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Florida Burlesque Festival takes off

Bambi La Fleur says she's starving. There, the roasted-sweet-potato salad in the display case at Stork's Bakery in Wilton Manors. She'll take that. And the Mango Madness smoothie. That, too. These are necessary ingredients for preserving the look of a plus-size burlesque model.

"Oh, come on, I didn't get ample for no reason," La Fleur says with a chuckle, between bites of salad. "I'm not that old, and I'm not that young, but God wanted me to be big. So I made a career out of it. You can't be stupid and be in this beauty business. I take that back: Kim Kardashian is in the beauty business."

The nom de striptease of Fort Lauderdale's Leslie Ann Hooker, La Fleur has orchestrated plenty of career opportunities using her buxom figure. She's modeled for Italian Cosmopolitan and plus-size glamour magazines; sang in the eight-piece band Bambi and the Boys Bubblicious Lounge Act, composed of University of Miami music students; studied under burlesque legends such as Dusty Summers and Tempest Storm; and struck come-hither poses for Bunny Yeager, the Miami pinup photographer who died in May.

On Friday and Saturday, she'll present the Florida Burlesque Festival, two days of artful glitz and embellished clothes-dropping featuring La Fleur and more than a dozen burlesque performers at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. The event will feature vendors selling burlesque-related merchandise, stripteasing classes and appearances by an international lineup of acts, including Las Vegas' Dusty Summers, Germany's Fleur d'Amour and South Florida's Jenna Beth. La Fleur says she created the festival to celebrate South Florida's "rich burlesque culture," and is dedicated to Yeager, a close friend.

"I met [Bunny] 20 years ago and told her about my cheesy band and how we played all the gay bars in South Beach," recalls La Fleur, who says her collaborations with Yeager produced a book, "Bunny Shoots Bambi," which has not yet been published. "She wanted to shoot me immediately. She says I reminded her of when she was young and vivacious. I learned about posing for pinups through her."

In the 1980s, during her modeling career, La Fleur invented the Bambi persona: a small-town woman proud of being plus-size, whose cascade of bright-yellow hair, fair skin and deep-red lipstick recalls 1950s pinup bombshells such as Marilyn Monroe. Her act is rooted in the golden age of 1950s burlesque. On Saturday night, La Fleur says, she'll perform a striptease to the opera "Madame Butterfly," an act she says begins inside a cocoon.

"I step out of the cocoon, and then I become a butterfly with a big headdress covered in 1,000 crystals. A full transformation," La Fleur says."It's classy, very classy, with lots of sparkle."

The Florida Burlesque Festival will run 8-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5-6, at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $30, $50 for VIP seating. Burlesque classes, which cost $20, will run 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Email Bambi La Fleur at or go to

954-356-4364, or Twitter @philvalys

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