Monday, December 29, 2008

Interview: Dita Von Teese, Part 2

Dita proves that for a burlesque performer, it's what's underneath that counts--like $5 million dollars worth of diamonds. As she said in the first part of this interview, however, she had her days of schlep while building her business.

Above: In Dita's Closet. Photos in this article courtesy of Dita Von Teese and

Has your website been a relevant part of developing your career? Was it originally a lot of work and expense to create the site?
I started the site in the very early 90s, my boyfriend was really into this new thing called the "world wide web" and he had this idea that we would make a page and it would have pictures on it, and if someone sent us a check for like $10 or something, we would send them back a package of 3x5 prints of me in lingerie. So, gradually, as the web evolved, so did this little site. A the time, there were no fetish or pinup websites, in fact, there were about 20 of us nude glamour models with little websites. I regret that I didn't do like Danni Ash and make a big giant 1000s of girls website...she became a multi millionaire by studying how to build a site on her own and paid girls to appear and she pulled in about 5 million a year in profit. Amazing. And she was basically a stripper that bought a book and studied it and was brave enough to go for it!
My website now is more of a labour of love for me, and a source of income for those that work on it... the profit I make from it is significant web-wise, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to my other jobs. I keep it going because it's important to me to have this connection to my fans. I don't have time to shoot special things for it like I used to, but I take scrapbook pictures from my travels, I write in a journal, I email with members, I am always available on the message board to answer questions and I'm around now and then for chats, and I put all the video and pictures of my shows and photoshoots up there.

You are always so kind and generous with the members on your website--you seem very loyal to them. Would you like to comment on what it's like to have such lovely and devoted fans?
Well, I never thought that I would have so many female fans! I saw this big swing around and suddenly I realized one day how many women were getting into the spirit of pinup and burlesque, and that there was some kind of comaraderie amongst us girls that couldn't or didn't want to fit into that typical supermodel-beach bade natural kind of sexy. It really hit me once when I was doing a book signing at Harrod's a few years ago, and I stepped out to see thousands of people, and like an army of glamour girls with their red lips on! And I was fighting back the tears.... seeing that I had those kinds of fans, and that they felt sexy and glamorous and were finding the same kind of empowerment I did when I made myself up. It's amazing to me. It gave me a whole new outlook on what I do, and made me feel like I could do more to get across a good message about individuality. When I started working with The MAC Aids Fund and then Amfar, it really made me feel like I could turn this silly hobby into something that could make a little difference. I made $150,000 for Amfar's HIV research by doing a couple striptease lessons, and that felt terrific to be able to do something...okay, so maybe I am not a genius and I can't get in there and cure HIV, but at least I can help in my own way, even if it's in a ridiculous way.

What did you think of feature dancing? Did it help you learn to develop numbers? I remember that you were listed on Continental's website as a "novelty act"--do you think that's a signifier as to how different your style was from that of most features on the circuit at that time?
I think that it's not for everyone.... it's a hard life, and it's not glamorous. But yes, it did help me develop a grander show, and I did have fun seeing the country, and I am glad I did it. But there were some really tough moments, and it was sort of depressing, especially if you think all the clubs are big beautiful places and there are limousines and fancy stages... there certainly were some, but just when I would start enjoying and settling into these upscale clubs, there I would be, in the next city, in some hell-hole of a club, in the tiniest dressing room ever, in a gross motel. I would treck out to the department store and buy my own sheets and towels and bathmats to make a path to walk on the dirty stained carpets. But I had this "that's showbiz!" attitude that kept me going, and I knew that this was somehow going to be "character building"!! And I do have to say, sometimes I miss hitting that stripclub stage where there isn't a journalist, a camera crew, a paparazzi or even a camera phone in sight! It's so freeing to let loose and do a good show without worrying about all that other stuff. I just love being on stages now where there are no cameras. The Crazy Horse Paris is great, it's a real theatre, and no one would dare pull out their camera phone. They have someone at every single show watching the audience. I hate that people can't just sit and enjoy the show anymore, everyone has to document everything they see. When I see a show, I want to drink in every second of it and remember it as it really was, cameras can't capture that feeling you get when you see a great show. [I understand that! Sometimes I feel a little off when I'm performing and I can't see the audience for the cameras. But I'm super grateful for pictures of shows I wouldn't get to see at all other wise. And, of course, I love to take pictures. --Jo]

