Starting in the mid-1990s, a new generation of burlesque performers and troupes emerged worldwide. These are “New Burlesque” artists, nostalgic for the glamorous display of striptease, expensive costumes, bawdy humor, and cabaret that held the public’s favor from the 1870s through the 1920s.

Although performers have been building audiences in the Detroit and Chicago areas for many years, Tickled Fancy is — according to its members — the first of its type in Washtenaw County. These four young women choreograph, rehearse, and stage original comedic and sensual sketches.

TC’s Speakeasy is packed to legal capacity on the cold winter night that I attend my first Tickled Fancy show. The door guy won’t let me in until someone leaves. I’ve never seen this little joint so full. The tables are gone, replaced by rows of chairs, just like in an old-fashioned theater. The crowd is a diverse mix — a few fifty-year-old couples, lots of lesbians and local Ypsilanti artsy types, some EMU kids, and a guy I always see on the bus who’s dressed tonight in an ice cream man suit.

Sporting an eye patch, a revealing black vest, and shorty shorts, performer Rosie Delight dances to a vaudeville song that refers to a “gumshoe with a patch on your eye.” She snakes around the stage smoking for a bit before putting the cigarette out — in her mouth. Then she circles a hula hoop around her hips and somehow keeps it spinning around various parts of her body as she slowly, gracefully descends to the floor. Once there, she wiggles out of most her clothes, until the previous performer shoots her. When she exits the stage, a big guy walks behind her yelling “Clear the way.” The aisle is jam-packed with standing audience members.

To me, this feels like the 1980s, when Performance Network was still on Washington (with the pole) and you could see true performance art every weekend. Ah, those were the days.

Next up is Lucy Furr, who’s dressed as a little girl. She releases another performer, dressed in a magnificent doll costume, from a giant box. Lucy plays with the doll, undresses the both of them, and then sits wiggling on her lap, facing her. To end, they get into the box together.

My favorite is Cat Atomic — a young woman with alabaster skin who takes the stage to old-timey 1930s music. She’s holding two huge red fans, and she wears red lips, high heels with garters, and not much else. With the poise of a smiling 1950s mom, Cat alternately covers herself with the fans and sweeps them away, her long arms reaching out in full extension. She ends her performance by turning to treat the audience to a display of her bare back. It’s sensual and elegant.

Tickled Fancy is at the Blind Pig on Thursday, July 17, for a show that begins with a parade to the Pig from somewhere in the Art Fair.

[Review published July 2008]