Behold the Power of Fangs!

Sharp teeth and fishnet stockings transform the typical bump and grind

Not your ordinary burlesque, Thursday nights at The G in Fort Lauderdale is more than just half-dressed hotties undulating on stripper poles. It's half-dressed hotties in fetish gear and vampire fangs undulating on stripper poles.

But before I could get inside, I had to pass through an inflatable arch in the shape of the Grim Reaper and sign a two-page "declaration" that I "agree with the values expressed in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States" and "will not be offended or affronted by any of these activities." I also had to swear that I had no ulterior motives and wasn't a police officer, undercover agent, religious nut, or journalist.

Oops! I signed it anyway (had to go along with the fun, after all) but owned up that I was a member of the fourth estate there on assignment.

"Oh, cool," I was told, and ushered in.

After passing through that gauntlet, I nabbed an open stool right in front of a bag of "blood" (actually just wine) hanging from a hook behind the bar. On the stage, a full-figured chick with black electrical tape X's over her nipples, boy shorts, and fishnet stockings writhed and smeared "blood" from her fanged mouth down her neck for the half-dozen dudes who tossed balled-up dollars so they'd make the distance.

For those who like their action clean, over on the little circular platform in the center of the room, a slender vixen in more traditional bordello-wear was doing some bloodless entertaining.

Flesh for fantasy: Rated PG-13.

Since making the transition from Gumwrappers to The G, things didn't look like they had changed much. The décor was pretty much the same. The little glowing skeletons still dangled from the ceiling. And the bikini dancers had been replaced with vampire equivalents.

Behind me, wholesome-looking Stephanie seemed a little out of place as she watched the action. She told me she'd been spotted by the event promoter while she was performing a show at a tattoo expo and was asked to join the coven. She was here to make a decision.

"I'm a little shy about dancing," she hedged with a half-smile. "And I have a boyfriend."

I left her with her issues so I could address mine — a seeming unquenchable thirst. When the bartender asked me to name my poison, she smiled and flashed her spiky canines. Maybe it was the personal interaction, but she was the most irresistible of the bunch. After hooking me up with a beer, "Valeta from Valdosta" confessed her sins with a South Georgia drawl as sweet and thick as baby's blood: "Thanks to this night, I realized I have a bite fetish."

"You can actually bite someone with those things?" I asked, surprised that they didn't pop out.

"I have," she answered, offering another pretty, dangerous smile.

"Did you draw blood?"

"I could," she enticed with (I swear) a come-hither look. No sooner was I seduced than the wily woman flipped the switch from seductive to silly. "But when I sip out of a straw, I spew."

Then she fluttered off to charm the tips out of the next patron. To my right, some dude in a floral shirt was providing loud, drunken blow-by-blow commentary to the girl-on-girl action. To my left, a guy and his buddy were quietly enjoying the show. When I asked why they'd come, the one who called himself Harry patriotically defended his right to be there.

"It's a free country. If you wanna go see vampires... "

He had a point. As far as I know, bloodsuckers and their fans weren't on Homeland Security's national security threat list. But now that we were all signing declarations invoking our constitutional rights, who's to say that wouldn't soon change?

But let's get real. Vampires (like Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction) are the stuff of fantasy. In this case, it's David from Mad Monkey Laboratory (rather than Bush and his cronies) who creates the illusion.

"I keep the girls in teeth," the good-looking, special-effects makeup artist said with a disarming smile that had me distractedly twirling my hair around my finger as he told me the fine points of his profession.

"Lots of times, couples get fangs. Some get them for self-defense," he explained. "They're pretty great for rough sex. Pretty much everyone enjoys them at least once."

I was still imagining the possibilities when the stage show started. The main stage showcased the talents of Venice (I wasn't gonna ask if she was famous for her canals!), a wisp of a woman who sang, in a baby-doll voice, Madonna's "Hanky Panky" while a spanking orgy served as her backdrop. It was a shorter show than I expected (maybe five minutes at the most) and then we were back to the same old bump and grind.