What makes up the largest part of your workday?
I don't really have a typical workday... it all depends on what I have going on at the time, sometimes I get to work on shows, like making new ones, or rehearsing, and sometimes I am in full press-mode, doing days and days in a row of interviews. They work you like a machine. I did a few 17 hour-long days recently for all the press for Wonderbra, and there comes a point where no amount of flowers, champagne and free shoes and clothes and fabulousness that comes your way can help! Sleep is all you want! I know it seems impossible, but believe me, it's like my eyeballs are going to fall out and I can't even talk answer one more question about how I got my start or what burlesque actually is. But one good night of sleep and I am ready to go, go, go again! It's not a complaint, it's just that you can't imagine how crazy it can get, and I can see why some celebrities snap. I haven't snapped yet, thank goodness. I would say that when I'm not performing or doing appearances and press for my projects, I'm at home, answering emails, talking with my manager about what's going on, taking meetings for possible projects, and doing pilates and taking ballet classes, reading books or watching films that inspire me, and just doing the day to day stuff. I love just being home and wearing no makeup and washing the dishes and doing the laundry and hanging out with my animals... they never ask me what burlesque is and how I define it!

Your style is one of decadent glamour and lavish indulgence, and you always have a look in your eye onstage that indicates you have a great sense of humor about all the to-do as well as a great sense of style. Obviously all your rhinestones and giant props have been good investments. Do you ever find yourself up there thinking, "Can you believe this giant lipstick I'm about to ride?"
Yeah, that's the whole point! It's all quite absurd, and the second you take yourself too seriously, forget it! The more ridiculous the show, the better. That lipstick is hard to beat. Catherine and I were pretty proud of that one.... we had all these real cowboys around, showing us how to run this mechanical bull that we put a giant lipstick on, and they thought we were out of our minds, and we had trick ropers and gun slingers in teaching me all this stuff, and it was hilarity. We were actually terrified of the monster we created at first... it was a $60,000 prop venture, and when we fired that thing up and watched it start bucking and spinning, we really didn't know if I was going to be able to do it, so it was a bit scary to risk that much money for something that may have been impossible. I had to sign all these waivers saying I wouldn't sue the manufacturer since I "modified" the machinery.
Below: Dita rides her bull. You can see great quality video on her site, dita. net.

For my Cointreau show, I practically had to be carried out after testing all those signature drinks they invented for me! I love the research that goes into a new show. Most of it might be useless but it's totally entertaining for me to leave no stone unturned and go beyond what's required just to do a show. I like having good stories to tell!

Above: Dita with her costumes at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Costume and fans by Catherine D'Lish.

What do you think you'll do with some of those incredible costumes when you retire some of the numbers? They are some of the most amazing things I've ever seen, absolutely museum-quality.
I don't know, I guess I would find someone to take care of them and make sure they get seen. The work on these gowns is incredible, and it's beautiful even up close without the stage lighting, and although it's great to see them under the stage lights and in motion, I think people would enjoy seeing them up close. My friends make jokes about the museum they are all going to run and work in someday. They have big plans for the merchandising!

What advice would you give to would-be burlesque performers who are also business-minded?
I would say that your best assets are the things that make you different from others... don't fall into a trap where you think there is a "formula" for success. Don't base your show on what you see everyone else doing, there are no rules. If you have something unique and different to offer, you have no competition. But above all, do it with integrity and conviction and because you love it, not because it's cool right now or because you want to be rich.

Dita's Website.

I could have interviewed Dita about her business for endless hours, but she's already been more than generous in this interview. I'm very happy to present it because I believe in following your passion, just like the heroines in Judith Krantz novels (yes, showing my age with that reference). I am thrilled that there is, in my lifetime, a stripper as famous for what she wears as for what she doesn't, a stripper who has made a career out of celebrating the art form of burlesque without having the dilettante's compulsion to insult table dancers or pole dancers, a stripper who inspires both imitators and originals to aim higher, work harder, and dream more vividly.

