Although I missed the first Tease-o-rama convention (I was in San Francisco for the Sex Workers' Film Fest, where Erochica Bamboo performed), I did make it to perform in TOR 2002 and I am very fortunate to know Baby Doe, one of the true pioneers of the burlesque community. I love the way she and Alison Fensterstock and Alan Parowski have worked to enable the burlesque community, and what amazing resources they've provided for it. Baby Doe has a beautiful, generous, fun-loving spirit that's irresistible onstage and off, and I'm happy to have an opportunity to present this interview with her!
Above: Baby Doe at Tease-O-Rama, 2002. Photo by me.
Tell us a bit about The Devil-Ettes and how they came to be, and what they’re like now. I always love to see The Devil-Ettes working and playing at events!
When I did that first show with The Devil-Ettes 10 years ago, I had no idea how the retro dance scene was going to change my life.
So the story goes like this. I was working at a little hipster restaurant in San Francisco and every year they put on a holiday talent show featuring all the amazing musicians, singers, and poets who worked at the restaurant. A group of us (who were NOT in a band or singers or writers) were totally jealous – what talent could we do?? Being that I am a “planner,” I convinced 12 co-workers to join me and we came up with a special holiday dance… a medley of 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s holiday tunes. We called ourselves the “Holiday Ho Ho Ho’s” and wore all black outfits with silver x-mas tree garland literally stapled onto the bottoms of our skirts! The response was incredible—people LOVED us! We were blown away, and lucky for us all those hipster bands were at the party too. Before we knew it, we were booked on two bills the following month.
Fast forward 6 months later and I suddenly found myself the Artistic Director of San Francisco’s first-ever, synchronized, go go dance troupe. We now had 18 awesome girls, real official costumes, matching go-go boots and a new name: The Devil-Ettes.
Our first big break was in Las Vegas at the wild garage rock showcase Las Vegas Grind. Because we were all fans of the 60s, we decided that we should make that our focus (besides, who doesn’t love a girl in go go boots??).
The Grind was all about the music, but we got an incredible response. No one had ever seen anything like us. We did a lot of guerilla performances (storming the casino floor in vintage nighties at midnight to do a Pajama Party routine and showing up poolside to do a Synchronized Swim Routine!) and we knew we had stumbled upon something pretty magical.
I never had any plans to form a dance troupe and with no formal dance training I certainly NEVER figured I would end up leading a dance troupe! I think in some ways my lack of training is why The Devil-Ettes are so unique. I have always approached the troupe as a community of woman working together rather then as a dance group. There is so much camaraderie and we try to have as much fun off stage as we do on stage. Everyone has a voice in the troupe and everyone has value. It is not always easy to run a troupe like this but I have found that those who are committed to this crazy thing because they feel like they are part of a sister-hood. My main goal for the dance troupe way back when we started and today is for the members to have something they will remember and take with them throughout their lives.
Photo by Chris Beyond ©2008.
Tell us a bit about your go-go classes, and about the effect of having children on your producing and performing.
In doing research on Go Go dancing it became apparent that 1960’s Go Go dancing was becoming a lost art form. People just aren’t doing The Frug and The Bug and The Watusi these days! I started teaching dance to kids for two reasons: 1) I was inspired by a 1960’s television show called Kiddie-A-Go-Go. I LOVED the energy of the kids dancing around and just having fun. And 2) I became a mom! I loved the idea of sharing one of my passions with my own kids. In 2006 I was able to see my dream show come to life: Pip Squeak A Go Go! It was a total labor of love and I even co-wrote the show’s theme song. The 1960’s style go go moves just make kids and adults happy. Teaching people to dance is something that brings me much joy. There is nothing quite like watching a room of people doin’ the monkey and ‘slipping’ on an invisible banana peel.
Tell us a bit about Tiki Oasis.
Photo from Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.
My husband Otto is a total tiki aficionado and back in 1995 he started a popular tiki zine called Tiki News. We used to throw fun little events like surf shows and tiki mug parties to promote the Zine around San Francisco and LA. We loved pulling together events and every year it seemed our events got bigger and bigger. We decided to combine our love of all things tiki with our love of throwing big parties to help the preservation of historical tiki locations across the country. In 2001 (the same year as the first ever Tease-O-Rama!) Otto and I started an event called Tiki Oasis to bring attention to a dying tiki hotel. The first event was small…. maybe 60 people tops. But now we have over 2,000 attendees and the list of events includes bands, burlesque dancers, vintage vinyl DJ’s, and over 40 tiki vendors over the course of 4 days. In some ways the Tiki scene reminds me a lot of the burlesque dancer scene in that it is a community of people so passionate to something they love!
How did you get interested in burlesque?
I have always loved retro stuff…. watching old movies, listening to music from days on gone, thrifting for vintage clothing. I guess burlesque just fit into that category.
