Sunday, September 13, 2009

And you thought you were the biggest burlesque fan...

Catherine D'Lish with the world's biggest burlesque fans!
Photo by Wendy Warren

Catherine is teaching her fan dance class at The New Orleans Burlesque Festival!

Monday, August 31, 2009

I know I haven't been blogging while finishing my book...

I know I haven't been blogging while finishing my book...
Jo "Boobs" Weldon, by Karl Giant
I swear I'm not just laying around!
Join me for some quickie fun on facebook!
Be my friend on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter
If you send me a friend request, be sure to accompany it with a personal message.
I friend everybody who isn't a pornbot or a horndog looking for a sexy IM.
Nothing against porn or horndogs!
The book is almost done, and I shall return to blog again.
The book will be released by HarperCollins in May 2010!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Channing Tatum Takes it Off!

He seemed a bit shy about the pants, eh? He's no Christopher Walken, but I'd tip him!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Naughty Puppets! So NSFW

My friend Basil Twist is involved in bringing these amazing puppets to New York.

From the website:

July 28-August 2, 2009

Grotesque. Charming. Sordid. Tiny.

Los Grumildos are automated puppets, miniature beings that skulk about a world somewhere between Victorian dollhouse and red light district. The brainchildren of Peruvian artist Ety Fefer finally land in North America at HERE Arts Center, after four years of touring catacombs, suburbs, festivals, and bars in Europe.

This voyeuristic experience was inspired by the characters that inhabit the shady areas of downtown Lima, Peru. Fefer creates a kind of magical world that serves as a home for these marginal creatures that tend to be rejected and despised by society. The hyperrealist details of each plasticine puppet bring out their most intimate feelings, but the narrative is left to the viewers.

A 30-minute self-guided tour. Half-installation, half-kinetic theater. $7 only. 6 nights only.

The Camden Council's Statement on Burlesque

"The Council has met with the burlesque community in response to their concerns and agreed to seek a clearer understanding of what constitutes adult entertainment. This will help define what reasonable measures premises should put in place prior to adult entertainment being performed. "
The Camden Council's Statement on Burlesque

Is Camden Council Banning Burlesque?

Certain comments below the Timeout article seem to be related to Penny's argument against burlesque. (I find it so ironic that this article is illustrated with an image of Julie Atlas Muz.) Penny diluted her argument herself in her discussion with Dr. Lucky when she said, "I'm a massive fan of burlesque," a position nowhere reflected in the inflammatory article. It appears certain kinds of burlesque are ok, others not so much. If it's not laden with politics, if it's just pretty, watch out! There goes the neighborhood.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Remembering Cronkite Remembering Wassau

'One of his most memorable interviews, he later said, was with Hinda Wassau, the burlesque star who invented the stripper pole.
'When [Walter] Cronkite, desperately searching for something he could get into family-friendly newspapers, asked her about the role of burlesque in boosting wartime morale, Wassau grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket. ''Let me tell you something,'' she snarled at the shaken Cronkite. ``The morals behind a burlesque stage are just as good as the morals at Radio City.'' '

Click here to read remembrances of Walter Cronkite.

Read More: Most trusted' voice in America goes silent

Does anyone have any pictures of Hinda Wassau?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

International Burlesque in Our Flickr Group

The Flickr Burlesque Group now has over 1200 members! Recent posts have included images from Milano, London, and Paris! Click the images to find out who and where.

Panty Raid!

Miss Polly Rae

Eve La Plume @ Rha Bar

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sealboy and the Blondes

Sealboy and the Blondes

One of my favorite burlesque shows of all times was Sealboy and the Blondes at the Slipper Room in 2008, featuring Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz. I was in a dark place and it brought me to the light. And it ended with this cream pie fight:
Pie fight

Night before last they took this show to Fire Island--read all about it!
Nardicio Presents Sealboy & the Blondes at the Palace, Burlesque for a Full Moon Night

Lisa Kereszi's Burlesque Photos on Display!

Last fall I reviewed Lisa Kereszi's book, Fantasies.

Burlesque continues to inspire visual artists, as it always has!

There is a new interview with Lisa at Photoeye, one of my favorite photography websites.

Also, Lisa's photo of my roommate, Julie Atlas Muz (who is a visual artist as well as one of everybody's favorite burlesque performers, is in a new exhibition.

The exhibition's press release:

Sexy and the City
New York Photographs
July 9, 2009­August 28, 2009

Yossi Milo Gallery is pleased to announce Sexy and the City, a summer group show on view from Thursday, July 9, through Friday, August 28, 2009.
Sexy and the City shows the alluring, romantic and sometimes scandalous side of New York¹s people and places. Capturing private, intimate moments and blatant displays of sexuality, these photographs span the decades from the 1940s to the present day, taken in landmark locations like the Brooklyn Bridge and in the quiet, out-of-the-way corners of the city.
From Alfred Eisenstaedt¹s iconic image of a kissing couple in Times Square on V-J Day, 1945, to Nan Goldin¹s drag queen on an anonymous New York street in the 1990s, from Garry Winogrand¹s topless woman surrounded by a crowd in Central Park to the homosexual couples photographed by Alvin Baltrop in the seclusion of the West Side piers, Sexy and the City celebrates diverse views of New York City passion.
Among the artists featured in the exhibition are Merry Alpern, Will Anderson, Diane Arbus, Alvin Baltrop, Bruce Davidson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Mitch Epstein, Louis Faurer, Leonard Freed, Nan Goldin, Gail Albert Halaban, Charles Harbutt, Lisa Kereszi, André Kertész, Arthur Leipzig, Leon Levinstein, Joel Meyerowitz, Duane Michals, Tod Papageorge, Frank Paulin, Anton Perich, Charles Traub, Arthur Tress, Weegee, Ryan Weideman, and Garry Winogrand.
This show is part of the citywide exhibition NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHS. A number of galleries specializing in photography have joined forces to present over a dozen gallery shows this summer featuring views and perspectives on New York City. Other participating galleries include Bonni Benrubi, Danziger Projects, Deborah Bell, Edwynn Houk, Howard Greenberg, Hasted Hunt, Janet Borden, Laurence Miller, Pace/MacGill, Robert Mann, Julie Saul, and Yancey Richardson.

Click here to buy Lisa's book on

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

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Book Review: This Was Burlesque

This Was Burlesque

"The exciting strippers, the great baggy-pants comics, the shabby straight men, the off-key tenors, the fast-talking candy butchers and the chaotic chorus lines--all of the great moments of america's most colorful theatrical art."

So reads the back cover of Ann Corio's history of burlesque, published in 1968. Corio herself was a star in the 1930s and 40s, beginning when she was 15, and her self-deprecating autobiographical chapter is one of my favorite parts of the book. Of her first encounter with burlesque, she said, "Stripteasing was already in full swing when I arrived, and my eyes opened wide. What kind of show business was this? Girls were taking off their clothes and making gestures never seen in church plays....Then I noticed something...I was wearing less clothes in the chorus than the featured stripper at the end of her act....I wrestled with my conscience and my pocketbook and you know who always wins that match."

In the opening, titled "It all began with Aristophanes," she gives as her reason for writing the book that "few people know the real story of burlesque." She repeatedly makes the case for burlesque as a "legitimate branch of show business...[although admittedly] the lower branch." She makes no apologies for the roughness and rowdiness and working-class appeal of burlesque, and no apologies for her love of the same.