Dita will be appearing at the Crazy Horse in Paris in February--follow the link below for more information! She has helped to develop the numbers and trained the dancers. Again, Gypsy Rose Lee and her troupe come to mind....
Crazy Horse Paris

Just a shout out--Dita and I also have the same publisher. Harper Collins, who published Burlesque and the Art of the Teese, and also published Liz Goldwyn's "Pretty Things," has definitely displayed a affinity for burlesque! I love my publisher!!! HC Forever!

However, I have to work very hard on my manuscript for the next several weeks, which means I won't be posting many interviews or articles (if any) for a bit. I have some beautiful interviews I've done for the book that'll just have to wait to see the light of day. However, I'll do my best to keep blog subscribers entertained with choice photos and tidbits.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Eartha Kitt Passes

Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died, a family spokesman said. She was 81.
Her career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House....

Eartha Kitt, Sultry 'Santa Baby' Singer, Dies

I loved her so much! When I was a little girl I was crrrrazy about catwomen:

My father took me to see her perform when I was a little girl, and although I was enthralled by the spectacular woman onstage in her red beaded gown, I didn't realize who she was until she came over to our table and said, "Hello, little girrrl. Your fatherrr told me you want to meeeeet me." I went nuts--Catwoman actually spoke to me!

A huge influence on neo-burlesque:

And a song I danced to in strip joints literally hundreds of times:

An amazing fiery woman in every way.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Interview: Dita Von Teese


At Tease-O-Rama 2002 I had a front row seat for Dita Von Teese's performance with her giant moon prop, and you may well resent me for that. It was a gorgeous performance, with Dita obviously having a good time, and at the end of the number a cannon shot a shower of silver mylar stars over us, hundreds of which I carried in my camera bag for at least a year after the show. In her book Burlesque and the Art of the Teese, Dita describes Liberace as the ultimate showman, whose art "is creating spectacle and inspiring dreams." She surely succeeded in her goal that night, and I'm sure on hundreds of others. 50 years from now, people will still be talking about the stupefying glamour of Dita Von Teese.

Dita in a costume by Catherine D'Lish.
Click the image above to view larger and swoon with envy and delight.
All photos in this article courtesy of Dita Von Teese and

Whenever someone tells me they're a Dita fan, or they're fascinated by burlesque costumes, but they've never joined Dita's website for even a month, I am completely baffled. I doubt that they are truly fans. Even if they join for only a month, they'll get to see amazing video, spectacular photos, read her archive of journal entries, and can ask Dita herself for tips on how she does what she does.

One of the things I find most fascinating about her is her entrepreneurialism and her ability to make perfect decisions. In many interviews she talks about how carefully she selected her jobs, her costumes, even her lighting (she has even begun bringing her own lighting gels with her). And she has run the business of being Dita in a way that makes me think of the career of Gypsy Rose Lee, while her style onstage refers perhaps more directly to Lili St. Cyr.

But really, knowing there's an interview with Dita coming up, do you want to hear any more from me? No? Smart cookie! Let's get to it.

