Take It Off!

Painting of international burlesque dancer, Dee Milo, 'Venus of Dance' by Dennis Cardiff fine art portrait painter specializing in portraits of burlesque dancers.

Hot lights,
hot music.
You’ve got it now;
but, soon you’ll lose it.
Perfumed skin,
leather and lace,
long blonde hair,
an angel’s face

Slow touch,
slow smile,
make me want
to stay awhile.
Take it off!
Give me an eyeful.
Lend me a dream
for the lonely night.

Tough life,
tough city
Take my money
Gotta make it pay.
Shake it slow,
take it easy.
Make it last
for another day.

Lonely crowds,
crowded minds.
I get my coat.
Dreams left behind.
Leaving alone,
leaving empty.
Night is cold
when I feel this way.





I was first introduced to burlesque in 1962 in my hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan when Royal American Shows brought Leon Miller’s Club Lido show, ‘Follies des Femmes’, featuring Lucia Parks, stage name: Blaze Fury, ‘The Human Heat Wave’. She was known for twirling flaming tassels.

My portrait of Dee Milo, “Venus of Dance” was on display at the “Art of Burlesque”  brunch and exhibit on Sunday, May 30, 2004. This was part of  “Burlesk Goes North”, Canada’s first weekend-long Burlesque Festival at the 360 Club in Toronto. Exhibiting this portrait served as an introduction to a larger exhibition, “Celebrating Burlesque!”, that will be available to galleries in the near future.

Burlesque was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in American theatre from the 1930s until the late 1950s. It is currently experiencing a well-deserved revival. Traditionally it was a variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, baggy pants comics, live music, dancing and striptease. The striptease involved extravagant costumes, fans and props, playful choreography, a powerful sense of humor, and more often than not, an exceptional gimmick. The emphasis was on artful tease and innuendo rather than nudity since the dancers were required by law to wear pasties and a g-string. Says Little Brooklyn, “I enjoy putting myself out there physically. It’s very wink-and-nod. It’s an escape from all the in-your-face sexuality that’s out there today. If you just want to see bare bodies, there are a lot of easier ways to do that – without fans and feathers blocking the view.”

My research has introduced me to many current and former burlesque performers. I asked exotic legend Satan’s Angel what it was like being one-woman roadshow, carrying five suitcases and a steamer trunk containing costumes and props by bus to isolated localities such as Whitehorse in the Yukon and Yellowknife in the North West Territories, where men hadn’t seen a woman for six months to a year? “What a blast!” she exclaimed, “I’ll never forget the love and generosity of the people in those two towns.”

Some burlesque dancers have gone on to be actresses, artists, authors, costume designers, poets, publishers, singers and entrepreneurs. Many have worked with the biggest names in Hollywood. I have found them to be some of the most generous, creative, industrious and intelligent people. The stories they have to tell are fascinating. These are truly living legends and national treasures. I am extremely proud and honored to have the opportunity to portray them to a wider audience.





I wish to express my thanks to June Morrow of the Exotic Dancer’s Alliance, Don Cullen, Al Stencell, Sugar Bouche, Mary Taylor and Shirley Jean Measures for their assistance in researching this fascinating project.

Al Stencell is the author of the book Girl Show: Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind, and his new release Seeing is Believing: America’s Side Shows, published by E.C.W. Press.

Shirley Jean Measures, originally Shirley Jean Rickert, started acting in movies at the age of three. She appeared in “Our Gang/The Little Rascals” and “Neath Arizona Skies” with John Wayne, She danced in many movies including “Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly.

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