This Was Burlesque

The history of burlesque she presents is one very commonly referenced in other works about burlesque, and credits the first appearance of burlesque in the English language to a play produced in London is 1600, "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe." She describes the original Mazeppa, Adah Isaacs Mencken, causing a sensation by wearing tights as she was carried across the stage on a live horse in 1861. She also describes the arrival of Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes in New York City in 1869 for their production of Ixion, which ran for ten years. There are excerpts from reviews published in the papers of the time, as well as images of advertisements and pictures of the performers. There are dozens of reproductions of tobacco cards and playing cards featuring players of 19th century burlesque. It's a very satisfying chapter for a student who's new to the idea that burlesque began before 1940.

Of course I'm partial to the striptease, and she introduces the art as the saviour of a dying form of theater. "When those shoulder straps started slipping slowly off snowy flesh," she says, "the crowds began to return to the burlesque theaters." She describes various versions of the striptease taking place in 1908, 1913, and 1920, but admits she doesn't know which stories of the first striptease are true, adding, "If they happened at all, they happened before my time."

Between the stories and the images (including a few of Reginald Marsh's works), this book is an amazing treat for fans of burlesque. I've focused on my primary area of interest, but for those who have a passion for the comics who emerged from burlesque, such as Burt Lahr and Buster Keaton, there are chapters packed with photos and tidbits.

The book is amply illustrated, and some of the comics and musicians have a surprisingly modern look of irony about them. Some of them are also outdatedly offensive by current, more informed standards of cultural sensitivity, but there's no doubt that they accurately represent the era. We can be glad we're working toward improvement!

This Was Burlesque

In the 1960s Ann Corio produced a show called "This Was Burlesque," and actually had some conflict with Sherry Britton, who had narrated an album called "The Best of Burlesque" in 1958. Of course Sherry's my friend, but I can't deny the value of this book to burlesque fans everywhere--and Ann does give Sherry credit for her considerable influence on the development of burlesque style, so I have to recommend "This Was Burlesque."

This Was Burlesque on

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

Book Review: The American Burlesque Show (reposted by request)

The American Burlesque Show
Irving Zeidman
Hawthorne Books, New York, Ny 1967

"The trouble with the American burlesque show, from beginning to end, is either that is has been too dirty--or else that it hasn't been dirty enough."

The first sentence of Irving Zeidman's history of burlesque in the United States (primarily New York) cites a dilemma that continues to haunt burlesque even now, when burlesque is serving in most venues as a couples' or women's alternative to the more commercial, more directly sexual environment of strip clubs (although in New York we have a few venues that are decidedly more hardcore than any burlesque shows of the past--and my story on that is upcoming). Zeidman quotes Sime Silverman saying, "Were there no women in burlesque, how many men would attend?" in 1909. He describes the history of American burlesque as "the history of its producers' endless efforts to please both the censors and the audience."

The American Burlesque Show Irving Zeidman

This book offers so much detail in less than 250 pages that anyone can count themselves a scholar in a matter of days. It is a seminal reference on American burlesque, and is a significant source in the bibliography of almost every book written about burlesque since its publication. While the history of burlesque is longer than the history of American burlesque, this book is invaluable for those who are primarily interested in the burlesque standard that began with the arrival of British burlesque in the United States in the 19th century. Zeidman describes the path of burlesque from the Black Crook to the Great White Way. He calls the Black Crook "the acknowledged forerunner of modern burlesque because here, for the first time in the history of the American stage, female nudity was exhibited not as an integral part of the plot, but frankly and with bravado for its own crass and pleasant appeal."

If the reader sets Zeidman's commentary aside, the history presented is a story of broad comedians and saucy wenches owning the stage for nearly a century. The arrival of Lydia Thompson and Her Imported British Blondes in 1868 in New York set the standard for shows that mocked politics and popular culture while including women who put themselves shamelessly on display. The shamelessness of the women presented a visual metaphor for the shameless attitude taken in the skits, taunting the pretenses of upstanding citizens and authorities--particularly those who worked to close the burlesque houses down, and succeeded in doing so in New York in 1937 by editing out the strippers.

As with any history, it's hard to know how much of it is biased, but Zeidman's facts are always backed by sources. For all of its thorough documention, it maintains an easy and enjoyable read with plenty of photos, including many of the comics and variety artists as well as of the female dancers he describes as being central to burlesque's appeal. Zeidman has a a dry and companiable tone as he describes the Irving Place Theatre, the Columbia Wheel, the Minksys, and the development of the striptease. He gives details about burlesque in Brooklyn, on the Bowery, in Harlem, and in a chapter titled"Beyond New York" he describes show producers' battles with censors taking the same shape in other cities.

Carrie Finnell

He devotes chapters to the candy butchers, the comics, and of course to the strippers, all with photos to illustrate his quotes from the entertainment media of the eras. He also includes photos of the theatres and neighborhoods.

The history of burlesque via secondary sources can be hard to verify, since so much of the material offered by the burlesque producers is colored by their desires to promote, and so much of what remained in the news media was the result of publicity stunts and press releases offered by those same producers. However, Zeidman makes the most of this and analyzes all of it with an eye to informing and entertaining the reader while taking every claim burlesque has made about itself with a grain of salt--just as burlesque has historically taken the authorities and moral standards of every era with a grain of salt. He studies an irreverent art form irreverently, which is as it should be.

Zeidman says, "Burlesque, unfortunately, has never been any of the fancy or sentimental things ascribed to it--neither now nor then. It has never been a lusty form of folk expression or a national forum for satire or a showplace for knockabout hilarious slapstick. If burlesque ever became too talented, it ceased to be burlesque. It became vaudeville or musical comedy and even...light opera." He often seems to have a quite low opinion of burlesque, albeit with affection for its shortcomings. He never admits how he came to be interested enough in burlesque to do the enormous amount of research labor this book represents. I wonder what he would make of burlesque as it is today.

Out of Print. Available Used.

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

"What happens when burlesque comes back to Baltimore’s red-light district?"

Something like this!

"This will be Trixie and Monkey’s debut at the Hustler Club, the largest and newest club on the Block, the city’s radically diminished but still-breathing downtown adult entertainment district. Most of their local shows have been in very different venues—stripping for artsy crowds at the Creative Alliance or hipsters at the Ottobar. If there is any doubt that Trixie and Monkey will be out of their element here, it vanishes at noon, when the club opens and the house dancers hit the stage. These strippers begin their routines where Trixie and Monkey leave off...." Read more of this great great article, featuring interviews with everyone from Gal Friday to Satan's Angel, at Urbanite Baltimore.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First-Timers at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender!

I am fortunate that I get to teach and constantly see people get excited about music, moves, and routines by which some experienced performers get bored. I also get to spend time with burlesque legends and have my respect for and joy in them constantly renewed. Burlesque just doesn't get old for me!

I was moved by the comments many of my students and other first-timers made to me at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender earlier this month, and I collected a few of them. This is part one--there is much more to come!

Note, none of the photos in this article are by me; all are courtesy of the subjects.