When you began modeling and performing, there was little if any burlesque community and not much notice of burlesque in the media. Did you ever expect your career to take off like this? Was there ever a point at which you thought your career might be based in anything else?
I never , ever expected any of this to happen. And it was a very slow climb, a snowball effect of sorts. I feel like one thing led to another since I was in high school. Well, maybe even before, if you get into my childhood and being a middle child that went unnoticed, blah, blah blah... but that's one I should tell while lying on a sofa in therapy maybe! Anyway, let's not go back that far for now! My first job was as a lingerie salesgirl at age 15 at a chic little boutique in Orange County, California. I had been obsessed with lingerie my whole life. To me, it was this secret among women, like the most feminine thing that existed, a rite of passage. I was always sneaking into my mother's lingerie drawer and secretly wearing her bras from a young age. And so when I was about 15, I was desperate to work in this little pink and black shop that was near the beauty salon where my mother worked, so I just kept on going in there and offering to do any kind of work they had for me in that little shop. When they finally gave in and let me work there as stockgirl, I immersed myself in the job, and I got really into learning about lingerie, and even the history of it, and that was one things that sparked my interest in vintage style lingerie. Of course, I became a sales girl, eventually a buyer, and a few years later, I managed the lingerie department of a big department store. So, anyway, in all this, I started collecting vintage lingerie, and also vintage clothes, and sometime around then I found the "holy grail" of lingerie... a corset. Someone directed me to a fetish shop. So seeing all all the fetish magazines and talking to the people that worked there gave me the idea of being photographed in the same kind of retro spirit of Bettie Page, because, you have to understand, that this was about 1989-90, and it wasn't being done even in that scene yet, so I had a this idea about that I thought was pretty cool, I was going to get to show off my vintage lingerie, and maybe get some free corsets in exchange! And meanwhile, at this time, I was a go-go dancer in the LA rave scene, and around OC in the best clubs, so I was also making up costumes for that, buying cheap vintage girdles and covering them in sequins, adding bows, etc.... making things to wear for that. And I did this performance art piece that was quite known in the club scene at that time, it was a really neat big high tech prop that was very space-age... it was this techno-y cage with bars filled with water and there I was inside it, and the whole machine with me in it would rise up about 20 feet in the middle of the dancefloor and I would pose and have these high-powered spotlights on my hands to add to the light shows in the clubs. This was at the height of the Los Angeles rave scene, and it was exciting and I was known for this, and I was at all the big parties. It was pretty cool! And I had long blonde Barbarella type hair, still the same cat-eye red lip makeup I'm still sporting, and I wore a black thong and my friend Ava Garter would wrap me in a thin layer of plastic wrap and artfully arranged electrical tape. But looking back, that contraption was a hazard! All that water, all that electricity.... Ava and I go way back. We were the girlfriends of these big rave DJs and so, of course, we were the gogo girls! We met around 1989 and were inseparable.

So I'm skipping around, but it's all intertwined.... when I turned 18 I posed for some French and Australian men's magazines, and that photographer took me and Ava out to check out a "bikini bar" in OC, and we were totally intrigued, and especially excited about how much more money we might be able to make than we did dancing at rave parties, so we tried it out. Our reasoning was that those girls weren't doing anything racier than we were, they weren't even stripping, just walking around in bikinis. So, I took that job, but at the same time I kept up the department store job, the gogo dancing job and the little fetish modeling jobs all at once. To me, it was never, ever a plan to become a full time model, or dancer, it was all a big adventure and an experience, and that was it. I was having fun and I was just trying to be the best fish in that little pond. And having all kinds of things going on gave me the power to decide what I was going to do and what I wasn't going to do, so I felt very nonchalant about it all. It was a hobby for the most part, and for years and years I felt like it was all just temporary. I saved and I invested my money from the very start. I never thought of it as "easy come, easy go". I figured I would get married, have some babies and look back at my wild days and that was it. In the mid 90's, I started posing for the Playboy newsstand special editions, and became quite known for that, and as a star in the fetish scene, and that's when I started touring across the US from time to time as a feature dancer. Catherine D'Lish and I met around that time because we had the same booking agent, and everywhere we went, people told us we should meet because we were both doing burlesque style shows, and most of the other circuit girls were porn stars that were much racier than we were onstage. So anyway, we had sort of a "blind date" and decided to meet up and come together and do shows together, and so we did that for years. We were in it all together, and she did the costumes for my Playboy cover in 2002, and all my big show costumes. To answer your question about what else I thought I might have been doing, well, I also had a brief stint at college and I studied pattern making and styling and historic costuming, so I thought at one point I might do something either in fashion or in film as a stylist. And at one point I was making hats, so millinery was of interest too. But my shows and modeling jobs and the opportunity to travel kept me from pursuing that. I never, ever in a million years thought that I would be doing what I'm doing to this extent. I never had any plans of being a star or whatever, I was just having fun and making memories and trying to be the best I could be. In my mind, when I started, it was a hobby, and then maybe a way to make some extra money. I honestly thought I was just going to marry my boyfriend, have some children and reminisce about that short time in my life when I was dancing and posing for pinups.

