Torchy's on Fire!

Eva Wynne-Warren says she can teach anyone to twirl tassels from her nipples. Or, should the opportunity arise, his nipples.

There's that tantalizing hook. As with much of what Wynne-Warren — AKA Torchy Taboo — says and does, it comes with a tease. Want to know how to twirl tassels? You have to stick around.

The three flat-chested women gathered around her all look down doubtfully — as if on cue — at their modest bosoms.

"That's going to cover my whole breast," one of the less-endowed says, considering the bushy tassel with shiny red sequins.

Torchy, a pint-sized (four-foot-11) busty bombshell, pauses to let her students settle down and understand. There's a Zen of stripteasing — art is in the spirit as much as the flesh — and there's a technical side.

In her buttery Southern accent, Torchy goes through the finer points of wearing tassels. For starters, the cone should fit the nipple perfectly. Don't go too big. Don't let the areola peek out.

The next challenge is figuring out which adhesive works best for you. After all, the damned things have to be glued on. "I use Super Glue because I'm Teflon and nothing sticks to me," Torchy reveals, her seductive, almost feline eyes flashing with glee. "But I know girls who use hot glue — I'm not kidding."

Oh, and be careful not to get glue on the tip of that mammary papilla. Why? "Ouch!" Torchy squeals, and all the women cringe, imagining the fabric being torn off that extra-sensitive part of the skin.

Torchy is a veteran neo-burlesque headliner, and what she's really doing at the Goddess dance studio in Hollywood is teaching the art of seduction. She's a Georgia peach, lured to Florida last year by a handsome young lad she met while performing at the Mai-Kai Polynesian-themed restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

Torchy is coy about her age, admitting only to being over 40 (too old, in her book, to be a regular stripper). But age matters little in burlesque, which is more about satire, suspense, and performance than perfection.

Bored with the commercialization and increasing raunchiness of the strip clubs where she teased customers in Atlanta for nearly two decades, Torchy went looking for another creative outlet. Her skin-titillating background and natural flair for the dramatic — combined with a deep passion for all things retro and kitsch — steered her into the burgeoning burlesque scene, with nightclub acts and carnival shows reviving the old art.

"There's a lot more theatricality to burlesque than there is to regular stripping. Burlesque is a spoof on high-brow entertainment," says Torchy, comparing striptease parodies to the bawdy horse scene in the cult classic movie Amadeus, which is supposed to be about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Burlesque evolved out of vaudeville, so there's a comedic aspect to it. As such, every good burlesque performer deserves a catchy pseudonym. The Torchy persona is a play on Torchy's once-flaming red hair (which lately is shocking pink). Taking a cue from her stage name, she eventually decided to incorporate a fire act into her cadre of routines. Dressed in a practice skirt rather than one of her elaborate handmade costumes and without a fireball in sight, Torchy gives an abbreviated, dressed-down version of the act. "It's a variation of the serpentine candle dance that belly dancers do," she says, arms snaking around her hips and head. If the flames were indeed there, they would be shooting up at least a foot high from small Kevlar pots hidden in the palms of her hands. And they'd probably singe a sleeve or two. "Everyone who does a fire act gets burned," Torchy says.

Burlesque is everything great that you can no longer find in modern-day, anything-goes strip clubs. It's theatrical and engaging. It embraces all shapes and sizes. Rather than flashing lopsided silicone breasts and hairless crotches in spectators' faces, burlesque dancers tell a story with their bodies and fanciful outfits. They build suspense with slow hip grinds, sauntering walks, and winks of the eye.

And they keep their distance.

For the grand finale, a burlesque performer typically reveals very little flesh. Thanks to the tassels, there's far less breast on display than at any topless Mediterranean beach. And most of the geography south of the belly button is covered — by lace, satin, and maybe even feathers. Perhaps a little butt cheek will peep out.

Risqué, certainly, but raunchy it is not.

By the 1960s and '70s, burlesque was considered prudish by the skin trade. For Torchy, though, the glamour of vintage striptease was supremely appealing. Working the stage as an exotic dancer had stocked her with skills essential in the burlesque world. For starters, she's plenty comfortable in the spotlight. And she knows how to work the crowd.

"I was a stripper for almost 20 years, so I can look anyone dead in the eye and convince them not only that I want to sleep with them but that they really, really want to sleep with me," she asserts before pausing for a demo. It's the flicker in Torchy's eyes that makes her deadpan, I-mean-business face seriously sensual.

She's armed with a host of other facial expressions that play perfectly into the campy element of burlesque. One is pure elation — somewhere between cheerleader enthusiasm and porn star orgasmic — and it accompanies some of the simplest moves, like a sharp thrust of the hip. Sheer joy plays out in her Cupid's-bow lips as Torchy slowly plucks each finger of an elbow-length glove, then drags the satin garment off her arm and slaps it in the air to the beat of "New Orleans," which Elvis crooned for the black-and-white movie King Creole. Another look is conspiratorial, like when Torchy glances over a shoulder, her back to the crowd, as she slips down a shirtsleeve.

The element of mystique is extremely important in the world of tease. Torchy admits it took her a while to catch on to this cornerstone of showmanship. Reading about circus promoter P.T. Barnum helped clue her in.

Like most of Torchy's stories, this one begins with a tantalizing hook and is animated with full-body gestures. "I used to do a snake act," she begins. With a real snake? "Oh yeah," she answers with an enthusiastic nod. "I would sit there and explain it like Miss Von Von Snake and tell people: No, the snake isn't going to hurt me." Torchy shoos away the imaginary concerned listener with a wave of her hand. "I was doing the snake act four times a day, four times a week, and the snake would be stretched out reaching for the spotlights — and I finally realized that I was spoiling it. The next time someone asked me [about the snake], I said: Oh yeah — watch out! — if she's bad, she'll bite me. "

The same goes for the intricacies of tassel twirling. If Torchy shows you how to do it, you'd better keep your lips sealed. Like a magician guarding the secrets of her trade, she vows to reveal the trick only to a few promising candidates. Hopefully, those in the know will then join Torchy's burlesque troupe for performances in South Florida.

And if anyone ever asks what it takes, tassel twirlers should reply with one of these two standard answers: My breasts are talented! Or It's sooo difficult; it took me years to perfect.

Some things just shouldn't be demystified.

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Amy Guthrie
Contact: Amy Guthrie