I feel a bit goofy and self-important interviewing myself, but it seems like the best way to let you know about the source of this blog.
I am Jo Weldon, AKA Jo Boobs, a burlesque performer, fan, producer, photographer, and teacher based in New York, New York, USA. I began performing retro striptease while still in high school in the late 1970s, did readings and performance art throughout the 1980s while I worked in strip clubs, became a feature dancer doing burlesque (fan dance, champagne bath, etc), fetish (fire-eating, etc), and rock n roll themed numbers in the early 1990s, and worked frequently as a fetish performer in the late 1990s. I have been performing and producing in the neo-burlesque scene since 1998. I have been regularly photographing neo-burlesque since 2002. I have also been producing burlesque classes and workshops in New York since 2003. I have been publishing articles about stripping and burlesque since 1994. I have written a handbook about performing burlesque from which people in half a dozen countries have learned to make pasties and twirl tassels.
Photo by Don Spiro.
How did you get interested in burlesque?
I became interested in burlesque when I was very young through some sort of cultural osmosis. I loved images of what I imagined were undomesticated women from past decades, mid 20th century stripteasers. I came to the neo-burlesque scene in New York through my experiences as a feature dancer and fetish performer.
What does burlesque mean to you?
Rather than defining it, I prefer to say what it means to me that it exists the way it does now in downtown New York. To me, burlesque means paying homage to those undomesticated women, if not necessarily imitating them--men can do it too. It is also a means to introduce women who are shy about their bodies to enjoy the power of playful and/or confrontational exhibitionism, as well as creativity and self-expression through self-initiated theatrical performance. I see a lot of women redefining what it means to inhabit a female body, and a lot of both men and women really breaking through gender restrictions.
What was your first experience with live burlesque?
I saw Venus Delight, who did tributes to classic acts like the half-man/half-woman act, fan dances, fire-eating, and bathing in a giant champagne glass. I would guess I saw her about 15 years ago, although I also saw her in the "documentary" Stripper, which is from the 1980s. I got inspired all over again seeing Catherine D'Lish do her style of burlesque in the 1990s--she's a favorite.
What is one of your favorite experiences so far?
My favorite experience is going to Teaseorama and Exotic World and seeing the original undomesticated women that I've loved for decades performing with the same fierceness and sensuality I loved in them when I was a kid. One of the things that was interesting about it was that while most of us studied the history of burlesque, most of them didn't, they just did what they did. I don't know how many of them cared about Lydia Thompson, for instance, or about the tradition of a chorus of satyrs.
Do you travel perform, attend shows, photograph, etc.?
I do. I sacrifice to do it. I go to all these glamorous things but I live in a dump! Still, it's really worth it. It means everything to me to meet other people who share my passion, which is one of the reasons I teach.
Above: Jo Weldon with Sherry Britton at Amber Ray's Benefit for Exotic World.
Photo by Ed Barnas.
Who inspires you most, and why?
Those legends, obviously. I've gotten to know Sherry Britton quite well the past few years and she is amazing--incredibly knowledgable about theater (much more so than I), and a truly triumphant survivor who got her law degree in her 50s and still has a large circle of close friends. Also my fellow performers who are iconclasts of burlesque, dance, gender identity, and performance art. Bambi the Mermaid, Torchy Taboo, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Matt Mohr, Remy Vicious, and others have been so incredibly supportive and inspiring. Kitten Deville's style influenced my interpretation so much that I had to change one of my numbers when it became too much like hers, and after that I used more of my experience as a feature dancer to round out my numbers. Whitney Ward and Joe Coleman have really pushed me to value myself as a performance artist. I also admire the singularity of vision, attention to glamorous detail, and entrepreneurialism of Dita Von Teese. And one of the most inspiring things in my life is seeing the excitement in my students as they do for the first time things I've done thousands of time. It keeps everything fresh for me. And a really good audience, ultimately, is what keeps me going.
What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
The community, affection, and respect among the performers. I also love the passion of new and upcoming performers.
What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
More of the same--which means lots of unpredictability and new interpretations.
Anything else you’d like to say?
In the words of Viv Savage, "Have a good time, all the time."
A class in Atlanta taught with Torchy Taboo, who's reclining in front. Photo by Jo Weldon.
A student showcase at the Slipper Room, NYC.Photo by Ed Barnas, who has many more photos and a calendar of burlesque events on his site.
My demo reel: