- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Fathom Swanson wants more glittery, scantily dressed people in Wyoming.

She wants costumed women and drag queens, makeup, boas, wigs and tassels. She wants a feminine vibe to temper the state’s tough-guy character.

Burlesque, says Fathom, is the answer.

The 26-year-old has studied the Wild West’s burlesque tradition and wants to bring it to modern-day Casper. She might be on her way. Fathom - the name she goes by on stage - owns Keyhole Peepshow, a Casper-based burlesque troupe.

“I like to express myself the way I was born - and I was born naked,” she says.

Burlesque is different than stripping, Fathom says. It challenges conventional ideas about beauty and accepts performers who could never get a job at a strip club. At the very least, burlesquers are starving artists, she says, since show producers can’t always pay them.

Burlesque is also performance art. Dancers build their acts around a song or costume that inspires them. Fathom sews her costumes and designs props, which once led her to a Colorado farm where she plucked peacock feathers from the earth. The audience can be in on the performance, such as during Fathom’s Marie Antoinette act, with a giant pink wig, hoop skirt and 10 layers. The comedy comes as Marie quickly rips off the layers to an upbeat song until she finally reaches fans that open and close over her breasts.

- The louder, the better

Audience members who sit closest to the stage, in the so-called splash zone, can get a martini spritz when Fathom mixes the drink in her bra. As part of the performance, she pours it into a glass without using her hands. The audience may wipe away fake blood when Fathom pops balloons during an evil nurse act, inspired by the horror film “Silent Hill.”

“Burlesque is really about pushing the boundaries - comedy, being loud and crazy,” she says. “The more out there and the louder, the better.”

That confrontation also goes for age, ethnicity, gender and body size.

“In the end, I want to entertain people and inspire people and open people’s minds,” she says.

Performers are expected to have a little meat on their bones. Or, as Fathom says, “If you don’t have some jiggle, there’s nothing to show.”

Fathom is a voluptuous, inked redhead. One of her tattoos covers her right hip, where a gun holster would go. It’s a 1923 Colt revolver that says “Mamma Tried,” referencing an old song about a mother who attempted to make her child follow the rules and play it safe.

Fathom’s beauty ideals are Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo.

“In a strip club, I’m not the ideal body type,” she says. “You can’t have tattoos. You have to be tanned. You have to be a size 0.”

- Confidence

That’s not to say Fathom hasn’t been insulted. She’s heard them all.

“Oh my God, she’s so fat.”

“She’s so ugly.”

“Why does she take off her clothes?”

Obviously, a woman who takes off her clothes for a living must have confidence. Fathom draws hers from family support - she counts her mother and grandmother among her biggest supporters. She also gets confidence from knowing she’s living her passion.

“It’s hard because 90 percent of people are against you,” she says.

Wyoming doesn’t have any men burlesquers, but sometimes Colorado dancers travel to Wyoming burlesque shows and perform in their most glamorous drag. Burlesque is edgy, open and inclusive. Fathom has marched and performed in the Denver Pride Parade for the last three years, she says.

Titillation is one aspect of burlesque, so it may come as a surprise that many of Fathom’s audience are women. Fathom attributes it to a “You go, girl” sisterhood of women who appreciate in-your-face sassiness.

Lauren Bezold, a downtown Casper business owner and lead singer of the punk band The-Front, is a fan.

Burlesque hearkens to a time when full-figured women were celebrated for their beauty, says Bezold, who has hired Fathom to model a plus-sized fashion line that’s sold at Bezold’s store, Derby Boutique.

“I think it’s a pretty empowering way for women to show their sexuality,” she said. “It’s an art form. It’s kind of camp, and there’s a lot of rich history to burlesque.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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