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Come one, come all 

The world of burlesque differs drastically in one area from that of strip clubs, or even modern-day advertising, television and movies: Women of all shapes, sizes and colors are equally welcome to shed their inhibitions with a wink and a smile.

Michelle Baldwin, aka Vivienne VaVoom and owner of Denver's Burlesque As It Was, believes this is part of the appeal for both performers and audiences.

"We're defying the stereotypes of what women should look like. ... Any woman can get up on that stage and the room's gonna hoot and holler and think they're sexy."

Jacki Willson, author of The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque, says Lydia Thompson's British Blondes set this standard, back in the 1860s.

"These were no wilting violets," Willson writes. "From the Blondes onward the weight requirement for burlesque performers was 250 pounds a stark contrast to the conventional 'ideal' figure of the slender waif of the day who tried to take up as little room as possible."

Baldwin says women who attend burlesque performances often walk away empowered. Amid a mixed-gender audience enthusiastic for every woman up on stage, a woman watching can think, "She looks like me. If she's sexy, I'm sexy." Baldwin adds that it also makes for the realization that "the tiny, skinny women with the big breasts aren't the only ones men are interested in."

Stephanie Slaton, one of Lola Spitfire's School of Burlesque's first students, says she didn't join for this reason. But after performing, she now hopes to get all types of women involved.

"Having women come up to me saying, 'If you can do this, I can do this' it's an odd thing to be inspired by, but I think it's important for women to feel good about how they look, no matter what size they are."

Slaton heads to her 20th high school reunion later this year, and says she can't wait to tell people she's a burlesque dancer.

"I was the chubby girl in high school. I asked my date to prom. I wasn't anything fabulous. I think it's fun to say this is who I am. ... To have people wondering how I got from Point A to Point B.

"I think I realized [at the Rocket Room revue] that you're taking off so much more than your clothes. You're kind of stripping away layers of yourself every time you get up there. Taking away self-consciousness ... inhibitions. Things that hold you back from letting go and being whoever you can be. [You] stop thinking about what other people think so much."

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