You have said in interviews that you maintained other jobs besides modeling so that you could choose only those modeling jobs you liked. What were some of your favorite early modeling jobs?
Oh well, I liked all the fetish jobs and the Playboy jobs. I liked coming up with ideas for shoots and doing all the styling and getting satisfaction from the end result, or seeing the mistakes and learning from them. I liked the silly fetish videos, especially Dita in Distress, which was a real effort, but worth it in the end, and I used to make these custom fetish videos. I just loved getting these letters and sometimes I would make these funny short films for fans to make money on the side... one favorite was one where Catherine and I are taking ballet class and she gets annoyed with me and puts a big cream pie right in my face. It's priceless. And then there was a guy who paid to get a video of me walking through a forest all dolled up.... throwing trash out of my handbag.....littering fetish! This stuff always entertained me to no end. I kept every script, every letter! And I thought it was all very funny, with little or no nudity required. For some reason I had these really gentle fans that were more interested in the silly and cute fetishes than the hard ones.
And I liked all the Playboy photos and videos and events I did, it was funny to be completely different than all those other girls, it was always a real novelty for the photographers to work with me on those shoots! And it was exciting to be in Playboy, it was a real thrill to go from the fetish world to the Playboy world like that. I tested to become a Playboy Playmate, but I got rejected over and over after each test, so obviously it was crazy to be on the cover years later.... I still have a hard time believing that really happened!

You seem like the ultimate entrepreneur. You have several revenue streams--modeling, performing, and your website. Do you recommend this approach for new performers with long-term goals?
I think that the best goal is to do it because you have a genuine love for it, and not to be doing it for the wrong reasons. I'm a firm believer that good things come from good intentions.... when a person isn't ego and money driven, things work out the way they should. And you have to work hard. You have to pay your dues! Make no mistake, I suffered! I stayed in the worst of the worst motels, I did manual labor. I definitely wasn't demanding champagne and fancy dressing rooms and making people treat me like a star... I've seen girls do it, and I discovered early on that when you don't ask for all that and you just do a good job, well, they want to do nice things for you, you know? But I sort of take the same approach that actors take, you do the research, you do your homework, you do all that stuff and for some reason, it all comes across onstage, even if it doesn't seem like there is much relevance. Working out five hours a day to have a perfect body isn't what makes someone have star quality, I think it's all these layers of depth and genuine interest in what you're doing that makes it good.

To be continued! Dita was so generous with her time and information that I've split the interview into two sections. In the next section we'll be discussing Dita's website and showing more astonishing images of her and her costumes.

Dita's website, with her scrapbook photos, journal entries, and more.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tami Roche

Image courtesy of Skinnergy.

When I was growing up in Atlanta, I saw the strip joint signs and old burlesque signs; I was also aware of Atlanta's burlesque star, Tami Roche. Because I started working the clubs in 1980, there were still some dancers who had done burlesque in the 50s and 60s around, some of them still dancing but most of them not interested in the full nude table dance format (and sometimes not so nice about us doing it), still working in the clubs as costumers or managers, wearing fabulous hair and nails and giving us great advice about showmanship and terrible advice about how to make money. I didn't get to meet Tami Roche but her name came up frequently as one of the last great tassel-twirlers.

She appeared in Russ Meyer's Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens with Kitten Natividad (one of the most lovable and darling people ever born)

And she appeared in Ann Corio's revival of This Was Burlesque in 1981.
Available on VHS as "Here It Is Burlesque"

Recently I was at a meeting with several of the people who are participating in Deitch Project's Liz Renay Retrospective. Scott Ewalt has put together an incredible book on Liz Renay, to die and die and die for, and we talked about a few people who are difficult to get information on by simply googling, and Tami Roche came up--so I thought I'd give her a shout out!

