Amateurs let it all hang out for Bush Company contest

The jay bird, we are told by cliche fabricators since the days of old, is an unclothed animal, a beast so nude, in fact, that to be naked as a jay bird is to be quite naked indeed.

On Saturday, March 19 seven young women in skimpy outfits and unbelievably high platform shoes strutted onto the proscenium stage of the Great Alask Bush Company to engage in a melee of untying and unlacing, of bikini doffing and corset unclasping, of scissor kicks and pelvic wiggles, all to vie for a fur-covered tiara, a $1,000 cash prize, and the honor of being named winner of the Strip Search, a competition to find best amateur stripper of the year.

By the time that Beth, a self-described Southern belle from Arkansas and the first contestant, had gotten halfway down the row of buttons on her pink cardigan, which she removed to the unsubtle strains of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” the seats around the velvet rimmed stage were already packed with men and women alike. Some casually smoked cigarettes or pipes, and some sat with dropped jaws as they stared up Beth’s ferociously focused show of ecstatic ecdysis. By the end of the number Beth was undressed save for her stockings and was shoveling tips from the stage into a white plastic bucket.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know if the event was going to happen,” said Bush Company general manager Dawn Harris. “As of (Thursday morning) we only had four girls signed up. But I’ve been in this business a long time and I know that dancers are likely to put stuff off until the last minute.”

“For us, the performance is only part of working here,” said professional Bush Company dancer who calls herself Star. “A lot of the guys who come in here are married and they don’t get lots of attention at home. Sometimes they’ll just pay me to sit and talk with them. We’re not just dancers; we’re like counselors.

But these girls tonight want to put on a show. A lot of them have been preparing all month.”

Perhaps that’s why the seven strip routines (on Saturday night) were anything but routine. If you’ve never seen a strip show before I don’t think that I’m spoiling any surprises by telling you that, whether the costume is lacy or leathery, transparent or just teeny, it’s coming off by the end of the number. Suspense is not the key element.

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Yet the contestants at Strip Search had little problem keeping things fresh. From the willowy Cinder, who floated about the stage as though gravity made no difference, to the nymphomaniacally earthy smile of Haley as one audience member shot an airplane-folded dollar bill at her naval, each performer seemed to be enjoying herself so much that the whether the clothes were on or off seemed only a sideline concern.

It’s almost a shame that the Bush Company didn’t give the dancers more of a chance to ham it up. The format of two-teases-per-stripper moved on a what felt like a conveyor belt pace that didn’t seem to do the event justice. At every interval the same thing happened: a few glow-in-the-dark Mardi Gras beads were passed out to the hollering crowd, the DJ reminded everyone to “tip these girls naked,” and then the show went on.

A point-by-point commentary might be a little too much to ask (“And she’s off to a good start, managed that zipper in the back like a pro and I think the choice of glitter body oil is going to go over big with the judges!”). But a talent competition or a stripping speech round might have rounded the evening off and given some more stage time to natural performers like “Mistress,” whose PVC-clad dominatrix routine made her a crowd favorite and sent her home with the tiara and cash prize.

“I’m a full-time mother of five,” Mistress said after the show, the tiara ensconced nicely in her red-and-yellow Bo-Peep curls. “I’m not going to be doing this professionally anytime soon, but my husband and I love coming here. I’ve watched all the dancers and talked to them and learned from all their moves. They told me you just come out with your first move rehearsed and just let the crowd dictate what you do from there.”

Mistress offered advice to any would-be contestants in next year’s competition.

“Be yourself. My husband is wonderful. He let’s me be myself no matter what I do. Every woman should feel that,” Mistress said, smiling and putting her leather riding crop to her lips as if coming to a decision. “Tonight, he’s definitely getting tied to the bed.”