When the girls walk into the bar, hints of their alter-egos slip out subtly. ¶ A green feather boa peeks out of a purse. White elbow-length gloves are balled up on the table. Red lipstick pops against pale skin. ¶ Then the pants come off, and the ruffled underpants and fishnets come on. ¶ "It's all about the butt," said Sheila Vallecillo, 38, of Seffner, giving hers a practice waggle.
She leaves her day job as a logistics analyst at the door. Wearing a red corset, she becomes "Rosie Wilder," a burlesque dancer who portrays the all-American girl.
In the year since this amateur dance troupe formed, eight women have embraced burlesque — a satirical, theatrical performance — as a form of female empowerment and a source of confidence.
Kat Skratch Burlesque will hold its first show Saturday night at Whiskey Dicks bar in Riverview. The debut will be a test run for a bigger spring show next year.
Unafraid to show their bodies, the women bring sexy back without being all about sex and stripping.
"Sex is a fraction of what burlesque is," said group founder Sara Covelli, 31, of Riverview. "It's an empowering thing for a woman. She's doing it because she wants to."
Burlesque mixes aspects of cabaret, circus and comedy to create a humorous strip-teasing dance. Unlike what happens in nude bars, the dancers said, the end result of burlesque isn't nudity, but a performance.
The women, who were first friends through a Brandon-area social club, each embody a different character with a playful stage name. Like Covelli's "Lady Luna Love," a seductress; Vallecillo's "Rosie Wilder," a patriot; and Plant City mom Theresa Rodriguez's "Lotta Sparxxx," a hothead.
"I took feminism back," said Rodriguez, 24, who used to hate her postpregnancy shape. "I learned to respect my body. You feel free."
Corsets, thigh-highs and tulle skirts don't hide jiggly bits, tummies or cellulite. There are skinny dancers and there are full-figured forms, but the few men watching at a recent rehearsal at Whiskey Dicks never looked away.
As each woman gets on stage, she shakes her hips and shimmies her shoulders. Feathers and beads fall to the ground. Gloves, stockings and tops follow.
It may be scandalous, Rodriguez said, but it's not shameful. Her mother, two younger sisters, fiance and boss will all watch her fiery dance on Saturday. She would even let her 3-year-old daughter do burlesque when she grows up.
"I don't think I'd mind; I'd be right there in the front row," Rodriguez said.
Like Rodriguez, the other women have made peace with body-image worries and don't seem nervous about showing skin. Vallecillo, the woman who plays Rosie Wilder, no longer sees size restrictions on sexy.
"My whole life I was the fat, funny one in the corner watching all my friends be beautiful," Vallecillo said. "Here, I'm not the plus-sized girl. I'm one of the girls."
She climbs up on the bar, pulls beads out of her cleavage, takes her top off.
And when the show is over, she'll pack Rosie Wilder away in her bag until the next dance. Put away the pasties, put away the costumes.
But a little bit of Rosie's boldness stays with her all the time.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.