But burlesque is an art; it's not stripping.
When Johanna Krynytzky puts on her leopard lingerie and red lipstick, when she hoists an ostrich feather fan and slips into the character of Miss Lily Tiger, she knows her mission.
Burlesque. It's the art of the tease. Part comedy, part vaudeville, part choreographed dance. Most people who come to watch understand, while some clothes may fall away, burlesque has a story line. It's not stripping in the realm of a pole and dollar bills, and Krynytzky tries to get that across.
"In this area, because we have so many gentlemen's clubs, people instantly go to that end of things," she said. "Burlesque is a wonderful art form that really celebrates all shapes and sizes of women. It empowers women to be in charge of their sensuality."
Local burlesque enthusiasts will gather this weekend for the inaugural Suncoast Burlesque Festival, sponsored in part by Krynytzky's business, Hip Expressions Dance Studio in St. Petersburg. If fans come together, she hopes, they can strengthen the burgeoning industry in Tampa Bay.
"You can't be an artist by yourself," said Krynytzky. "You have to have some sort of outside input. Everybody's got different ideas and when they share their ideas, that's where the art form grows."
The festival is open to dancers, actor, curious onlookers, anyone. Workshops will cover perfecting pin-up hair and makeup, juggling, bumps, grinds, shimmies and struts. The Accidental Circus cabaret group will perform Saturday at St. Petersburg Nights, a restaurant and dinner theater. And Sunday, local burlesque troupes will return to compete in a contest judged by dancers including longtime local burlesque star Vita deVoid.
Burlesque has found a home at Hip Expressions, where dancers explore everything from Polynesian dancing to hooping to Egyptian street moves. Krynytzky got her start belly dancing 11 years ago after taking a trip to Turkey with her grandmother. She eventually added burlesque to her repertoire, forming a troupe of four women under the name Meow Factor.
Tampa Bay has always lagged behind big cities like New York, Chicago and even Portland, which have hosts of cabaret clubs and vibrant burlesque scenes. But gradually it caught on here, buoyed by the 2010 movie Burlesque with Christina Aguilera, a trend of naughty workout classes and underground word of mouth. School teachers and nurses met in garages after work and assumed alter-egos and new personalities, forming their own grassroots troupes.
Burlesque is liberating, Krynytzky said, because it doesn't demand the levels of tradition many cultural dances do. It's a bawdy, winky, centuries-old and quintessentially American. It's glamorous. And it pushes people past their limits.
"You never know until you try," she said. "It's something that you don't have to be good at. That's why you come to class, to explore your boundaries."