November 19, 2012

Burlesque dancer wins seat on Portland school board

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Usually, a video of a political candidate doing a striptease in a dive bar is enough to end a campaign -- especially a campaign for the local school board.

But in Portland's liberal West End? It's no big deal.

On Tuesday, Holly Seeliger, a 26-year-old teacher and burlesque dancer, won the District 2 seat on the Portland Board of Public Education, getting 59 percent of the vote to defeat a candidate with an ideal pedigree to serve the school district.

That candidate, Jeanne Swanton, has 17 years of financial experience, including a stint as a vice president of Citigroup. Unlike Seeliger, she has children in the school system and is active in the Reiche Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization.

Swanton, 45, also had a significant fundraising advantage over Seeliger, who got one contribution, of $100 (from the Green Independent Party). Seeliger's pre-election finance report shows she spent $690 on palm cards and yard signs.

Swanton raised $2,525, according to her finance report. City Councilor John Anton, a former Green Independent who's now unenrolled, was the treasurer for her campaign.

In addition to paying for direct mailers, Swanton spent more than $1,700, including $360 for voter information from the Democratic National Committee.

It wasn't enough to beat Seeliger, a Green Independent who hand-painted her campaign signs and had a couple of close friends help her distribute literature.

Even Seeliger was surprised by her win, with 3,079 votes to Swanton's 2,114.

"I thought the whole time the race could have gone either way, and I believe Jeanne Swanton is highly qualified for running for school board as well," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised when the election results came in."

Seeliger, a grant-funded teacher at the Regional Alternative Learning School on Mackworth Island, began her candidacy around the time she joined the West End Neighborhood Association Board of Directors, in February.

She publicly disclosed her hobby of burlesque dancing on July 14 in a blog post, "Politics and the 'Pin Up': A Recreation of the Modern Woman."

The post celebrates women taking back their image from the male-dominated media, most notably the efforts of a 14-year-old Waterville girl who got Seventeen magazine to stop air-brushing the body shapes of its cover models.

"For the past three years I have performed as a burlesque dancer in Portland at local venues and have become interested in classic 'Pin Up' photography because I want to reinvent images of modern women," Seeliger wrote.

Burlesque dancing, which is having a resurgence in the U.S., was mentioned in several of her candidate profiles, but Seeliger said it never came up in the campaign.

"The only people who talk to me about this are reporters," Seeliger said. "I think it's more of an attempt by journalists just to cause a little bit of intrigue. And perhaps, maybe a subject such as school board doesn't intrigue everyone."

Seeliger's hobby certainly intrigued Comedy Central, which highlighted her candidacy online as part of its "One of a Kind Candidates" series.

Writer Kerry Bentivolio described Seeliger as eloquent and a class act in her post on Aug. 23 but joked that it took only 15 seconds to find a YouTube video of Seeliger dancing.

Bentivolio provided a link to Seeliger, whose stage name is "Holly D'anger," dancing at Geno's, a popular dive bar in downtown Portland.

"If Seeliger is elected, it's pretty much guaranteed that for the first time in history middle school boys will voluntarily attend school board meetings," the author joked.

In the video, Seeliger saunters through a crowded room toward the stage, wearing a soft, bulky coat that exposes her bare legs. She slowly puts on gloves, while the audience howls with approval. After flashing the crowd a few times, exposing her practically bare chest with nipples covered with pasties, she sheds the jacket and begins bouncing and tap dancing in a way that makes the pasties move in circular fashion.

(Continued on page 2)

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