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Panties of the Middle East

He's got knickers with flashing fairy lights, others that glow in the dark, a bra-and-knickers set shaped like manicured women's hands enveloping the wearer's crotch and breasts.
In a slightly higher price range, he's got remote-controlled bras and knickers, designed to spring open and fall to the floor with a clap of the hands or a press of a button.

Sexy secrets of the Syrian souk

I can't embed the video or images, so you'll have to check out the link if you want to see more. It doesn't show some of the ones I'm dying to see, but you'll get the idea.

With the high level of enthusiasm of most New York burlesque audiences, the "clapper" costumes wouldn't make it through the first 20 seconds of a number!

This link was sent to me by the amazing Scott Shuster of World Dance New York, the lovely people who are producing my burlesque DVDs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Things to Do in December in New York

Do you love glamour, whimsy, and attention to detail? You must, if burlesque is one of your obsessions. The following shows aren't being advertised as burlesque, but they are precious, rare, and best seen live. If you're in the city, don't miss:

Ballets Trockadero

Press Image,The Seattle Times
Victor Trevino, a friend of mine and brother of my very first and very beloved roommate, used to be a member of this troupe. He more recently founded Ballets Grandiva, which is also not to be missed but isn't running this Christmas.

Meow to the World
Image from PS 122.
If you haven't seen Meow Meow, you've never seen anything like Meow Meow. I first saw her in her astonishing performances at Spiegelworld with Weimar New York and then followed her around with a camera for days, trying not to creep her out.

Arias with a Twist

Image: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Joey Arias, seminal New York Performance artist and Cirque du Soleil alumnus, along with our dear and twisted friend puppeteer Basil Twist, put together a show that has left everyone who sees it reeling.

Gypsy on Broadway.

Image by legendary theater photographer Joan Marcus.
I can't imagine why I should have to tell you to see this! I'll be posting my exclusive interview with Laura Benanti, the actress who won a Tony for her portrayal of Louise Hovick/Gypsy Rose Lee, very soon.

The Windows at Bergdorf Goodman
If are in NYC this time of year and you don't go to see the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, you're nuts, you're a loser, you're cheating youself of the most joyous artistic surreal experience that's utterly free of charge.
The other day my friend and I went to the Union Square Market for Christmas shopping, then went to the Carnegie Deli, the Russian Tea Room, the Plaza, and Bergdorf Goodman, where I took the following photos. When it comes to holiday glamour, I am not messing around.
Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2008
Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2008
Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2008

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

While we're at it...Jill St John
Jill St John stripping out of a tiger outfit in The Oscar, 1966.

Above: Another image posted in an effort to get you to visit Cool Cinema Trash.

Oops, left out a favorite

Ann-Margret doing some fierce boa work in The Swinger.

Above: Image from

1960s Style

If you've spent any time around me when I'm discussing my influences, you'll have heard me talk about just how much I love the aesthetic of the 1960s.

Click any of the images below for lots more 60s fun.

Think about Natalie Wood in Gypsy--1962. It's not meant to be set in the 60s, but that is definitely 60s hair.

Click the image above to see a fabulous site dedicated to Gypsy.

See the original trailer on imdb.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's--1961.

The original movie trailer.

Ursula Andress in Casino Royale, 1967
Casino Royale movie trailer

Daliah Lavi in The Silencers, 1967

The Silencers movie trailer

Ann Margaret in the Pleasure Seeker, 1964
Ann Margret in the film.

Most of the Sonny Lester music on Striptease Classics was released (though not written) in the 1960s.

Whatever year it was intended to evoke, David Rose's "The Stripper" was released in 1962, the year I was born.

The 60s may not have been the golden era of burlesque, but they've definitely been an influence on the burlesque of the millenium!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vigil to End Violence Against Sex Workers in New York City

Weds, December 17th, 7-8pm in the center of Washington Square Park

Carry a red umbrella or wear red.

For more information and events in other cities, click the image below.

Tanya Cheex on Bettie Page

Photos and links added by me (Jo).

