Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm trying to learn more about the neo burlesque movement, are there any books you would recommend?

There are a few. Michelle Baldwin's Burlesque and the New Bump N Grind is a book I would be honored to consider a companion piece to my own book. Dita Von Teese's book, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese, is a fantastic resource for understanding glamourous showgirl burlesque for our times. The Velvet Hammer by Michelle Carr is spectacular, and Chris Blakeley's book Tassels and Emerald's will give you a great sense of why I think Seattle's burlesque scene is one of the most beautiful in the world.

I also recommend videos. The Velvet Hammer DVD from itsachick.com and A Wink and a Smile on netflix are both amazing. Gary Beeber's Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque is intensely gratifying and gorgeous, and Immodesty Blaize's Burlesque Undressed is uber glam.

You should be able to find these on amazon.com, ebay.com, and google.com!

Other folks, feel free to make recommendations. I always accidentally leave out something I love!

See the trailer for Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque:


And don't forget--the French film Tournee, about burlesque performers on tour and featuring Dirty Martini, Roky Roulette, and Julie Atlas Muz, among others, just won Mathieu Amalric Best Director at Cannes!

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brian Smith, Photographer and Burlesque Fan

Brian Smith is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer whose photographs of celebtrities and personalities have graced the pages of uncountable newspapers and magazines, including his picture of Pope John Paul II on the cover of Newsweek. So it should come as no surprise that for years he has been traveling to a goat farm in Helendale and later to hotel showrooms in Las Vegas to photographs burlesque queens of the 1950s for the annual Striptease Reunion of the Burlesque Hall of Fame.


It's true. We at the Burlesque Hall of Fame have been honored by many of the people who have taken an interest in the organization, its personalities, and its events. But it's fair to say that Brian, with his talent, his reputation, his kindness, and his appreciation, ranks uber high in those honors!

I met Brian on a photo shoot for which I'd been hired to bring burlesque models for a promotional project for photographic equipment. I was so charmed, really touched, by his enthusiasm and interest in the legends of burlesque that I requested an interview, which he graciously consented to do!

Brian Smith photographing Angie Pontani
Brian with Angie Pontani at the shoot in March.

Tempest Storm by Brian Smith
Tempest Storm by Brian Smith. Photo used with express permission.

Q. How did you become interested in photographing burlesque and what was the first burlesque photo you took?
After a decade of shooting Olympics, Superbowls, NBA FInals and conflict in Haiti, I was transitioning into shooting celebrity portrait photography for magazines like Rolling Stone, GQ and Esquire. One day I was watching CNN and I saw an interview with Dixie Evans and I think how great it would be to photograph someone like her. Well you can either just sit around and wait for something like that to happen or you can just go out and do it. So I called Dixie up and she said, she'd love to be photographed. So the next time I was shooting in LA, my wife Fazia and I headed out Route 66 to Helendale and spent an absolutely wonderful afternoon photographing Dixie. It was the kind of afternoon that can't possibly better...until Dixie says it's too bad that we missed all her friends who'll be coming out next month. All of a sudden our great shoot just got better...

Q. What was it like the first time you photographed at Exotic World?
We came back to Helendale a couple months later to shoot our first Burlesque Reunion. My wife and I met Tempest Storm when we were checking into our hotel and quickly became friends. Over at Dixie's ranch, I began looking at the rows of publicity photos by 'Bruno of Hollywood' and was struck by how much they looked like the great Hollywood photos of the 30s and 40s. I realized I had a chance to put the burlesque legends back into the spotlight where they belonged.

Q. What about burlesque has held your interest for so long?
Like Jazz, Burlesque is a pure American art form. Burlesque is Americana. I started shooting it because I didn't want to see a part of Americana fade away. I'm overjoyed to see burlesque alive and flourishing today.

Dixie Evans by Brian Smith
Dixie Evans by Brian Smith. Photo used with express permission.

Q. What are some of your favorite photos from this project?
That first shoot of Dixie will always be a favorite, you know what people always say about your first.... Back in the early days, we always shot the legends outside - either in the desert or where they lived. We went to Long Beach to shoot Jeannine "The Eyeful Tower" France. She didn't really have any costumes left and while she was happy to shoot in her bra, she didn't want stand outside in her neighborhood like the crazy old lady in her underwear. So I ended up her in her kitchen with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the background, At first, I didn't even show the photo since it was so different from everything else, but over the years it's become one of my favorites. There is something about it that's really sad and it just breaks my heart.

Jeanne France by Brian Smith
Jeanne France by Brian Smith. Photo used with express permission.

Q. What do you find to be some of the most interesting aspects of shooting burlesque?
The first time we met Dee Milo, I saw her standing in her red sequin dress and I showed her some of the photos we'd done. She was just about to go on stage, but said she'd do a shoot once she finished her act. So she comes right off stage straight to us in her g-string and pasties and says she was ready. I asked her to put her red dress back on and that was probably the first time in recorded history that a photographer talked a pretty lady back into her clothes...

Dee Milo by Brian Smith
Dee Milo by Brian Smith. Photo used with express permission.

