A woman strips down. The stage lights glow blue and red, bouncing off the dozens of rhinestones attached to her jeans, shoes and underwear.
She is dressed as Marty McFly and peels off each layer of the character’s clothing to hollers from the crowd. Her red-painted lips stretch wide as she mouths along to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” On beat with the music, she grabs her breasts or butt cheeks as she lip-syncs.
With her pants off and only sparkling underwear and a red T-shirt left, she turns away from the crowd and pulls the top over her head.
When she spins around, there are two large clock-shaped rhinestone pasties secured over her nipples, the stage lights hitting each rhinestone like a flash. The song fades out with its last line, “time after time,” while the crowd hollers.
Sally B. Dash, 37, has been practicing burlesque for about six years but has been performing and clowning around all her life. In Gainesville, she helped build the local burlesque scene, which was nonexistent before a few women started the now-defunct Manic Menagerie troupe in 2013. After it dissolved, the Mischievous Madams Burlesque Troupe, which Dash is part of, became the main group in town.
She also produces her own burlesque show, Sally B.’s Dashing Revue, and helps new performers get their start in the scene with her “Noobie” show, with the most recent being this past Saturday. When Dash started performing, she had lots of opportunities to be on stage, but she said newer performers don’t always get the same chance. By hosting shows for newcomers, she hopes to give them a leg up and add more diverse bodies to the burlesque scene.
Her own career in burlesque began when a friend wanted to start the Manic Menagerie troupe and contacted all the theatrical women she knew. Dash figured she’d try it out.
“I have pretty much always been trying to find ways to get out of my clothes,” Dash said.
Dash, the character, was born from a last-minute Halloween costume for a party in 2012. The party asked guests to combine two costumes, so she rifled through her already extensive costume closet and found half of a Sally Bowles costume, from “Cabaret,” and half of a Rainbow Dash costume, from “My Little Pony.”
“I feel so much like myself right now,” Dash said she thought.
She said nobody was surprised stripping down would be her next step, including her parents, who go to her shows.
When she gets on stage, Dash likes to be sexy but also to make people laugh. It’s why she often plays characters like Dolores Umbridge from the “Harry Potter” series, a tortoise dueting with a hare or a 1970s debutant discovering the joy of masturbation. At the end of her most recent performance, she played a flying monkey with a penchant for touching its bedazzled vagina, stuck on a fur-like pair of underwear.
But this year, Dash is challenging herself to do a no-jokes, straight-up-sexy performance. She’ll still perform as a strip of bacon, though, based on a lucky thrift store find.
Years of theater in Georgia at Wesleyan College and performances at the community playhouse contributed to a bursting costume closet in Dash’s house. Felt, tulle, satin and velvet peek out in different colors and patterns when the unicorn-printed curtains are pulled back. Two-gallon buckets are stacked beneath the hanging clothes, labeled with what costume pieces are inside and what character they belong to. There’s a system to it, a skill Dash also uses in her other job as a professional home organizer.
Most of her pieces are found from local thrift stores up and around Sixth Street, which she alters. Some of her bottoms are brand-new granny panties, which she slices fabric away from to create criss-cross patterns or peek-a-boo holes — she avoids thongs. A dance background taught her things should be tucked in. Plus, she knows her assets.
“I’m a boob girl,” Dash said.
The pride of her collection is an emerald green corset for her tortoise costume, which Dash meticulously jeweled into a pattern using different green and white rhinestones. For the bottoms, she had a friend and fellow burlesque performer make her custom underwear. The two tweaked the fit together.
“You have to do the funniest things in burlesque, like, ‘Is my vagina hanging out?’” Dash said, bending over like she would during a fitting.
At the places Dash and other women perform, full nudity isn’t allowed because of the city’s restriction on mixing bare flesh and alcohol, she said. Places that do allow it don’t serve drinks.
Dash doesn’t shy away from the comparison with club strippers, like at Cafe Risque. Other than the money collected at the night’s end, it’s the same, she said.
“Burlesque dancers makes costumes; strippers make money,” Dash said.
Dash said she wants to get more individuals of different races and genders performing. Helping other people see their own body type on stage makes a difference, she said.
“It means something to people to be able to see a body type they recognize on stage,” she said.
Along with her Noobie shows, she also does the work of organizing her regular shows. After Market Street Pub closed down at the end of 2016, Dash decided to keep the burlesque shows normally hosted there continued as Sally B.’s Dashing Revue, now normally held in High Dive, 210 SW Second Ave.
The shows have a live band, Swing Theory.
Dan Neal, the band director, said Dash gave the group its first gig back in 2015 when it performed at Market Street Pub. He said he wanted his band to have another gig, so he talked her into doing live music.
“Sally is a complete professional,” he said. “I wish she was working with me at my regular job. She cracks the whip and gets stuff done.”
For Kitty LaTush, a burlesque dancer who joined the Mischievous Madams Burlesque Troupe a year ago, Dash in action was a force to be reckoned with.
When LaTush was only beginning at burlesque, LaTush worked the door for one of the earlier burlesque shows Dash produced. At the end, after all the performances, Dash didn’t make herself the star, LaTush said. She quickly acknowledged she had done the work of organizing the show, but she stepped aside and let the other performers get their praise. LaTush said it was great to see a selfless performer.
“She doesn’t really care about all that. She cares about putting on a good show,” LaTush said. “I think she epitomizes what we want our community to be like.”
It doesn’t mean Dash doesn’t like the feeling of a crowd enjoying themselves. As a performer, Dash said she likes to hear people respond. With stripping, the applause keeps coming.
“Hearing a crowd cheer because they like something you did is one of the best feelings ever,” she said.
Dash works hard to give other people a leg up. She quietly does the background tasks needed to make the multiple burlesque shows she produces or performs in a year run. She is humble about this. But at the end of the day, Dash loves the stage.
She also likes what comes after — people coming up to her saying how they loved seeing a woman with a normal body being sexy, confident and in front of a crowd.
“Sally B’s not my alter ego,” Dash said. “She’s my ego.”