"My experience to landing in Vegas for the first time, partaking in the Pinup Safari and working with various and amazing photographers, seeing my idols on stage, meeting the legends and making friends that will last a lifetime is only a snippet of the amazing experience that I am still processing. This is a weekend that I will continue to make a tradition for years to come!"
Agent N by Don Spiro --Agent N

"Getting the chance to see the Legends, in person, take that stage with such, grace, pride and courage will hopefully make me a stronger and wiser performer. But what struck me was how aproachable and warm all these women were, the Legends, the soon to be legends, the modren performers that I admire. Even after all that fawing and "can I get your picture" they were ready and friendly with advice or a kind word. And I will be eternally greatfull that I did not miss Satan's Angel gettting the Lifetime Acheivement trophy. That was the moment that brought tears to my eyes.
" OK that the all the amazingly fabulous foot gods!"
Kisa Von Teasa with Joan Arline --Kisa von Teasa

"The entire weekend was beyond amazing, but for me the Reunion Show was my "I can't believe I'm here" moment. When Dixie stood on stage with an entire showroom of burlesque entertainers & enthusiasts standing to applaud her and the other Legends I was overcome with emotion. Being a part of an audience comprised of performers who share an intense passion for the art and watching those incredibly inspirational women take the stage... I fell in love with burlesque all over again."
Itty Bitty Bang Bang --Itty Bitty Bang Bang

"Since I got back I've been feeling a little dazed and sometimes feel like it was all an uber glamourous dream. Getting the chance to hang out with and meet so many of the performers that I have been inspired by for the past 6 years has been a huge honour and a gigantic thrill! Backstage as I was getting my bags after I won the best debut award, I ran into Tempest Storm, I asked to shake her hand and she said " From one redhead to another, great act." I have never cried so much and felt that I never want to do anything else!"
Melody Mangler at the Burlesque Hall  of Fame weekender --Melody Mangler

The most striking moment was seeing all of the women who came before us on stage. I was so inspired by the Legends and just completely affected by the respect everyone has for those trailblazin' dames. We as a society do ourselves a *huge* disservice when we dismiss people in their later years and focus on young, airbrushed "perfection".
"I have to add I was blown away by performing on the amazing Orleans stage -- what a way to lose my BHoF virginity! And I'm so grateful to be performing as a member of the Chicago Starlets. Michelle and Franky's wedding was a unique experience for certain. I was honored to towel off the Ass (literally) That Goes POW on her wedding day!"
Michelle L'Amour's Bridal Party --Ginny Fizz

Also read stories from JD Oxblood, intrepid New York blogger spending his first weekend at BHoF!

And read what I've felt seeing the legends and students over the years.

Laurie Penny is an amazing person, but she's shortchanging burlesque and the burlesque community.

There's more to come from our BHoF virgins. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to be included in this report at, and feel free to add your own stories and link your own photos in the comments here.

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

Peepshow at Planet Hollywood

"PEEPSHOW is the new, sophisticated, ultra-hot show starring pop superstar Mel B (of the world famous Spice Girls) and General Hospital’s Kelly Monaco (Dancing with the Stars champion). PEEPSHOW is a full-throttle production show accompanied by a red-hot live band and 25 sizzling dancers and performers from the worlds of pop music, film, television and Broadway. Created by an award-winning team, PEEPSHOW combines sexy striptease, playful storytelling and celebrity star power."

I got to see this show while I was in Las Vegas for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, and it was definitely some fun!


When I can, I try to go to burlesque shows that happen outside of the burlesque community of which I'm a part. I want to have an informed opinion, after all.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

Of course the above quote is meant to apply to weightier discussions than debates about what constitutes real burlesque, but when you hear how heated those debates can get, it might seem as if nothing has more gravitas!

In fact, Peepshow is definitely burlesque, if missing the sideshow energy and diversity that characterizes the community that makes my life worth living. In place of those elements, however, it has the kind of big production values, including live music (Mel B! For reals!), that many of our living legends of burlesque say they miss in modern burlesque.

The lobby featured some pinup mosaics and a corset-laced ceiling. I'm a sucker for a sexy room. It was the perfect entry for the show.


Peepshow has a deliberately thin plot line about a vaguely Bo Peepish young woman, played by a rotating cast of celebrities (Kelly Monaco when I went, currently Holly Madison), searching for love and sexual satisfaction. But the plot isn't the point, silly rabbit. It's all about the gimmicks!

Three of my favorite features of the show were: a dancer bursting through a brick wall, wearing brick pasties (a Pastie Punchline!); a group pole dance; and a trapeze act that took place on a suspended saddle.

The show also featured male performers, including an "audience participation" number and an amazing bathtub act, which I had previously seen in Absinthe.

My absolutely favorite number was a milk bath that took place in an elevated clear tank. Three women in the "milk" pressed various body parts against the front of the tank, creating the cutest, naughtiest silhouettes!

While Peepshow didn't blow my mind and change my life the way the weekend of shows at the BHOF weekender did (and have faith, I'll have a worthy article on that shortly), it definitely made me laugh and hoot and whisper, "Hawwwwt!" to my show date. So if you're in Vegas and you like the creativity, sauciness, and unapologetic fun of burlesque, check it out!

Peepshow Website

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interview: Kalani Kokonuts

Kalani Kokonuts and Pearle Noir
Above: Kalani Kokonuts with Pearle Noir at the BHOF pageant this past Saturday.

In honor of Kalani's winning weekend, I'm reposting my interview with her from last year.

Kalani Takes the Stage at MEW 2006. Photo by Jo Weldon.

How did you get interested in burlesque?
I was stripping underage in a topless biker bar in Alaska, when I first saw a ''feature entertainer.'' Features are week long acts that are booked to perform about 3-4 shows a night. They usually have centerfold credits or they can be porn actresses. Week after week the club would book different acts. Some were good, some were not so good. It seemed very glamorous to me. So I watched the features every night and learned. When I turned 21 I decided that if I wanted to perform and improve I would have to move where I thought the best performers were. I packed all my costumes into the back of my truck, I had six trunks and that was all that would fit. So I left everything else. Then I drove from Alaska to Las Vegas. Where I learned to perform real burlesque at the ''World Famous Palomino Club''. By then burlesque was on its last legs, and a year later the owner died, so I went on the road as a ''feature entertainer''. I never really cared for feature entertaining, some of the venues were sketchy and mob owned.

Where did your stage name come from?
My stage name Kalani Kokonuts was a nickname my sister gave me. She also calls me K-nuts or Special K. I don't particularly care for it, but I never thought of anything better.

Kalani in the dressing room at Tease-O-Rama. Photo by Amanda Brooks.

What does burlesque mean to you?
Burlesque is the way I express my art. I am very shy by nature, so I have I this conflict between the desire to reach an audience and the desire to be secretive and esoteric.

Do you travel to perform?
Yes, I do often travel for shows, I rarely update the schedule on my site though...I'm lazy.

Who inspires you most, and why?
I am not so inspired by performers as much as I am inspired by music. When I hear music I see images of how I could create an act. Music moves me, frees my mind and distracts my conscious thoughts so I can create from a higher place.

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
I love the variety in burlesque. Please give me more variety!

What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
Honestly, I would like to see more commitment, and more production quality. Great acts need great costumes. I know that costumes are expensive. For that reason I create only one show a year. It is better to have 3-5 amazing costumes than 20 mediocre ones.

How do you go about creating a show?
I set out with the intention that I would like to create a new act. Then I send that intention out into the universe. I ask creator or God for an idea that is spiritual, beautiful, and powerful. All I do then is wait. It usually takes about a week or less for something to hit me suddenly. I load up my Ipod with potential music and then I space out at the gym or get stoned. If my mind is empty and my body is engaged I get more ideas than I could possibly ever create. After I flesh out the idea in my head, and make sure that the idea is possible, I start to draw out what the costume might look like. I research resources online, then I start. It is important to stay focused and on task, or you never finish the act. In my opinion it's all about the music or song that you choose. Everything else is secondary. You must get the audience's attention in less than five seconds. If I haven't given you goose bumps or had your complete undivided attention, I have failed. Myself and the audience.

