It all started with Tease-O-Rama. In 2003, Krista Kitty and Becky Buxom traveled to Hollywood for the country’s premier annual burlesque conference. They saw famous performer Dita Von Teese and got to dance with the renowned act The Pontani Sisters. They came back inspired, and Krista made a New Year’s resolution to form a troupe of her own.
She was a founding member of Miss Kitty’s Hot Box – Ohio’s first neo-burlesque group, according to Krista – but they disbanded when the troupe’s leader left Columbus for Brooklyn, effectively taking the local burlesque scene with her. After months of practicing, Krista, Becky, and about a dozen other women hosted two inaugural shows at the old MadLab Theater in April 2004. The Ooh-La-Las were born.
The MadLab performances were sold out, but the scene in Columbus-at-large wasn’t so receptive. Unfamiliar venue owners booked them with rock bands and other musicians, much to the consternation of performers and the confusion of audiences.
“People, a lot of times, they didn’t understand. They thought, ‘Maybe she’s working her way through college.’ Or they would ask if we would do bachelor parties,” Becky said.
“They didn’t understand that it was an art form.”
For a few years The Ooh-La-Las were the only burlesque act in town, and after several members moved or started families, the original group dwindled to just Becky and Krista. Becky’s sister Betty LeRoux and her friend Cherie Blondell joined, but they still couldn’t put on the full productions they envisioned. Then other troupes began to form, venue owners started to appreciate the entertainment value, and the burlesque scene coalesced. The Ooh-La-Las added members and staged complete shows. They won audiences over.
“I think there’s a little bit of a gut reaction at first like, ‘Can they do this legally here? Should we be watching this?’ But during the course of the two-hour show, we totally reel people in,” Cherie said. “We call it the old-fashioned form of striptease. It’s the true American form of entertainment.”
The Ooh-La-Las’ current shows embrace much more than mere striptease, including the elegance, jazz, gowns, and gloves of classical burlesque. The 11-member troupe also features neo-burlesque elements like sideshow routines, a hula hooper, an anime character, bump and grind, “boylesque” performers, trivia, and magic – a Vaudevillian mix. Sex appeal is never far from the show’s heart, but rather than purely seeking to titillate, it’s often meant to lampoon society’s taboos, to mock our hang-ups.
“Burlesque is actually a form of satire, and we bring the comedy,” Betty said. Once they built a following, women were curious to learn more. “It’s fun to see them be more interested about how to do it and not like, ‘Why would you want to do something like that?’”
A decade in, The Ooh-La-Las are the longest-running troupe in town, and they hosted an anniversary party, “A Perfect 10,” on April 26. They spend time refining their act at weekly rehearsals, also expending countless hours as their own costumers, choreographers, and music directors. The scene features plenty of peer ensembles now, lots of individual performers, and a host of welcoming venues, like Wall Street Nightclub and the group’s home bar, The Shrunken Head. The burlesque-themed Bossy Grrl’s Pinup Joint opened in North Campus last year, another notch in favor of its increasing popularity.
“I never would have imagined that Bossy Grrl’s would ever exist,” said Krista, who’s no longer with The Ooh-La-Las but is a member of the Columbus Burlesque Collective, a loose-knit organization. “Before, it was like if I didn’t do this and put shows together, there wouldn’t be burlesque. And that’s not the case now.”
“Our ultimate goal is to make burlesque a legitimate, popular – hugely popular – form of entertainment in Columbus,” Cherie said.
They want to perform with live bands again, this time the music backing their act. They want to be on the main stage at ComFest. They want to be part of the nightly conversation when people are deciding what to do.
They want to lure you in with a wink and a smile, and they want to leave you wanting just a little more.
Krista Kitty will host her own 10th anniversary reunion party featuring former Ooh-La-Las and members of the Columbus Burlesque Collective at Dick’s Den on May 2. The Ooh-La-Las will perform their show “The Big Top Revue” at Circus on May 9. For more info, visit www.theoohlalasburlesque.com.