his work. “Probably because I don’t want them to take that from me.”
“It has to be called adult,” Jensen says. “If there was another term to call it, we probably would use it.” Wary of definitions, Jensen doesn’t put his name on his photographs.
“I’d rather someone say ‘That’s a piece of crap!’ rather than, ‘Oh, it’s a Shone Jensen, it must be good.'”
Nudity has been used in art throughout the ages. “Erotica can be art,” Jensen says. “It’s not all pornography … if it’s done in a way of happy, consenting adults, it should be OK.”
BohoCrush has worked with various artists, from models to musicians all over the world. “We all come together, like-minds, to support each other,” says O’Leare. “That’s what artists do.”
Martin is uncertain as to the future of BohoCrush, but she seems open to whatever path the group finds open.
“Wherever it takes us,” says Martin. “I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. … It’ll never end. We’ll always be somewhere, doing something.”
While Reno, being so close to Black Rock City, home of Burning Man, may be one of the more risqué cities in the West, it is pretty conservative compared to say, Paris, where BohoCrush wouldn’t get a second glance.
“Most of our site members aren’t even from here,” Martin says. “We have a lot of European, a lot of German fans.”
“They have nude beaches all over the world,” she says to further her point, “not very many here. Over there, nudity isn’t something that’s considered.” She pauses. “People there don’t look at it as if it’s a bad thing.
“It’s a way of life. It’s a part of life, and that’s how it should be. Everybody has the same body parts. They just look different on different people.”
And with O’Leare and Martin in nipple tassels and underwear, those body parts are hard to ignore.