Kalani onstage in Las Vegas, 2007. Photo by Mike Albov.

You did one of the most spectacular productions I've ever seen in or out of burlesque at MEW 2007. How much of that is your property is yours? How do you transport it? Who made the costume and props, and where did you learn to twirl fans like that? Can you tell I'm amazed?
Thank you so much! I started to put that show together right after MEW '06. The Japanese Taiko drummers are a local drumming troupe which I had booked seven months in advance. They needed the time to learn the song and choreography. Everything else is mine including the snowmaker. If I am booked to perform the full show, first I have to book my drummers. Then the very large Odaiko drum must be transported by a moving truck earlier on the day of the show. The Odaiko drum is extremely expensive and weighs one ton, so it must be moved by seven or eight people. Of course the drums belong to the drummers. As far as the costume is concerned, it was made by Imagination Costume in Las Vegas. It took them nine months to complete. I drew out exactly what I wanted and how it would be removed. I also perform that same show to different music where I do Mulan or Kung Fu fighting fans. It is very fast and dynamic. I trained with a Kung Fu master from Hawaii for almost a year to perform the fighting fans. Though I prefer the softer version I did at MEW '07. Twirling fans is easy, stick your finger in the slat, and twirl; I swear that's it. You just have to use a professional fan.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Someone once told me that an ounce of presence is worth a pound of performance. With presence in place, everything else can be learned.

A brief clip of Kalani onstage at MEW 2007.
Kalani's Website
Kalani on MySpace

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

BHOF 2009 Title Winners

Reigning Queen of Burlesque: Kalani Kokonuts
First Runner Up: Roxi Delite
Second Runner Up: Pearle Noir

Best Troupe: Nanda
Best Debut: Melody Mangler
Best Variety: Gigi and Pop
Best Boylesque: Hot Toddy
Most Comical: Little Brooklyn
Most Dazzling: Kalani Kokonuts
Most Innovative: Arabella Trapeze
Most Classic: Amazing Knicker Kittens

Friday, June 5, 2009

Burlesque Hall of Fame on Twitter

Above: One of my twitpics of the Gotham Glitter Balls Bowling Team from last night's Bare Cats Burlesque Bowling Tournament.

The gang is twittering like crazy here in Vegas. The twitter tag to search is #BHOF.

My Twitter:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reigning Queen of Burlesque Contender: Ophelia Flame

Friday, May 22, 2009

Best Group Contender: The Amazing Knicker Kittens

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The Burlesque Hall of Fame, The New York School of Burlesque, and The Academy of Burlesque
are delighted to announce the second year of


Learn Burlesque from the Ladies Who Made It Classic!


Saturday June 6, 2009, 10am – 3pm
The Orleans Hotel, Second Floor

Last year’s classes with Wild Cherry, Marinka, and Tura Satana SOLD OUT! Do not delay!


Enrollment for each class limited to 10 participants to ensure individual attention. Registration for all classes is by advance purchase ONLY. Tickets are non-refundable, except if we have to cancel in the event of an emergency. Each class is $75.

10 AM: Bump N Grind with Dee Milo!
The Bump N Grind is one of the defining movements of burlesque dance. Learn these hot moves from a legend of burlesque who was a star performer in the 1950s and still performs at the Burlesque Hall of Fame! Wear stretchy comfortable clothing and bring a pair of dance shoes! *note – the room is carpeted*

11 AM: Dancing and Stripping with Panel Skirts with Toni Elling!
Panel skirts, brought to the burlesque stage by 1940s legend Sherry Britton, are gaining new appreciation in the neo-burlesque movement for their ability to convey both grace and fire. Learn how to manipulate them with beauty and passion from a mistress of the form! If you have a panel skirt, bring it! Wear stretchy comfortable clothing and bring a pair of dance shoes! *note – the room is carpeted*

1 PM: Classic Burlesque Costume Secrets with Big Fannie Annie
Fannie made Satan’s Angel’s amazing purple duster as seen in her fire tassels routine – learn some of the secrets of design and construction directly from Annie! She will cover dusters, panels, gauntlets, bras, & g-strings, as well as Mae West-styled hats and showgirl headpieces. Annie owns one of the last sequin sewing machines in the US, and may share some of her tips for sewing sequin with a regular sewing machine. Bring a notebook and a pen!

2 PM: Plumage! Everything Big Fannie Annie knows about Feathers
Fannie will share the pearls of her wisdom on everything she knows about feathers! Learn boa repair and re-stringing, and tips on creating a new one. Learn secrets for dying, curling, cleaning, and maintaining feathers. Fannie will be bringing fan staves to show the art of building and repairing your own fans. Bring a notebook and a pen!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Best Boylesque Contender: Paco Fish

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Best Debut Contender: Melody Mangler

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Operation Bombshell!

Operation Bombshell


Operation Bombshell is the world's only burlesque school for military wives. Started by Lily Burana, herself an Army wife, Operation Bombshell aims to provide much needed entertainment and amusement for women whose husbands are deployed in the Global War on Terror.

Ms. Burana came up with the idea for Operation Bombshell after enduring her own "deployment blues." Her husband, then an Army Intelligence officer, was fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Burana longed for something to lift her spirits. Later, during a little "retail therapy" lingerie shopping, she found that the salesgirl was herself a sad, lonely military wife, and Burana wished she could offer her some cheer and healing distraction. In that instant, Operation Bombshell was born.

Operation Bombshell teaches classic burlesque moves in an easy, accessible way. This is NOT a striptease class and the class does not involve any nudity. Students are encouraged to wear workout gear and comfortable shoes to class—you can be sexy in a sweatsuit!

Ms. Burana does not charge a fee for her classes, and she schedules her classes at the wives' request. The class is choreographed by burlesque star Jo Weldon, founder of the New York School of Burlesque. Ms. Burana regrets that she can only teach on or near military installations in the continental United States.

If you are interested in having Operation Bombshell come to your post or base, please email Ms. Burana for more information: lily (dot) burana (at) Thank you!

Reigning Queen of Burlesque Contender: Peekaboo Pointe, NYC

I'll be posting photos or videos of contenders in the upcoming pageant until I leave for Vegas, so if you want to recommend a photo or video of one of the performers on the list in the post below, send a link to me at

And, look for my upcoming regular feature, Teacher Tips, on Kelly DiNardo's The Candy Pitch!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gypsy Rose Lee Biographies--At Last!

Finally, biographies about Gypsy Rose Lee!

'When Gypsy's activities on behalf of Spain's anti-fascists and other causes first drew the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, she used humor to deflect a request that she appear, offering her dressing room as an alternate venue for hearings. She was less successful during a later red scare when she was among 151 artists identified as subversives in Red Channels. But she had supporters. "Chances are that any investigations will show that if Gypsy approached any Red groups it was like her performance," the Milwaukee Journal wrote in 1950. "She stopped and always just in time."
'Gypsy "brings the con in striptease to the surface," writes Rachel Shteir. "She was promising sex, but she was delivering its illusion, playing three-card monte with her audience's desire." If Frankel's book is a thick biographical brocade, Shteir's Gypsy: The Art of the Tease (Yale University Press) is more of a winding feather boa that encircles many of the same events while extending to American motifs of self-fashioning and self-revelation. Gypsy "transformed stripping into something more than the banal physical act of taking off her clothes by making it into a fable about her life," writes the scholar, an associate professor at DePaul University's theater school. "She "never took it all off, yet she invented modern striptease. She exposed Americans' longing for fun and sensuality, but also predicted our pathological urge to reveal everything."'