But first, Josepher, owner of the Abusement Park, which produces this night as well as other fetish events, announced that private BDSM sessions were available in one of the playrooms. The "menu" included such things as "foot worship, nipple play, trampling, human furniture, and puppy/pony play." For 25 bucks, you got one song's worth of abuse. More expensive than a lap dance at a strip club, but according to Josepher and his co-conspirator Mel T., it's completely different.

"We're about sensuality, not sexuality. We're not about putting stuff in everyone's faces," Mel, who sorta serves as the girls' housemother, explained. "It's a different concept. We're not a strip club."

Well, the girls did strip, but in addition to the taped nipples, there were other differences that distinguished it.

Josepher expounded: "Girls in strip clubs end up doing things they don't want to. But all the girls here are mistresses [dominatrixes], so they already go into it with respect."

"We're not here to serve them," Mel said defiantly as her contacts reflected the black light and made her eyes look possessed. "They're here to serve us."

While we were talking, one of the dancers handed Mel some cash and reported that she was going to do a private session in one of the rooms.

Who was serving whom?

"You're like their pimps?" I asked astonished. "You take a cut?"

"No, they're just renting the room from us," Josepher corrected.

Ah, like a contract, it's all in the terminology.

At a table by the small circular stage, Heather and her boyfriend, William, held hands as they watched a performance by the redhead whose bottom had been much abused during the stage show.

"We've been to strip clubs together, but we prefer this because the girls aren't money-hungry," William said before adding that he also appreciated the gothic/industrial music like Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie.

Later, the redhead (whose stage name is Blaze) confirmed both his observation and Mel's claim.

"This is empowering to women because we're in charge here," she assured. "We don't make as much [as strippers] because we don't exploit ourselves like that."

I was soon drawn to another woman at a nearby table who shared my love for Betsey Johnson fashion. She wore a leopard print dress and a big smile. Introducing herself as Vanessa, she told me she was a PhD candidate, an FAU instructor, and a single mom, and she was having a great time.

"How often do you get to see a vampire burlesque cabaret?" she asked.

I couldn't help myself: "I believe every week."

She laughed.

"Yeah, I don't get a chance to go out that much. But actually, it's not that much different," she said referring to her home life. "We have the light-up skeletons, but we don't have the cute dancing girls."

She too found Cabaret Vampyra a femme-friendly event: "I may come back. I like the way the dancing girls have real bodies. I think women would rather look at that."

Those at the table next to her did not share her opinion.

"If I had more money, I'd go to Scarlett's," the redheaded, freckled-faced guy asserted before introducing himself as Carl, a BCC math tutor. "But they have good music here."

I asked him if strippers held more appeal than the vampires. He replied in the affirmative.

"What would you do if you were a vampire?"

"I would rule the world," he said after a little bit of thought.

"How would the world be different?"

"I'm not sure. I don't know if you can really change the world... I'd make the world more advanced, warp engines and all that shit."

Hmmm. I don't think anyone else ever conceived of vampire engineers. Probably because fangs clash with pocket protectors.

Yury, a young microbiologist whose Colombian parents gave her a Russian boys' name, had other vampiric dreams: "Vampires have a power of seduction. I would seduce all the blond, blue-eyed girls I could. I used to think blonds are stupid, but all of a sudden, I can't get enough of them."

Well, she already had the unquenchable thirst. Maybe she was already the chupacabra.

Before I left the table, I had to comment on the blond guy's T-shirt.

"I date sluts because that's all there is"? I said reading its text. "How does your mom feel about that?"

"I'm gay," he retorted.

"How does your dad feel about that?"

"He's the one who bought it for me," he said, satisfied he'd made his point, though I was uncertain what it was.

Before I left, I ran into Stephanie.

"So? Did you decide?" I queried.

"I wanna do it," she said, reaffirming her decision with eager nodding and suddenly looking wistful. "Hopefully my boyfriend will understand. I mean, I want someone who will support what I do."

But then she was excited again: "Ever since I was 15, I've loved dressing up like this. It's always caught my attention."

And I couldn't help but feel excited for her. For her excitement, her desire. After all, so many times we don't know what we want or we deny ourselves our desires, for whatever reasons. And those moments when we figure it out and commit to it — that, my friends, that is empowerment.

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