The Broader Picture: Queen of the desert

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The Independent Culture
THE YOUNG go-go dancers were crazy for her. The teenage doo-wop gang clamoured for her to autograph their leather jackets in white marker pen. The tattoo-parlour owner dropped his trousers to show her the portrait that he had had imprinted on his thigh.

Tempest Storm might not be most people's idea of a celebrity, but on a recent Saturday in the middle of the Californian desert she was the star attraction. Here, on a dusty byway of Route 66, a clutch of burlesque dancers - strippers, to you and me - were gathered for the 42nd annual Miss Exotic World pageant, a celebration of the saucy old days when total nudity was against the law and the art of adult entertainment lay entirely in the seduction, not the revelation.

At this year's event, organised by Dixie Evans who runs the near-by Exotic World Burlesque Museum, old mixed with young, the naked with the dressed, professional dancers with an oddball collection of bikers, nostalgia freaks, performance artists, transvestites, lapsed Mormons and retirement-home residents on a day out. Smoochy saxophone music blared out of loudspeakers as the various acts - the Cantankerous Lollies, the Peekaboo Follies, the Cherry Tarts - took their turn on stage and stripped down to their g-strings.

As Tempest Storm retired to the changing rooms to prepare for her big moment, her fan club lined up to offer their respects like courtiers before a queen. "We're here to pay homage to our foremothers," said Ivy Holiday, a rake-thin young burlesque dancer from Minneapolis. "This is about more than a tease, it's about stage presence. Tempest is a strong role model for all women."

Back in the Fifties Tempest was one of the hottest acts around, a flaming redhead with an all-natural 40-inch bust - the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque. She dropped from public view along with the rest of the burlesque scene in the mid-Sixties, when relaxations in censorship heralded the arrival of strip clubs, topless bars, lap- dancing and other crude manifestations of the modern era.

Nobody could say how old Tempest is, though she is at least 70 and might, according to one estimate, be as old as 80. Yet here she was in a glittering red get-up, still lithe and still making claims to be sexy, proposing to relive her glory days with a stunning array of feather boas and a come- on glint in her eyes.