Read more at The Chronicle Review

Burlesque Hall of Fame Pageant 2009 Lineup!


2009 Reigning Queen of Burlesque
1) Kalani Kokonuts
2) Kristina Nekyia
3) Little Brooklyn
4) Lux LaCroix
5) Miss Indigo Blue
6) Ophelia Flame
7) Pearl Noire
8) Peekaboo Pointe
9) Renea LeRoux
10) Roxi D’Lite
11) Tatah DuJour
12) Trixie Little
13) Vivienne VaVoom

2009 Best Debut
1) Dinah Might
2) Madame Rosebud
3) Melody Mangler
4) Rita Star
5) Shanghai Pearl
6) Sugar Kane
7) Trixie Sparkle
8) Vicky Sin

2009 Best Group
1) Bellini Twins
2) Chicago Starlets
3) Flying Caribe
4) Foxy and the Wham-Bam Thank You Ma’ams
5) The Amazing Knicker Kittens

2009 Best Variety
1) Arabella Trapeze
2) Gigi and Pop
3) Oona Tramp Band

2009 Best Boylesque
1) Hot Toddy
2) Paco Fish
3) The Evil Hate Monkey

Friday, May 1, 2009

Burlesque Denied!

"PRUDISH Camden Council has been blasted as "Orwellian" after banning burlesque dancers taking to the borough's stages.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interview with Deirdre Timmons, Filmmaker

Interview with Deirdre Timmons
Dierdre Timmons, Filmmaker
Director, A Wink and a Smile

"An intoxicating mix of private thoughts and public behavior, A Wink and a Smile exposes more than the human body by putting gender, power, sexuality and social identity under the glittery spotlight, as it follows the lives of ten "ordinary" women who do something extraordinary – learn the art burlesque dancing and striptease. Through their adventures, we see how a homemaker, a reporter, a doctor, an opera singer, a taxidermist and a college student, join the American cultural revival of burlesque, as it moves from fringe fascination to mainstream obsession, engaging a world where performance art and showgirl spectacle, music, theater and sensuality crash into over-the-top glamour - a world where many want to go, but very few dare." On Saturday, May 2, I'll be performing with some of the subjects of this film at Quad Cinema in New York, so I took it upon myself to interview the director.

Tell us a bit about your history as a filmmaker.
My filmmaking career began with acting school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when I was 19. I wanted to be an actress, but gave up on those designs when my family made it perfectly clear that acting was bad, like stripping! It turns out they were wrong on both counts, but I listened to them anyway and instead became a reporter for newspapers, magazines and online publications. But you can’t control fate. I started dabbling around with screenwriting a few years ago and that was the beginning of the end. Or the end of a false beginning, perhaps. I wrote script after script. And then I took film classes to learn how to turn those scripts into reality. After making 15-some short films, I set out to make a feature-length movie on something that was sweet, funny, edgy, sexy, female-oriented and true. And when you add all that up, it equals a documentary on burlesque!

How did you get interested in the subject of burlesque?
A little embarrassing disclosure here: I did not know that burlesque was back. There. I said it. I was rearing a child as the “burlesque renaissance” was ramping up, so somehow I missed its emergence from the fringe world to the mainstream clubs and cabarets. When I met a woman who was studying burlesque at Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in Seattle, however, I almost fell over. I knew burlesque would contain everything that would make a film I could be proud of: Cultural revolution, fantastic music, beautiful costumes, true tales, and sex appeal that would speak to every age, race, gender and size.

wink 1 burlesque

What drew you to the Academy of Burlesque?
After first hearing of the Academy of Burlesque, I contacted the Headmistress, Miss Indigo Blue, and I told her I wanted to make a film about burlesque. I also told her I’d never made a feature-length film before and that I would be flying by the seat of my pants with her, if she were to be involved. She listened, but certainly didn’t respond as if this were the best coffee date she’d ever had. When I settled on an angle that I found interesting – the journey of becoming a striptease artist – I asked her if I could cover her 101 class. She didn’t answer my request for a long time. Then she sent me an email that just said, “Yes.”

How did the students respond to your presence?
It’s certainly awkward having cameras and lights in your face with some stranger asking you intimate questions about your body image, your sexual journey, and your basic life motivations -- not to mention that you’re stripping for the first time in your life with cameras recording every angle. Can you imagine? So in the beginning, I’d say the ladies were more reserved with the cameras and my questions. But at some point, everyone just let go, gave me their trust, opened up, and ran with me. That was very exciting. That’s when I knew we were going to reach some epiphanies that would not only help the film, but would help the film’s audience in reaching their own life epiphanies.

Wink and a Smile burlesque

What was the most surprising thing about filming the students? About filming the shows?
Two things about filming the students. I was surprised at how loving the whole process was. I felt very maternal toward the women and the project all the way through. And I was oddly surprised at how sex and self-image were so entwined in the process of learning the art of striptease. Looking back, that seems like a major “Duhhhhh,” but really, I was so fixated on the glamour of burlesque that I hadn’t thought much beyond that. As far as filming the shows, the professionals were mind-blowingly professional. Most of them didn’t receive their music until right before the show. But they showed up and they blew us away with their creativity, their beauty and their great senses of humor. I just want each and every one of them to receive acknowledgment (and remuneration!) they deserve considering the high level of entertainment they bring to fans.

Did you ever take a class? If so, what was it like?
Yes I did. I’m a ham from A to Z and I was only too happy – at the age of 42 and having nursed for more than two years – to get on stage, be funny, and strip. And I don’t even like to be naked! I’ll never forget the first time I stood on stage twirling tassles looking out into the audience seeing about 20 friends – men and women – laughing and holding up their drinks, I thought, “Well, so much for being self-conscious.” It was extremely freeing. In the long run, it has also made daily dressing and just walking down the street a lot more fun! I feel like it's something everyone should try once in their life, even if it's in the privacy of their own home.

Wink and a Smile burlesque

Do you think you'll stay interested in burlesque?

Yes. Our company, Golden Echo Films, shoots burlesque shows whenever possible. Burlesque performers are smart, hard-working, focused, fun, talented and experimental. As I shift into making narrative musical films, I will continue to tap into this fantastic pool of talent. The burlesque community definitely feels like family to me.

Tell us about what's next for A Wink and A Smile.
Wink is hitting theaters in May and June. Then it will probably go to cable. And then it will be available on DVD. Stay tuned at or

What's next for you? Any other subjects catching your eye?
We’re now editing our second documentary, Pretty Funny Women, which will be completed this year. It’s about a particular group of female stand-up comediennes in LA. It will be funny, perhaps a little sad, and peppered with snippets of redonkulous dancing. And I’m now writing scripts for narrative musicals. Stay tuned!

Trailer on YouTube:
Find us on Facebook under A Wink and a Smile

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Biography and Burlesque!

Tonight I'll be performing at this fabulous event:

Rachel Shteir Gypsy Rose Lee Book Release Event

You can read excerpts from Rachel's book and purchase it on

Albert Garzon, who charted the music I'll be performing, is a bit of a biographer as well. Check out his information on Lydia Thompson's daughter, Zeffie!

Zeffie Tilbury, the daughter of Lydia Thompson, was born on November 20, 1863. Her father died a year later in a tragic accident while horse racing and hurdle jumping.

Zeffie Tilbury, age 7:

Zeffie was drawn into acting because her mother was one of the most famous actresses in England. And soon to be the most famous burlesque performer in the world.