Click the image above to buy it from

Bettie Page Has A Secret
Bent over, trussed up and in an impossibly uncomfortable position, the brunette with the shiny bangs, always looked like she was in on the funniest joke. She was my shoe-laced bondage Barbie dolls come to life.

Yes, my naked Barbie Dolls enjoyed a life of flimsy Japanese rope bondage and I never quite why. I was brought up on a steady diet of my Dad's Playboys, where SM was a rare occurrence. Did I see a Olivia illustrated Bettie Page tied into a stiletto, maybe or maybe my reptilian brain was just wired that way?

Bettie didn't rear up into the picture till years later when my fascination with Golden Era strippers sent me on a quest for men's old stag mag like Twitter and Wink. The girl with the stockings and the pointy bra was in on the joke and well , the others albeit lovely were doing their job. I landed a job in a secondhand bookstore that carried some old porn. Evey once in awhile some old sap would die and a red-faced relative would bring in the boxes. The staff would gleefully sort out the good, the bad and the ugly. We had rules about what could grace our paint chipped selves. The discard pile sat under the desk like a musty Pandora's Box. It was mine or another employee's depending who got to it first! On top of the over glossed Euro SM mags were some little black and white digests and in them was my Bettie but resplendant in corsets, thigh boots and whips. I had the Holy Grail in my dirty hands! The secret joke continued whether Bettie was the gagged damsel in distress or the snarling dominatrix. Bettie got me, and the rest, well...

Bettie's visage dominated my sketch books and I ransacked vintage clothing stores for black lacey merry widows and spiraled torpedo bras. I set up ottoman back drops with old curtains to mimic Irving Klaw's spartan sets and snapped myself and girlfriends in compromising positions. Feminist aquaintances angrily challenged my projects aslking how could I objectify myself like that? Those uber trappings of female were harmful and suppressive! No, not Bettie! Don't you understand? She was fierce and in control of every page, every clumsy reel. I think it went over their shaved heads. Give me glossy hair, glossy lips and some glossy boots!

With trunks filled with the said shiny and the said lacey, I entered the world of lucrative trade. In gentleman's clubs I was a novelty but in the chain walled dungeons I was a Bettie, laughing and winking my way to the bank. Ten years later, with a bad case of fetish fatigue, I started up a burlesque troupe. With very few proto-types, Bettie was again my not so secret muse. One of my first acts was a reverse strip based on an Irving Klaw reel with Tempest Storm as a lady of leisure and Bettie as her mischievious maid. It was important to me to have a girl in my troupe at all times who would be my Bettie. I had four!

Another ten years have passed , my burlesque troupe has its rhinestone anniversary and on the night of my show, I find out my Bettie has passed away. I shed a few cocktail soaked tears remembering her twinkling smile as I laid my glitter encrusted head to rest, knowing that the world was soon to be in on her joke. Rest in peace sweet Bettie, you'll never be forgotten

Tanya Cheex

Skin Tight Outta Sight Rebel Burlesque

Night Train

One of the greatest crowd-pleasing pieces of music in burlesque is Night Train. I've had people who've just attended their first burlesque show ever come up to me after a show and say, "I've always wanted to see someone dance to that song live! Thank you!" Comments like this are why I encourage students to try stripping to the tunes that originally inspired many of the neo-burlesque performers who began in the 1990s, even though some of those performers may be over and beyond Ultralounge by now. New audiences shouldn't be deprived of this amazing music.

Above: Me dancing to Alvino Ray's version of Night Train at one of my first student showcases--where even the teacher stripped.

Even though it's not burlesque, enjoy the following music history video, a tribute to a few of the versions of this amazing tune.

What's your favorite version?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flickr Photo Group Breaks the 1000 Mark!

We now have over 1000 members in the Flickr group I moderate with Dale Harris.I'm looking at fan dance photos while preparing to wrap up my chapter on fandancing for my book project.

Miss Indigo Blue
Miss Indigo Blue, photographed in Seattle by Chris Blakely.

fan dance
Gal Friday, photographed in Washington DC by Mowabby.

Kira Hula-la
Kira Hula-la, photographed in Sydney by Kristin Elsby.

