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Meet Bryce Bordello — and the Fine Art of Boylesque 

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Aside from the corsets and makeup, modern burlesque is a far cry from the days of Paris' Moulin Rouge, or the vaudeville performances of the 1920s. Although sensual dances and skits are still at its center, burlesque in St. Louis is less about seduction and more about being an all-inclusive affair, according to Charlotte Sumtimes, a St. Louis burlesque producer.

In modern burlesque, Sumtimes explains, everyone is beautiful.

"I have received letters from women thanking me because coming to these shows showed them that people of all sizes and all shapes can be beautiful — with the right attitude," says Sumtimes. "They tell me that the shows transformed them, and that is beautiful. My motto has always been: all shapes, all sizes, all sexes, all colors."

And burlesque shows are frequent occurrences in St. Louis. From the R Bar in the Grove to the Way Out Club on Jefferson Avenue and the new burlesque-focused Seven Zero Eight on Laclede's Landing, business owners increasingly see burlesque as a way to bring in customers.

Sumtimes has even developed a partnership with Rumors and Ice, a bar nearly an hour south of St. Louis in Crystal City.

"Somehow, she brings all these people together and convinces them to strip," Jones marvels.

It was after meeting Sumtimes that Jones' career as Bryce Bordello exploded.

"I was looking for some male talent for my show, The Last Saturday Strip [at R Bar], and I really wanted to see a man on that stage," Sumtimes says.

Sumtimes is always looking for new material — and performers.

click to enlarge Jace Jones, prior to his transformation. - STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Steve Truesdell
  • Jace Jones, prior to his transformation.

"She doesn't stick to the basics," Jones observes. "Every single performance is a variety show. Typically, for example, drag kings and queens do not perform burlesque, because their art is not in getting naked, but wearing clothes and makeup to maintain an illusion. Charlotte will get them to strip. I've seen circus performers, singers, dancers, fire throwers — all of them got naked for Charlotte."

And what could be more unusual than male burlesque? But for all of the variety in her shows, before Jace Jones became Bryce Bordello, Sumtimes didn't have any straight men willing to strip, dance and learn the art.

"Boylesque is not Chippendales," Sumtimes says. "A man has to sell more than sex on stage. He cannot be some jerk guy taking his clothes off. He has to charm the audience. He has to be confident yet humble, and you have to be a man who is willing to perform in front of any type of audience, be it gay, or straight, or both.

"A man like that is hard to come by."

A few months after Jones' first nude onstage appearances, he had his first solo boylesque gig at the Gray Fox, where he did a hip-hop breakdance routine.

He was hooked.

"Wow. Holy crap. This is awesome," he thought.

He adds, "I got onstage, and the crowd is going crazy. It was the crowd that made me fell in love with it. I become someone I had never been."

"I think what the audience loves about Bryce is that they can see how much he loves to perform," Sumtimes says. "He is a sexy guy, but he is friendly. He is the kind of guy who you think, 'I'd love to have a beer with him.' He has what I call an accessibility factor. When you have that accessibility, men love you and women love you."

Even his mother has come to watch Jones perform — a testament to his ability to make the audience feel comfortable.

"I never expected I would one day go to a burlesque show to see my boy strip," Cookie Jones says. "But they weren't stripping, they were teasing you; they are interacting with you. It was beautiful to see the artistic side. When I saw Jace having fun and getting all of this attention, I was very proud of him."

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