Zeffie - age 20:

A sampler of Zeffie's long and successful acting career:
Aug. 1885 - First trip to USA with Mary Anderson Troupe. Zeffie played in "Pygmalion" (which was new at the time), "Ingomar" and other shows. The Mary Anderson troupe troured a good portion of the country. Lydia Thompson accompanied her daughter on this trip (Zeffie was not quite 22 years old) and Lydia had many friends in America to introduce her to.

Mary Anderson - mid 1880's

1886 - "The Coming Clown", "Blackberries" and "Turned Up" - Royalty Theater, London. Zeffie appears with some of her mom's old Ixion comrades including comic Willie Edouin and his wife Alice Atherton.

1887 - "Sultan of Mocha", "Babette", "The Golden Key" and "Kenilworth". Zeffie performs in the UK with her mom in a number of burlesques, and stars in the revised edition of the burlesque, "Kenilworth".

1888 - "A Winter's Tale" - Zeffie and her mom are back in the USA touring.Zeffie with the Mary Anderson troupe; she has a leading role in "A Winter's Tale".Lydia is touring and headlining under promoter Micheal Leavitt. Lydia's tour hitsCanada, and as far West as Los Angeles, but runs out of money in the mid-West.

1892 - "As You LIke It" - Zeffie and Lydia performed together in Philadelphia; Zeffie playing Rosalind to Lydia's Audrey

1894 - "Crust of Society" Zeffie and Lydia appear together in the American version of Dumas' "Le Demi-monde". Lydia plays the supporting role of Lady Downe to Zeffie's starring role as Mrs. Chapel. The producers of this show are listed as: Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Lewis (Zeffie is Mrs. Lewis !)

1901 - "Twelfth Night". Zeffie stars as Maria at Her Majesty's Theater, London.

Her Majesty's Theater, London

1903 - "Crust Of Society" - Zeffie is back in New York, with a remake of her successful production from 1894. (she is almost 40 years old)

1904 - "Twelfth Night" - Zeffie is back in New York with the Mary Anderson troupe - this time at the Knickerbocker Theatre on Broadway. Lydia Thompson accompanies Zeffie primarily for moral support as she does not perform on this tour.

Knickerbocker Theater, New York (Broadway & 38th St.)

1905 - "Winter's Tale" and "Twelfth Night" - Zeffie is back at the Knickerbocker in New York with Mary Anderson. Sadly, Lydia was not up to the task of oversea travel at this time and stayed behind in London.

Zeffie Tilbury in the early 1900's

Click here to read more about Zeffie, and to read more of Albert's research!

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More Burlesque (Well, Stripping) on Film!

"Of all the roles available to pretty, young actresses, one of the most enduring is "stripper with a heart of gold." The latest A-list actress to join the elite club of movie strippers is Jessica Biel in her upcoming film 'Powder Blue.' Biel told Access Hollywood that her preparation for the role gave her new appreciation for the job. Hear hear, we say. We look forward to seeing Jessica Biel's heart of gold, and in the meantime, here are the Top Ten Movie Strippers."
Best Movie Strippers

As we used to say when I worked in strip joints, if they're taking off their clothes for money, they're strippers! And we love it.

A similar article appeared in Entertainment Weekly awhile ago.

I love the articles, but they're not so very burlesquey, and they didn't include my personal favorite:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Teaser: An Interview with Immodesty Blaize

If you've ever seen Immodesty Blaize perform, you don't have to ask what burlesque is; she's it. With a larger-than-life stage presence and a smouldering charm offstage, Immodesty leaves a warm, curvy, sensual impression wherever she goes, and leaves every person she encounters with a happy yearning. Without further ado, I present the neo-legend that is the UK's gift to modern burlesque, Miss Immodesty Blaize.

Immodesty Blaize

When did you first see burlesque?
I blame my mother. We watched Gypsy together when I was very young, 5 or 6 I think. Obviously Natalie Wood was beautiful, but I thought Mazeppah was the coolest lady I had ever seen. I liked her humour and even then I knew she was HOT.

Were you a performer before you began doing burlesque?
I never went to stage school, however I used to travel the country as a little girl doing national dance competitions, with modern, disco and rock ‘n’ roll styles. It was all very ‘Solid Gold’ but I loved the sequins, spandex and the smell of hairspray! I racked up an impressive shelf of trophies but it was tough doing the elimination rounds and once you had experienced being knocked out of the competition and having to leave the dancefloor with your tail between your legs, you quickly found more inventive ways of really sparkling for the judges and letting your personality shine, along with ratting a bigger bouffant. During my late teens I took up both Latin and Arabic dance. I often find even now that I incorporate some of my Arabic shimmies, or a salsa step into my acts.
When I first performed burlesque circa ‘98 there was no great awareness of the genre in London, or any kind of performance community yet. I had to literally bang down doors for stage space, and explain every 5 minutes what burlesque was and what my act was. There wasn’t that much footage of the legendary performers readily available at that time either, just books mostly; so I used to be inspired as much by Hollywood movies and actresses, Busby Berkeley musicals, as well as kitsch icons like Liberace, Divine, Grace Jones, Betty Page, and Dalida….I also remember studying the ‘great effect’ scene in ‘The Graduate’ for hours hoping I’d somehow master the dynamics of twirling a tassel by osmosis.
I don’t like to look at other performers’ acts for ideas unless I am consciously creating a tribute like my reverse striptease bathtime tribute to Lili St Cyr. Even then I’ll add my own interpretation and choreography. Instead I find ideas on my travels; maybe a new piece of music, or a piece of amazing fabric for a costume, or a scene in a book…anything really. My act with the 6 foot vintage telephone came from listening to Blondie’s ‘Hangin’ on the Telephone’ in my dressing room. I had a brainwave, then dismissed it as ridiculous. After my show I realized I had been sitting staring at my autographed picture of Betty Page talking on a small black telephone and decided it was a sign! I scribbled some drawings on the back of a napkin and sent it straight to my propmaker to see if my idea was possible. Then came the fun part of watching every film noir movie I owned to distill the ultimate femme fatale. It took about a year to complete the act through concept, research, design, construction and choreography before it was ready to unveil.

Where did you learn classic moves?
I owe that to my mentor, Basil – a true showboy with a pedigree par excellence, he’s the real deal. He was on the road from the age of 14, performing with all the European burlesque greats from the 50s onwards, in notorious theatres such as The Windmill, the Leeds City ('Titty') Varieties, the Talk of The Town, the Friedrichstadtpalast etc. He even performed with Liberace for 3 months when he came to UK to do The Palladium.
Basil tracked me down at one of my shows. His stories were amazing and we just clicked right away. Basil cracks the whip over me if he sees me holding my hands in the wrong way. He even gave me special tips he learnt from Marlene Dietrich. Basil can parade as well as any model on the catwalk and fan dance as well as Faith Bacon, but ten times more camp. He’s a gem.
I also really pay attention to the movement styles of legends like Lili and Blaze…they all had such different, diverse and unique ways of moving. And whilst it’s good to learn tricks of the trade from them, I also think it’s absolutely essential to develop your own unique body language, style and ‘isms’ – little moves special to you. That’s what makes you individual, and is part of your unique persona.

Immodesty Blaize

You seem to have been born for burlesque--not just your appearance, but your style, your carriage, your sensuality. Do you feel that?
Wow, thank you for the compliment! Well I really had no idea as a little girl that I would be Immodesty when I grew up! Looking back now, I see the signs were all there, but not in the ways you would expect, I was no stage school kid. I think I just always wanted to be different.

