It's just after lunch, but Holly Peño's voice is still wrecked from another late-night bartending shift at Miami Beach's Purdy Lounge. When she's not serving drinks, the Chicago native is strutting stages in nothing but fishnet tights, patent-leather pumps, and a fringed lampshade. She coaches the ladies of Shameless, who include dancers Aurora Natrix, Angie Z, Morgan La Rue, and Sofia La Luna, and organizes burlesque shows that feature aerial feats and fire.
Peño began performing burlesque after ten years of go-go dancing on Chicago's gay scene. "I was doing burlesque and didn't know it," she says. "The only thing I didn't do was take off my bra." Her first performance of classic striptease was at Ozzfest in 2005. "Burlesque is all about the illusion of being naked — and glamour. Unlike go-go-ing, burlesque is very involved with the audience. With go-go, you're just eye candy." Not all of that interaction is positive. "You're always going to have some jokers in the audience, but we just get them onstage and spank them."
When Peño moved to Miami five years ago, pasties in hand, she thought she'd easily find a burlesque troupe to perform with. After all, the Magic City is known for its steamy sexiness. She began dancing as part of a West Palm Beach troupe but wanted to work closer to home. Peño now lives in Miami Beach between North Bay Village and Normandy Isle.
She formed Shameless Burlesque in 2008 with other local dancers who shared her love of superclassy, traditional burlesque with a soft spot for pop culture. "We're all a bunch of Tarantino fans," she says. "Along the lines of Death Proof. You know, girl power." Among the many shows since Shameless's first performance at Churchill's, her favorite is the Mad Hatter Tea Party. Peño's own style, however, is heavily influenced by Latin music. "When I discovered burlesque, I was also falling in love with salsa dancing," she explains. Her dad is Mexican, but she was raised by her mother, a European Jew. She began dancing at age 12.
Peño is naturally drawn to burlesque's retro glamour and showmanship. She's even thinking of MCing future shows. "Plus," she says, "a lot of the MCs introduce people fine, but they cuss a lot. Burlesque is supposed to be classy!"
Some of her girls dance with and have even founded other troupes, Modernesque Burlesque and Brass Knuckle Bombshells. But that doesn't bother Peño, who — like a proud den mother — is fiercely protective of her dancers' egos, style, and creative freedom. "There's room for all of us," she says.