Michelle L'amour
Michelle L'Amour, photographed by Phantom Kitty.

Dancers in China
Fan Dance in China, submitted by Koolpix.

Thank you to all the amazing photographers and performers who make this group so beautiful.

Check out the group!

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

I am Not Affiliated with This Burlesque School

They used photos and text from my site without my permission, and I do not know them in any way, and do not endorse them in any way.

Gossip Girl Promo!

NYSB Teachers on Gossip Girl!

I believe the episode will air January 5.

Bettie Passes

"With deep personal sadness I must announce that my dear friend and client Bettie Page passed away at 6:41pm PST this evening [Dec 11] in a Los Angeles hospital. She died peacefully but had never regained consciousness after suffering a heart attack nine days ago.
"She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality. She is the embodiment of beauty."
Mark Roesler, business agent for Bettie Page
From Bettie's Official Website.

Bettie's Story in Time Magazine.

The Real Bettie Page by Richard Foster.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One More Yule A Go Go Post

A Yule-A-Go-Go Clip!

Celebrate This Holiday With 'Yule-A-Go-Go: The Burlesque Yule Log'

The clip on the site shows NYSB associate Little Brooklyn talking about the DVD, as well as instructor Gal Friday doing her Yule dance. Gal runs our classes in Washington DC--click here for more information about those classes.

tassels and fringe
Above: Gal Friday at the Palace of Wonders. Photo by DC's charming burlesque photographer, Mowabby.

CW11 has had burlesquers peeling in the wee hours of the morning before--here's a clip from last year's piece on Dr. Sketchy's: Truly Julie: Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art show

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Message from Kit Cat

Happy Holidays From Kit Cat Island!

TOMORROW, Wednesday December 10th, Yule-A-Go-Go will be be performing LIVE on the CW Morning show, channel 11. If you're awake bright and early, our segment will air sometime between 7-9 am. I'll be shimmying and smiling with my cards, of course, introducing Lil Brooklyn and Gal Friday, all by the holiest of logs, the yule log! Thanks for all your support, I feel so humbled to be apart of the bad ass community that is NYC burlesque! The DVD was so fun to make, I'm thrilled with glee that America is enjoying it just as much as we all are!
Love and Snowflakes,
-Kit Cat

Christmas Present

When I was a teenager, I went to see Bette Midler's Divine Madness, and I talked about it so much that my mother got me this as a Christmas present that year:

Bette Midler's A View from A BroadBette Midler

All hail to Bette!

I was so bummed when I missed Clams Casino and Darlinda Just Darlinda's tribute show to Bette Midler, "The Wind Beneath my Tassels. It makes so much sense for burlesquers to be influenced by Bette.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Proposition 8

One of my students just sent me this:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Burly Con Class Photo

The First BurlyCon

One of my favorite photos of all time of one of my favorite events of all time.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Veronica Varlow on MTV!

Veronica Varlow
Above: Veronica Varlow. Photo by Greg Brophy.

New York School of Burlesque's Spellbinding Burlesque creator and teacher, Veronica Varlow, will be on MTV's Made today at 1 pm!

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for

Bettie Page is Ill

Ex-Pinup Bettie Page 'Critically Ill' In Hospital

Above: Bettie by Greg Theakston.

Sending her and her loved ones thoughts of comfort.

Although Bettie was not a performer on the burlesque circuit, I find it a bit annoying when people get overly emphatic about how she wasn't in burlesque and shouldn't be considered when burlesque is discussed; clearly she's had such a huge influence on the culture and style of the tiki, fetish, and rockabilly cultures that have embraced and nurtured burlesque, she's far from irrelevant to the subject.

Bettie doing an adorable dance:

My friend Greg Theakston, who I met through Torchy Taboo when she was working on Tease!, produced a magazine called The Betty Pages which was hugely influential on the underground upswell of Bettie Page fans.

I can't scan that for you here, but you can hear an interview with Bettie in this youtube clip:

I'd love to hear from people about any influence Bettie may have had on them, or get links to any great images, videos, or stories.

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for