Immodesty Blaize

How did you come to hear about Exotic World, and how did it feel to win the title?
I knew of Exotic World for years but didn’t realise the pageant was open for international gals too. I was approached to participate in Miss Exotic World when I performed in Dita Von Teese’s show at the Orpheum in Los Angeles, as Dixie Evans had been watching, celebrating her 80th birthday. I was thrilled; Dixie had been an idol of mine for some time, an inspiration.
Well….I cried when I won the title; how embarrassing - I put it down to jetlag and a smudge of eyelash glue in my eye! Actually I think I might have been a little overwhelmed. All the girls had been just so welcoming, and it felt fantastic to be given the stamp of approval by the wonderful legends who had inspired me in the first place, and who had lived the burlesque life the first time round…particularly since I do embrace the classic style, that finally felt like validation for me. It had also been such a blast during the weekend too, catching up with my American burly friends; there is always such great camaraderie, and I particularly love that aspect of the American burlesque community. As I walked out from the venue onto the Strip holding my trophies that night, the fountains at the Bellagio went up right in front of me with that deafening classical music. It was like a camp Vegas homecoming!

Having seen US and UK burlesque, have you noticed any particular differences, either in the audiences?
My fan base is around 60% female and pretty darn glamorous! I’d say it’s a spread of media/celeb/fashionista/cultural types and sassy women. I have found the male female ratio in USA audiences to be similar, although there seems to be much more of a music and rockabilly contingent in USA.

What do you consider to be unique about your style onstage? What do you most enjoy about performing?
I don’t know if I can put my performance style into words... does ‘va va voom’ count?! I guess all my heroines along the way have been strong, very passionate women, and I have various parts of Eastern Europe in my heritage so I like to inject a bit of that fiery European passion into my performances! I’m not a cheesecake girl.
Performing is a wonderful ritual for me, right from the moment I wake up that morning. I can be quite reserved off stage as I like to have quiet moments and take time to watch everything and observe; perhaps this surprises some people who don’t actually know me. I do believe in ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’, not just ‘transmit’ all the time. When I perform, that’s when Immodesty lets rip so I enjoy all aspects of that process! In particular the feeling just as you make your entrance and you have the whole stage laid out like a blank canvas ready to be filled with something fabulous and sparkling. It takes so long to put an act together behind the scenes, so actually getting to perform it is a lovely reward for all the hard work.

What has been your most scandalous moment? Your proudest?
Hmm, well being a lady I’m not sure I should put my most scandalous moment in print! [What a tease! ;) ] Proud moment….goodness…. I’m going to mention a different kind of proud moment…I received email correspondance from a lady who had suffered from an eating disorder and self harming, and after she came to one of my shows she said she was inspired to work on her issues. She wrote a few months later and attached a photo, saying she was getting up to a healthy weight again and doing really well. It was deeply touching.

What's next for you?
Immodesty Blaize
My debut novel ‘Tease’, published by Ebury Press will be on shelves this May. It is a bodice ripping bonkbuster, so think Jackie Collins does burlesque via Dynasty with a huge squirt of Chanel! There’s more sex, scandal, Swarovski and shoulderpads in my novel than you can shake a stick at. If you can’t make it to a UK bookstore you can check my website for updates and links to order it online.
I’m also super excited about the next annual Tease Show at London’s Koko. I put it on every year, and the 2009 show has another incredible line-up, with Catherine D’Lish, Kalani Kokonuts, Michelle L'Amour, and Perle Noir amongst others, with special guest Marc Almond, our 12 piece big band, and our British queen of camp comedy, compere Julian Clary. Oh and yours truly too!
Here is a link to last year’s for a little teaser of what’s in store for 2009’s show; May 11th – 14th , details can be found at or on my website.

What would you most like to say to new performers?
I’d say, embrace what you have and don’t worry yourself about what you don’t have. Find what makes you unique and what suits you, and hold on to that. Far more memorable to do your own special thing and be yourself than just doing a version of a show you’ve already seen someone else doing. I would also say, go for quality over quantity every time. Oh, and of course, have fun!

Images from Immodesty's myspace

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Deeply and Importantly Talented

I'm a terrible blogger lately, I know. I've been facebooking, if you like, and twittering, but not blogging. I'm sure I'll return, as I'm hoarding some delicious interviews, but for now, if you want to find me on facebook or twitter, search for Jo Weldon.

Last week I performed a burlesque number at the first-ever US Pole Dancing Championship, as a guest not as a competitor--I love pole dancing, but I have no skill. Because it was a crowd unfamiliar with burlesque, I used music I thought would strike a familiar note, including a version of Hubcaps and Taillights, as heard in this clip at about 4.30:

This movie came out the year before I was born, and when I saw it as a child struck me in so many ways. I wasn't sufficiently amused by the line "Do you think she's talented?" until much later, when I was stripping for a living, during a particular era in strip joints between burlesque and pole dancing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Keep Playing Till She's Naked"--An Interview with Ronnie Magri

I have been extremely lucky to work with some of the best musicians in burlesque. I've been performing, or at least dancing, to live music all my life, including one glorious night with Spinal Tap, but most of the time I was just dancing along to the music. In burlesque with live music, there's real collaboration. The dancers rehearse their numbers with the bands, and the musicians watch the dancers to see if they need to give them a drum hit when a glove drops to the floor, if the music needs to be sped up or slowed down, or if they need to repeat a form until the dancer is ready to finish her number.

In New York we have live music at the Slipper Room every Wednesday night with amazing musicians including Brian Fisherman, with whom I've been performing for over 10 years, Le Scandal has featured The New York City Blues Devils and the Le Scandal Orchestra, Big Apple Burlesque features a live band every week, Brian Newman produces a burlesque show with his trio at Duane Park, and there's more, including pianist and arranger Albert Garzon, who seeks out old burlesque music and creates shows based on burlesque legends like Lydia Thompson, Georgia Sothern, and Gypsy Rose Lee. We have a wealth of live music in our burlesque. While most cities that have a burlesque scene have a swing band or two that will collaborate with dancers in some burlesque shows, and more and more shows are working with their own bands, in this city we have long had a wealth of extremely talented and devoted musicians that are specifically interested in collaborating with burlesque shows and doing music intended specifically for burlesque dancers.

At the moment we're fortunate to have our own native son, Brooklyn-born Ronnie Magri, in his hometown. While living in New Orleans, he helped to create a scene there that fostered dancers who would become The Atomic Bombshells of Seattle, who recently performed in Shanghai.

I know Ronnie from another life, when he was in a rock band called The Throbs.

I also showed my photographs in a group show about burlesque with his amazing and beautiful wife, painter Charlene Lanzel.

More recently I've had the privilege of using his music on my instructional DVDs produced by World Dance New York, and of discussing a long term project I have in mind to promote appreciation of the music historically used in burlesque striptease, and the musicians who choose to collaborate with burlesque dancers today. Several months ago I interviewed him for this blog, and we decided to save the interview for the release of the DVD. So here it is, at long last, an interview with one of the legends of the burlesque revival!

First, tell us a little about the Throbs.
I joined The Throbs in the late 80s and we got signed to Geffen records, I suppose we were the hot shot New York band of the time. We were supposed to be the New York Guns N Roses, which was the kiss of death. It was a great band though. We got Little Richard to play piano and had Alice Coopers producer Bob Ezrin--we worked till ‘91 and we got dropped because we weren’t grungey. I kicked around New York a bit and ended up moving to New Orleans in 95. [The Throbs also played a reunion show at Don Hill's in January of 2009.]

