By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Like an electrical current flowing from the stage, audiences were shocked out of their seats to their feet.
Lottie “The Body” Graves-Claiborne, who was also known as Detroit’s Gypsy Rose Lee, had men of all races drooling and brought them to their feet with her burlesque striptease dance moves.
“They called her The Body. She was built like a double order of pancakes — sweet and stacked. The only light in the room bathed her as she emerged from a thick velvet curtain, incandescent, platinum hair piled high on her head. As the band struck up a slow, seductive wail, her intricately beaded gown glimmered with each step. By the end of the tune, the dress was gone, and she wore little more than heels, a few strategically placed rhinestones, and a smile,” Sarah Klein, aka Sparkly Devil, reportedly said in a past interview.
Lottie “The Body” died on Feb. 29 in Detroit. She was 90 years old.
She was born on October 31, 1930 in Syracuse, New York. She studied ballet as a child.
At 17, she quit school to become a professional dancer. In the 1940s, she travelled across the country with Herbert White’s dance troupe.
Her skills as a burlesque dancer were honed in the late 1940s.
By 1960, Lottie “The Body’ moved to Detroit and became an exotic dancer in Arthur Bragg’s Idlewild Review at the Paradise Club in Idlewild that was also known as the “Black Eden of Michigan.”
Her spectacular performances gained her entry into places where African Americans were denied, allowing her to cross racial lines. She performed with stars such as Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Sammy Davis, Jr., Redd Foxx and others.
The dancer was known to fight for civil rights in her own creative way.
“I lived my own sort of civil rights movement, making friends and connections in my own way wherever I went," she said in a memoir for Coastal Connecticut magazine in 2014.
Lottie “The Body” Graves-Claiborne’s contributions to dance opened the doors for other performers.
"For Lottie to be so successful back in the '50s and continue all the way into the '80s and '90s, she had to be something special," Bert Dearing, friend and owner of Bert’s Warehouse said. "When she danced, it was just a flow. She was more than just a dancer — she expressed her feelings in her dancing."