Behind the black curtain of Bar One in the San Fernando Valley that keeps her hidden from the crowd, Lola Chan changes from conservative clothing she wore entering the club to her lacy and seductive costume that will be revealed to the waiting patrons. The sound of anticipation grows as the entertainment is about to begin. The lights dim and the master of ceremonies opens the show. A spotlight shines on her and the now raucous crowd begin their journey into the seductive art.
Chan, who goes by the stage name of Bettie P’Asian, steps on to the small makeshift stage. She’s wearing a short cut, vivid red beer maiden dress in honor of Oktoberfest. Piece by piece, she removes parts of her costume as the song progresses. The first to go are her long, black satin gloves that stretch to her elbows, slowly rolling them off to the crowd’s joy, followed by nude colored lace stockings. Chan keeps the bar patrons allured by rhythmic gyrations, syncopated by a mixture of slow and fast movements. Not long after, her main piece of clothing comes off, revealing a tight fitting sequined corset, which she keeps on, keeping everyone on the hook until her next act.
There are many forms of burlesque, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as a “literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works.” The early 1900s saw the birth of American Burlesque, which switched the focus toward a more sensual act. It concentrates on the striptease performance by women in venues such as cabarets and speakeasy clubs. Fading in popularity after its 1920s heyday, the lost art of the burlesque striptease gained resurgence during the late ‘90s.
Chan came up with her stage name after being inspired by Bettie Page, the iconic American pin-up model of the 1950s.
“As a little girl, I used to look at her images and copy her poses while playing dress up,” Chan says. “I was so fascinated by her.”
Today, there are few places in the Los Angeles area that provide burlesque events, but Bar One organizes burlesque shows every month.
“I was first approached by the owners,” Chan says. “It was Bettie Page’s birthday, and they were having a Bettie Page pinup contest, and I happened to be one of the winners.” The owners of the bar expressed interest in having another burlesque show. Chan told them that she was a performer. “That’s how it started, and they liked it, and they’re kind of extending it,” she says.
Bar One Beer and Wine Parlour, located in the Valley Glen area of North Hollywood, hosts the Bettie P’asian revue that showcases American Burlesque, which contrasts the classic version of the art form, along with the contemporary style.
“It was back in the mid ‘90s when burlesque first started to creep up on the scene,” says Arelene Roldan, president of Bar One. “I just fell in love with it and I think it’s a style and an art form that will never die. It’s sexy, it’s funny, it’s very entertaining,” Roldan says.
Chan wasn’t always a burlesque performer. She earned her acting degree at the California Institute of the Arts.
“It wasn’t until college that I had my first opportunity to perform in a cabaret show, and from there I found that I really enjoyed it,” Chan says.
At the end of the 20th century, the art experienced a resurgence of interest due in large part to Dita Von Teese and other cabaret performers.
Cheers of jubilation erupt after the intermission portion of the Bettie P’Asian revue as Chan jumps from behind the curtain dressed as Chun Li, a character from the popular video game Street Fighter. Her persona strikes a chord inside the mostly male crowd that brings the nostalgic memory of being a young male, filled with thoughts of nude women, sex and playing video games. Every jump, kick and punch performed by Chan brings whistles and raucous screams of “yeahs.”
“Burlesque is one of those art forms that relies on the audience,” Chan says. “It’s definitely a two-way street; you’re communicating with the audience; you’re playing with the audience, and that’s what I play toward, that kind of energy,” Chan says.
Another important element of any burlesque show that maintains the level of energy is the role of master of ceremonies, played by Tikku Sircar. No stranger to being in front of the crowd, Sircar, who has a background in theater and music, is responsible for adding the element of playful banter with the crowd by witty jokes and humor.
“There’s a couple of things as an MC that I try to do, and I try not to make any sexual references,” Sircar says. “These performers aren’t sex workers; it’s not a strip club and comments like that have no place and it’s disrespectful.”
Chan holds a similar view.
“Burlesque is ultimately a striptease,” Chan says. “However there is a lot more art and creativity to it. I have a lot of respect for exotic dancers, but with burlesque there’s a lot more time and effort involved to create these elaborate costumes, dances and characters; there’s a preparation that the audience never realizes and sees, but because of that preparation there’s a magic to the show.”
Despite her history of performing on stage, Chan still gets nervous before every performance.
“I get anxious because I don’t want to let anyone down, but once I’m on stage, I completely forget about it and I’m having so much fun,” Chan says.
Chan’s last performance of the night ends as the final notes to the song slowly fade away. She exits the stage and gathers pieces of costume she took off for the crowd. She places them inside the luggage stroller before putting on a dark green sequined dress that allows her to shine and shimmer for the bar’s patrons like an emerald against the lighting.
“This is my first time having a monthly residency show anywhere and I’m really grateful,” Chan says. “Ideally, I would like to start touring the country and possibly the world with burlesque. I would love to travel to different places and meet other performers and perform at other venues, but I want to continue with the Bettie P’Asian revue and make it bigger because it’s a fun and great opportunity to create new material and new acts.”