How did you end up in New Orleans?
While I was making The Throbs record with Little Richard he was talking about New Orleans a lot and I moved there thinking I was going to play r n b, but that wasn’t happening. I kept going back and got into 20s 30s 40s type jazz. The first year I went all I did was listen, I didn’t play, I took it all in. I would just go sit and listen to people and would go watch my favorite drummers, I didn’t play at all, was just a fan, an observer of the music. That’s how I got into more jazz, which I wasn’t into in New York.
The thing about New Orleans is that music is a necessity there. It’s just not that important to people in New York now, but there were so many clubs and bands in New Orleans to play with, a real community, people willing to help you out. Tennessee Williams had a quote that New Orleans was the only city that ever loved him back. In New Orleans people care and want to help you. It was easy to just sit in with people and then the next think you're getting a call to do gigs. It just rolled. It was about helping each other out. Here a drummer would do a gig dying sick because he was afraid he’d lose his gig. It was a different vibe to get into the jazz New Orleans scene.

Above: At the Shim Sham Club

What was the Shim Sham Club?
It was a club in the French Quarter, operating under the name Maxwell's, and for years it was just a beautiful theater that was just falling apart. They would have bad music there. A friend of mine named Morgan Higby [associate producer of Shortbus] lived in LA and New Orleans, and he called me up one day and said he'd bought Maxwell’s Cabaret. He'd done a movie [Matters of Consequence] that featured the Pussycat Dolls in 199. When he moved to NOLA he wanted to do a burlesque kind of club. He decided to rename the space the Shim Sham Club after a place Louis Prima's brother Leon had owned, along with the 500 club where dancers like Lilly Christine had performed. Opening night we did a burlesque show with Sam Butera who had never played New Orleans even though it was his ome town. We did a show thinking it would be a one night only thing and when you put all that work into a show for one night it’s over so fast and you have the costumes and music and acts. Morgan decided to try it monthly, then weekly, every Sunday, two shows a night, and that was it. It just took off from there. New Orleans has such a history of burlesque. That got a lot of the press the media behind us. For better or for worse NEw Orleans has been known as sort of like a museum, where nothing was really about the future, it’s all about the past, so we’re recreating this, and the press ate it up, helped us get a crowd of locals, tourists, young and old. We couldn’t rely on any one type of audience. We got that it wasn’t a hipster underground thing.
We had the club owner behind us. We could use the space for rehearsals. He paid for the girls' costumes, paid the girls, paid for the band, the music that had to be written, so we had backing. I don’t think we would have been able to do it that long if it hadn’t been for him.

Who were the dancers?
Kitten LaRue and The Atomic Bombshells came from the Shim Sham dancers, I'm proud to see what they've done. There were about a hundred dancers that went through our revues and I think half a dozen of them stuck with it. There were still some burlesque dancers that were still alive, Kitty West the Oyster Girl, Wild Cherry, and Linda Brigette. They would come to give lessons. Those women would come down during rehearsals and give the girls pointers. I was there for a couple of those sessions and it was not pretty. They would tell the girls straight out, you’re walking like a truck driver. That was one of Kitty’s favorite lines. A couple of the girls really wanted to learn and listened anyway.
The show was open for five years till Morgan left New Orleans and the people from the shows scattered all over the country. Dita performed with us several times.

What was it like to make the cd?
There was so little burlesque music on cd. I had a seven piece band every Sunday night, and I had the best band in the city. The band was phenomenal. Of course at the beginning I didn’t think about doing a cd and people kept asking for one. The demand brought me to it. It was kind of tricky because I had all those burlesque records and they’re all novelty records. I wanted to make a record that could be serious jazz record but burlesquey, fun but real. Over the course of time I picked out songs. The good thing about it was being able to do these shows and songs over the years, to find out what worked. We had the guitar player from Dr John’s band, the piano player from Gatemouth Brown’s band, the trumpet player from Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ruth Brown's bass player! We took two days in the studio and laid down the tracks. John Polt did liner notes about the musicians in burlesque, and Rick Delaup provided a history of burlesque.
Historically the thing with the musicians, you got into burlesque on your way up or your way down. You got strung out and now you’re working at a burlesque club. I kinda wanted it to not be such a novelty, to be the thing itself. I put Blaze Starr on the cover, and a lot of the old timers in no recognized her and would pick it up in the club and I’d hear a story about how they saw her.

Were you at the first Tease-o-rama Convention in New Orleans [2001]?
It was good! We were the house band but not many of the dancers worked with us. The good thing about these big events is that people got to know each other. At that point that countrywide community wasn’t happening.

What has it been like working with women who did burlesque in the 1950s?
I’ve spoken to a number of the old burlesque dancers and the question I’ve asked a number of them, is there a time or event that you can tell me when burlesque died, and they all say the day they got rid of the bands. Kitty West told me this a number of times—burlesque died when they got rid of the bands.
She would try to show girls and they would say I can’t do it. I watched Kitty do the oyster girl to my cd with the shell, she knew the whole act and I’ve not seen anybody be that suggestive. On the cd I was able to record this music that had never been recorded, written by a New Orleans musician. I had the original sheet music dated November 1st 1954. The author of the music was still alive. I talked to him and said, "Herb, I'm redoing that song for Kitty." He said he was doing that burlesque shit in high school! He couldn’t believe I found the music. He said, "I couldn’t watch, I was too young, if I looked at her I’d start making mistakes." He’s 60-70 now, whispering while he’s talking to me so I know the wife is not too far away.
One of the things about my record was coolest was working with Kitty. While I was working with her she found the original music for her oyster girl act. I’ve seen her do her act and there’s no one who will ever come close to doing that act her way. It’s so raunchy. Everybody that she’s ever showed or wanted to teach hasn’t done it that raunchy.

[laughing]I'm a New Yorker, I'll do it raunchy.
You know the story? The story is that every hundred years her shell opens up and she’s got one chance to get it on with the pearl, and when she comes out of the shell she’s fucking the pearl, she’s gyrating all over it!

So that fuck has to be worth a hundred years!
[laughing] Right.

When did you come back to New York?
After Katrina, 2005. I played with the Blues Devils at Le Scandal and it was my first taste of the New York new burlesque scene, had to learn the wing-it thing, after having had more control in the Shim Sham shows where it was all rehearsed. In New York people change their numbers in the middle of the show! We had a couple of guest stars with no real rehearsal, and I would have to tell the band to keep playing—if I saw she didn’t have her clothes off. In New Orleans the musicians were these really straight guys that had never had a band leader yelling keep playing till she’s naked. They’d be reading the music, not looking at the girl. Every so often you’d have a new guy who had to read the music and I’d have to yell, "S,he’s not naked yet just keep going! Keep playing till she's naked!"

Above: Ronnie Backs Me Up at the New York Burlesque Festival

I want a live music burlesque version of Godzilla so bad, I’ve got to get hold of Blue Oyster Cult.
Every dancer should have her own special music!

What would you like to do next?
I don’t know where I’ll be living, here or New Orleans, but I have a continuing interest in burlesque as a fan. I’m into it, just seeing what people are doing. I’d love to do another cd. Katrina derailed me along with everybody else. I didn’t lose all my belongings, but I had to pick up the pieces and move. I was in Paraguay and didn’t board up anything. I would really love to see a burlesque show on Broadway, in the sense where if you want a purple curtain you get a purple curtain. And I’d like to see people who've worked hard make money from this.

What's your favorite thing about burlesque?
Burlesque is one of the few art forms where Americans can say we invented jazz, and we invented this form of burlesque. I want to see people take it for what it is, the art it is.

Ronnie's Website

Click above to hear Ronnie's CD

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