Originally published on The Feature Desk
TIMELESS SEDUCTIONby TOM on OCTOBER 14, 2011 · LEAVE A COMMENT
Dancer keeps burlesque alive and bouncing
The Infamous Nina Nightshade prepares for a burlesque show in Salem, Ore. (Photo by Stephanie Basalyga)
By TOM HENDERSON
They’re real, she says.
And the Infamous Nina Nightshade’s bouncing, shaking, dancing breasts are available for your viewing pleasure.
If all you want is breasts on parade, however, Salem and Portland have strip clubs for that kind of thing. Quite a few of them, actually.
“That makes it hard to create a burlesque community in Oregon. It’s 7-11, strip club, 7-11, strip club,” Nina said.
Burlesque is not slithering around a pole and stripping down to your pardon-me-vickers while strange men drool and throw money. It’s less about selling sex and more about selling titillation and seduction. It is the tease in striptease.
“The goal of it is not sex, not a naked lady, the goal is to put on an excellent show,” Nina says.
Ironically perhaps, the word burlesque comes from the Italian word “burlesco” — meaning to mock or ridicule. The first burlesque shows in the late 17th century parodied more solemn literary, dramatic and musical works.
In the United States, the word took on a different meaning when it was associated with variety shows that featured bawdy dancers.
Nina, whose real last name is Tall, marches (or jiggles if you will) in that tradition. Right down to her corset. There’s a reason women no longer wear them as a general rule. They hurt. Imagine a giant mistaking you for a squeeze toy.
It’s amazing women’s eyes didn’t pop out of their sockets.
There are, given modern aversions to pain, less excrutiating corsets available. Nina insists on authenticity. Part of the lure of burlesque is its history. If you’re going to truly travel back in time, there are no shortcuts. Reality hurts.
There are a few burlesque dancers in Salem, but not many. Most of them are in Portland. Despite the strip clubs, there is a thriving burlesque community there. Just not for the droolers.
“Yeah, we’ve got some creepy guys, but most of the audience is people going out on a date,” she says. “There are cat calls and whistles, but we like the encouragement.”
Nina and her husband, Derek, met in Arizona where he spent 15 years selling medical prostheses. They discovered a mutual love of classic Hollywood glamour, rock-a-billy culture and 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page.
These interests blossomed when they moved to Salem four years ago.
“I got into this fantastic world of cheesecake and rockabilly in 2007, when my hubby and I opened a fun little store called Cherry Redd,” Nina explains. “Our inspiration for the store was my lifelong love of Bettie Page and all those classy beauties of pin-up.”
Before Nina and Derek opened Cherry Redd, there were rock-a-billy enthusiasts all following their separate interests. There were enthusiasts into pin-up art and photography, car clubs, hot rods, burlesque and roller derby. Cherry Redd gave them a hub.
“I’m the guy who got the ball rolling,” Derek says. “I gave everyone a focal point. They didn’t have anyplace to come together. We wanted a store where Bettie Page would shop.”
The store has a definite ’50s flavor to it, but it’s ’50s nostalgic like “Grease” or “Happy Days.” Think Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats rather than Arthur Fonzarelli. “It has a modern rebel aesthetic,” Derek says.
In February 2008, Cherry Redd hosted a burlesque dancer called the Fabulous Go-Go Amy for a weekend class and photoshoot on how to be a pin-up model. “Sadly, it wasn’t until the second time we hosted the class that I finally got up the nerve to say, ‘Hey, I think I might be able to do this!’ ” Nina says. “And now, I’m hooked.”
She was already a belly dancer. “I always had a fascination for dancing,” she says. And theatrics. “As a little girl, I was always the one trying things on.”
It only took a short time to convert her many years of belly dance into a burlesque performance. “And I’m not going back,” she says.
Nina and Derek have a young daughter, the “Squidlette” she calls her. They don’t try to shield her from the world of burlesque, Nina says. “We talk about burlesque in front of her,” she says. “She doesn’t have to talk about it with others.”
Nina has 1,712 followers on Facebook and has become something of a celebrity in the Willamette Valley. For good reason, says pin-up model and fellow burlesque dancer Bettina May.
“Nina Nightshade is a triple threat: beautiful woman, classically trained dancer and talented costume designer,” Bettina says. “She has mesmerized me countless times with her innovative routines that combine sneaky costume piece removal with seamless dance moves, so that I couldn’t even figure out how the piece came off.”
Nina says she and Derek have created quite a world for themselves. “We created what we love and found other people who love it too.”