Burlesque

She's an erotic cottage industry, a one-woman costume caper, an impresario of unusual adult entertainment. Meet Thomasina Kundalini: A riddle wrapped in a web site inside a cable-access show.

But rather than images of LaRue singing bawdy songs to the delighted XXX Ball audience, the videotape shows only brightly colored snow. Thomasina has been attempting to recover the footage using a sophisticated editing suite owned by her friend Bill Bruce, an amiable man who has filled his small studio space with hundreds of knickknacks, from Beatles memorabilia to ancient pinball machines. Together, Thomasina and Bruce have managed to salvage most of the footage from the lost episode for future broadcast. Such technical competence is typical of Thomasina: She regularly shoots, processes, and uploads digital pictures for friends in the industry through her Web business Muse Designs.) The rescued images of the XXX Ball look fabulous, in the way that an evening that included porn stars and showcases of erotic fashion is necessarily fabulous. In the video, go-go dancers strap on large rubber sex toys, which they then fellate.

"People still insist that much more was going on onstage," Thomasina says delightedly. "There wasn't. It was all just clever staging."

Alongside the XXX Ball episode, Thomasina has been editing footage for a future episode detailing a trip she took to Las Vegas for an annual convention of the adult-entertainment industry. The footage depicts her running around the city, watching the light show downtown, and getting her ass signed by porn star Ron Jeremy, who signed his name backward. "So that you can read it in the mirror," he explains in the footage, leering.

Thomasina also videotaped a dour woman who, on request, bent over and slapped her own bare rear end repeatedly. Her buttocks were already quite red, so evidently she had been spanking herself for much of the convention. Her hands beat out a staccato rhythm, and her face remained locked in a slight frown. "I don't know what she's doing," Thomasina says. "I saw her doing that, and ran over to videotape her." Thinking about this for a moment, Thomasina grins, then adds, "If I knew you could make a living doing that, I might have had a very different career."

While this comment might seem entirely appropriate for the Thomasina of the television show, it is surprisingly out of character for the real-world Thomasina, who often betrays a noticeable discomfiture with the more graphic elements of the adult-entertainment world. For example, Thomasina demonstrates the way she used to walk through Sexworld, passing banks of television sets displaying loops of hardcore pornography. She would hold her hands up to the sides of her face, shielding her eyes. "Sex is wonderful," she says. "Without sex, none of us would be here. But I don't want to look at that."

Similarly, although Thomasina dresses up as Fifties pinup fave Bettie Page in one Thomasina.com episode, she displays less nudity in a half-hour than the original Page generally would in 25 seconds, the approximate amount of time it must have taken her to snap off her bikini for her photographers. Her word of choice, burlesque, seems apt. For someone affiliated with Sexworld, which provides uninterrupted access to alarmingly graphic material, the sexuality of Thomasina's various endeavors has a wistful, oldfangled feel to it, as though she were reproducing old stag videos of fan dancers cheerfully teasing balding men in gray flannel suits at go-go clubs.

Appropriately, Thomasina herself worked as a go-go dancer for several years after college. It's a strange-sounding word now, go-go dancer, calling to mind visions of girls in bikinis and vinyl boots dancing the watusi to instrumental R&B numbers with names like "Let Me Play Wit' Yo' Poodle." It is hard to imagine that in the age of pay-per-view television and lap dances it is still possible for go-go dancers to find work. The survival of that curious craft relies on cities that have legislated against nudity in clubs that serve alcohol. As a result, a handful of clubs feature women dancing in bikinis, like some American Pictures beach movie, but with a stage and pole replacing the beach and bonfire. And so a circuit of sorts does exist, and, after some initial uncertainty, Thomasina joined it.

"I had a lot of friends in college who were dancers," she says. "They would always ask me if I wanted to work with them, and I always said no. But then I had a financial crisis."

Facing possible eviction, Thomasina called one of her friends and "begged her to set up a job for me," Thomasina says. "It took about half an hour to convince her I was serious." Thomasina rode a Greyhound bus to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. "I froze at the door to the club," she says. "I told my friend, 'I can't do it.'"

"Sleep on it," her friend responded, and they retired to a hotel. The next day, Thomasina climbed up on the stage of the club and danced for a while but could not bring herself to take her clothes off. "My friend crossed to the bar, poured me a shot of alcohol, and watched as I drank it. 'Good,' she said. 'Now strip.'"

Thomasina placed every keepsake from the Fond du Lac experience in an envelope--check stubs, hotel receipts, and her bus ticket--intending to destroy them when she returned to Minneapolis. "Somehow, I couldn't throw the envelope away," she says.

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