The first time I ever saw anyone doing live burlesque was The Velvet Hammer. It must have been around 1997 at the Dionysus Demolition Derby in LA. I don’t remember all the specifics of the show other then it included a girl in a giant clam shell. BUT I do remember the spirit and energy of that gorgeous woman. I was struck by the confident air about them and they were all so exquisitely put together with gorgeous hairstyles, make-up and costumes. I had only seen performances like this in old movies – it was brilliant seeing how they were able to capture the essence of a certain time period so perfectly but with a modern twist.
How did the first Tease-O-Rama come about?
Because I am CRAZY! Well kinda. Back in 2000 there was only one burlesque e-mail list serve and it was quite active with performers. Everyone shared ideas on where to get costume pieces, where to find the perfect music, how to get sponsors for shows, how to book shows with each other and so forth. Alison Fensterstock, a writer from New Orleans, was pulling together an article for Atomic Magazine about the new burlesque scene. She had been in touch with all the burlesque dancers doing this style of dance. Alison brought up the idea of doing a group burlesque show as a way to build the burlesque community on the e-mail list serve. People were thrilled and ideas were flying left and right for the ultimate group show—one that was pulled together by the dancers and not some big-shot ‘producer’ who would use us to make lots of money for themselves (back then I actually thought people made money doing shows like this!). Everyone had IDEAS but no one seemed to know how to really pull it all together. I already had a few years of event producing under my belt with all the tiki stuff and The Devil-Ettes. I loved the idea of a group event produced BY women FOR the women of burlesque. I took the conversation off-line with Alison and decided to match my know-how with all her burlesque contacts and suddenly Tease-O-Rama was born! We booked every single act we knew of that was doing burlesque and decided to do it in Alison’s hometown of New Orleans. They already had a burlesque scene going PLUS I had never been to New Orleans before and I figured this was a good excuse to get out there! Alison and I produced the entire event over phone and e-mail. I tend to push for things to get big so before we knew it the event became a huge undertaking with 4 nights of shows and 2 days of convention classes. Oh how much we learned doing that first group event with soooo many dancers (I think we had over 80 performers on that bill). In retrospect we definitely screwed up on some things (we pissed some people off because we didn’t think to have things like chairs for a 5 hour mega show!). In 2002 Alan Parowski from LiftOff! became our co-producer. Today we can no longer invite EVERYONE doing burlesque to join us on stage but we are proud of what we produce and continue to try our best to hold true to our original vision of doing an event to bring dancers together as part of a community.
What events from that first TOR stand out in your mind?
Meeting so many amazing and talented people that I now call my friends. It sounds corny but it is true. Seeing The World Famous Pontani Sisters and all the NYC crew of talent, meeting and becoming friends with Dita and Catherine and Kellita and Luke and Laura and oh so many others AND just getting that many people in one room and on one stage. It was humid, it was too long of a show, it was chaos, but it was marvelous!
How did you meet Dixie Evans, and what is your relationship with the Burlesque Hall of Fame like now?
I meet Dixie at the first Tease-O-Rama. Way back in 2001 Alison and I agreed that we would also do what we could to support the museum with promotions at our shows and we even auctioned off a dress for the museum at the first Tease-O-Rama to raise money for the museum. We have continued a relationship with the Burlesque Hall of Fame and whatever role we can play in bringing the museum to life we are happy to do it.
What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve had in burlesque?
A zillion sleepless nights pulling together a massive show on top of running my own dance troupe, a family and a job? Ok that is not what you are looking for! Top 2 memories:
1. Crying side-stage in Los Angeles as Satan’s Angel danced for the first time in 20 years
2. Meeting some of the most inspiring and brilliantly talented women (ok and men too) on planet earth!
What are your favorite aspects about the growth of the burlesque revival since then? Your least favorite?
It is wonderful to see the caliber of talent that has grown in the last few years. It seems that the acts have gotten more refined and seeing a polished act is just such a pleasure to watch!
Oh I do miss the golden days of years gone by when dancers had more time to get to know each other and work together to build a community of dancers. I do wish there was some way to inject that back into the scene again.
What’s going on with Tease-O-Rama now?
We are taking it on the road this year. We are touring through Seattle, Portland, Ashland and our full weekend event in San Francisco. We have a few exciting things happening … we have added performers from Cirque du Soleil Zumanity show, we have teamed up with Burlycon who will host all our daytime convention classes and we are creating a collectable Big Book of Burlesque program that we hope will serve as a guide for the burlesque aficionado! Although still very much a labor of love and a grassroots event I am so proud of how Tease-O-Rama has grown over the years and I can only imagine what will happen next!
Click here to read messages and discussion from TOR 2001.
Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for burlesquedaily.blogspot.com.