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In Performance: the Suicide Girls do Chicago

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Siren Suicide got into stripping for the oldest reason in the book--to put herself through med school. As the mistress of ceremonies at Dante's nightclub in Portland, Oregon, she performed retro burlesque routines alongside sword swallowers and fire dancers at a weekly event called Sinferno Sundays. "The first time I ever performed I was so shaky I couldn't even stand up," she says. "So I did a cat routine and crawled around on the floor."

Three years later the shakes are gone, and what started out as a way to put years of dance lessons to use has turned into a full-time job. Siren, now 26, works for Suicide Girls, the Internet start-up whose Web site (suicidegirls.com) has launched a small empire devoted to celebrating the "punk rock pin-up."

Launched in 2001, Suicide Girls (which takes its name from a term coined by Portland author Chuck Palahniuk in his 2000 novel Survivor) is part soft-core porn provider and part online community. Some content--profiles of the girls, interviews with celebs like Parker Posey and Benicio Del Toro--is free, but members pay from $4 to $9 a month to access nude photos of the 267 young punk, emo, and goth women on the site's roster and to correspond with each other and the models. Founders Missy and Sean Suicide won't say how much money they're making--and neither will Siren, who's one of their original models--but in a 2002 Nightline interview Missy claimed the site averaged 40,000 visitors a day and had grossed $80,000 in its first six months.

Nowadays they lay claim to 500,000 visitors a week. In the last year the site has made hot lists in Rolling Stone and the Village Voice and been featured in mainstream and alternative media nationwide. Courtney Love's a vocal fan, Slug from Atmosphere has been spotted wearing a Suicide Girls hoodie, and a few weeks ago 70 of the girls appeared in a video for Dave Grohl's new metal project, Probot. The site's latest spin-off, a touring burlesque show directed by Siren, has been selling out shows coast to coast.

Siren became a Suicide Girl around the same time she started performing. "After I did it, it was so much fun that I turned it into a job," she says. "I started taking it seriously, researching burlesque, watching old cabaret-type films, finding new costumes, and making up routines." As the site grew, Sundays at Dante's became an informal Suicide Girls showcase.

In 2002 a club owner from Orlando called Dante's to see if the Suicide Girls were interested in coming there; last July they took him up on the offer. "We didn't know a thing about touring," says Siren. "But I picked a few more girls for the trip, we went, got along really well with the guy, and the next thing you know he pretty much helped us plan our whole tour."

Two months ago Siren, Snow, Shera, Brandy, Tegan, and Violet packed their fishnets, stilettos, corsets, and pasties into a van and started off on a 43-city tour. The 55-minute show consists of a series of vignettes that incorporate pop-culture references into the classic bump and grind. "It's rock 'n' roll burlesque," says Siren. "We've kept the traditional aspects...but we've thrown in electrical tape, flames, and music like the Ramones."

While the Stealers Wheel ditty "Stuck in the Middle With You" blares, Tegan and Brandy, outfitted in pasties and panties, reenact the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs. In another bit, staged to Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You," a hardworking woman comes home to find her scratching, belching boyfriend--another girl in drag--lounging on the couch, Schlitz in hand. A beer fight ensues, conveniently drenching them both. But really, Siren says, "We're not trying to push the limits. We're not out there for shock value. We're just here to entertain and have a good time."

In the meantime, med school will have to wait.

The Suicide Girls Live Burlesque Show starts at 8 on Thursday, February 19, at Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Threefold and Bloom open. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 the day of the show, and you must be 21 or over to attend. Call 773-549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/courtesy Suicide Girls.

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