She shimmies her delicate shoulders like she’s shaking off fairy dust. Her ass is at the top end of juicy, just short of fat. She walks like a lioness stalking her prey, which on this night includes me. She’s Michelle L’amour, Miss Exotic World 2005, and I can’t take my eyes off her.

Every Saturday night at Lakeshore Theater in Lakeview L’amour and her five-woman crew, the Sugarbabies, shake, writhe, strip, and inspire deep, irrational feelings bordering on the creepy in 50 to 100 people like me. Their show, FemmeTV, is based on the wafer-thin premise of a sexy television network, and has erotic live-action skits and “commercials” spoofing, in a dumb way, regular TV programming.

A recent show got off to a slow start, with the Sugarbabies doing some sort of noirish thing in red sequin bras and trench coats. And then the groaners started up: a commercial for a cellular phone company called Yerizon (“where we never stop working you”); a show called “Judge Marilyn’s Chambers,” where a male lawyer makes crude jokes about a woman clerk; a skit about Derri Airlines, where the captain “always pulls out on time” and Jocelyn Boobies is “serving you in first class.”

But about 20 minutes in the show took a turn from sorta-cute-but-not-that-funny to holy-shit-that’s-hot and pretty much stayed that way until the end. In a skit called “Les Ballons,” a grainy shot of the Eiffel Tower at night was projected onto a screen. L’amour tiptoed daintily onstage covered in a bundle of bubble-gum pink balloons. She smiled graciously at no one in particular, blew kisses, and coyly spun around. Peeking out between the balloons was a bit of sparkly blue fringe that didn’t quite cover her ass. I kept praying she’d spin harder, flinging the balloons out of the way. She held three balloons on strings, and she gave two to members of the audience. Just as a third person was reaching out for the last balloon, L’amour let it go.

I was reminded of her act when I later saw the anarchist marching band Mucca Pazza at Reversible Eye Gallery’s doll and puppet show. Mucca Pazza sounds like a cross between Gypsy wedding music and a high school marching band plus fiddle and guitar. Its members wear elaborate but unmatching recycled uniforms; its cheerleaders shake poms made from old plastic bags.

One of the cheerleaders had long, silky blond pigtails, severe black-framed glasses, and a sweatband around her head like a basketball player. She was so petite she could have been mistaken for someone’s kid sister were it not for her incredibly lascivious moves. My friend Lindsey busted me staring at her. “You totally want to experiment with bisexuality with that girl!” she said.

I wasn’t the only one sweating the cheerleader. My boyfriend was so taken in he winced when she ground her hips. I even saw him bite his knuckles. At one point, when the whole band pretended to melt down and die, I saw several dudes in the audience, including my sweetie, crane their necks to look up her skirt. But she was wise to her fans–she positioned her knees just right so no one could catch a glimpse of her undies.

After the performance, the cheerleader didn’t mingle. She just disappeared, leaving all of us wanting more.

That’s what burlesque is all about. It’s not gratification–it’s an exquisite tease. It’s imagination and blue balls and balloons that float away before you can grab them. And nowadays, when we’re so accustomed to getting whatever we want, it’s titillating to be denied.

After releasing the third balloon Michelle L’amour reached into the balloons around her like she was dipping her hands into a bubble bath and gently parted them into two sections, which rose behind her shoulders like wings. All she had on underneath was a glittery blue bra and a skirt made of more balloons. A few balloons floated above her, fastened to her bra with string. She parted the balloon skirt and made a bustle, on which she lightly sat and bounced.

Then she unhooked the bra and slid it off her shoulders, and the balloons carried it slowly up to the ceiling. She was wearing another bra, this one see-through, and sparkly pasties beneath that. She stepped out of her skirt and bustle and let go, and those headed up to heaven too. Usually I find the type of teensy ass floss she now displayed repulsive, but somehow, on her, it was absolutely adorable.

Next came a skit where all the girls were dressed in turquoise see-through nighties, curled up on pillows pretending to be asleep, except one, who slinked around the stage to Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” like Clara in the dream sequence of The Nutcracker. When the loud part of the song blasted, she’d whomp the others with pillows, and a giggly riot would ensue. Then the song would get quiet again and they’d drift off to sleep, and the sexy Clara would resume her slinking. And repeat. The act ingeniously combined two of the top five wet dreams of your average frat boy: pillow fights and unconsciousness. I wondered what the performers might honestly like to explore for themselves.

Then the lights came on for intermission and a crew of cute young male stagehands emerged from the wings to fetch L’amour’s undies from the ceiling with long sticks and sweep up all the feathers from the pillow fight. As far as female fantasies go, you could do worse.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer, Yvette Marie Dostatni.