Q. How does it compare with shooting celebrities, live sports or nude golf?
The greatest thing about being a photographer is dropping into the lives of all kinds of people from different backgrounds for a few minutes or hours. I can't think of a better way to learn about the world around you.
One of the projects I've been shooting over the past year is an arts advocacy project called 'Art & Soul'. I've photographed portraits of over 250 celebrities from the entertainment industry for a book I'm doing with The Creative Coalition that will pair my portraits of celebrities with their hand-written testimonials about the importance of the arts. We just had a sneak preview exhibit of the photographs at the Library of Congress as part of a star-studded evening that included live performances by Adrian Grenier, Patricia Arquette, Spike Lee, Dana Delany, TIm Daly, Steven Weber, Gloria Ruben, CCH Pounder, Cheryl Hines, Omar Epps and Marlon Wayans.
Photographing that project is similar in many ways to the portraits we shot backstage at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Even if you only have a few minutes with someone, you have to find a way to capture their personality. Shooting Nude Golf shoot for Sports Illustrated was really a hoot and it reminded me a lot of the early burlesque shoots because the people were so much fun. We all laughed together and had a wonderful time.

Q. Who have you shot lately?
We shot Satan's Angel doing her fire act on stage at Exotic World, but you can't really contain someone like Angel to a stage. So we told Angel we wanted to come out to Palm Springs to photograph her the next time we were in LA. Last July I was out in LA to shoot of one of the actors from Mad Men' and so I called herl up to see if she was up to twirl fire for us and she said sure, c'mon out. Well July in Palm Springs is like 120 degrees in the shade but Angel was game to give it a go, so I discovered that the only thing hotter than Palm Springs in July is a burlesque dancer twirling tassels of fire. We also just did a wonderful shoot in New York with Angie Pontani, Amber Ray, Bunny Love, Darlinda, Gal Friday, Peekaboo Pointe and the one-and-only Jo Boobs Weldon...

Satan's Angel by Brian Smith
Satan's Angel by Brian Smith. Photo used with express permission.

Q. Any regrets?
I wish we'd started earlier. We missed a lot of legends. My wife and I became fascinated by Lili St Cyr. The vintage photographs of Lili are amazing. We tried everything we could to photograph her, even Dixie reached out but we sadly couldn't ever get her to say yes. I think she wanted to be remembered the way she looked in her prime. I wish we could have convinced her that she'd still be just as beautiful in our eyes.

Q. Do you think you'll continue to photograph burlesque?
Burlesque is so much fun to shoot that's kind of like asking if you want to continue to enjoy living, isn't it?

Thank you for your time!
You are very welcome Jo Boobs...

See more of Brian's amazing work on his website. He also has a special site for his burlesque project, Legends of Burlesque.

Please do not use photos or text from this blog without linking back to http://burlesquedaily.blogspot.com.

I saw where you recommended Polly-O shoes but I am curious if you have any other tips on shoes for burlesque performances, especially when its a dancey number.

If your shoes are comfortable, you'll dance better, simple as that! Rehearse your number in the shoes you'll be wearing onstage, not in your practice shoes. You need to know how the shoes and your costume will interact--will rhinestones or buckle catch on the hem of your gown? Will you be able to pivot and twist in the shoes you want to wear? If you're removing them to take off stockings, do they slip easily on and off, and is it any harder to keep them on once you're wearing the stockings? If you rehearse in them, you won't have any surprises.
I will say that I expect to see shoes in good condition, and I love it when they have been decorated to match the costume.
In addition to my love of Pollys, which you can purchase at Betsey Johnson and Patricia Field's stores, I am shameless about my acrylic stripper heels. They make everything easy!
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joweldon/357227494/"; title="My Shoes by Jo Weldon, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/144/357227494_82e08516b6.jpg"; width="316" height="500" alt="My Shoes" /></a>

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Do you think it impacts how a dancer is viewed by producers, MCs, other dancers if their spouse shows up for every gig?

It depends on how that spouse behaves, of course! Generally speaking, burlesque is a community, and we definitely expect to see each others' partners and spouses at events at least occasionally.

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

I'm a budding photographer and a fan of burlesque. What does it take to have a performer pose for me to help expand my portfolio and in turn, provide photos?

Performers get approached by photographers frequently. If you want to shoot them, you should be ready to provide samples of your work, and arrange how you will compensate them for their time. For newer performers, simply getting shots they can use for promotion is often excellent compensation; for experienced performers who have already built their own portfolios, they may need to charge a modeling fee. Every shoot is a different set of circumstances, but you should have an idea what you're willing to offer. Keep your appointments to shoot and always be ready with releases, and get images to them quickly. Usually if you are reliable and you understand that the photos have to flattering to them as well as to your skills as a photographer, you have a good chance of doing some shoots!
Check out the website of one of my favorite photographers of burlesque, Don Spiro, to see some shots we all love!

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What's the greatest compliment a viewer can give to a performer?

"I don't want to be on the list, I want to pay to get in and support the show."

Just kidding! Actually, the best compliment is always a straightforward expression of appreciation--"I loved your number" or "I was really moved by your number." And of course my favorite compliment in the world is, "Watching you made me want to do burlesque too!"

Occasionally people accidentally insult me or one of my friends when they are complimenting; they'll say, "That was so much better than that skanky pole dancing" (I love to watch pole dancing), or some compliment about liking my number better than a number someone else did. Any comparison should be left out, it's just not necessary! Just say what you like.

I performed a burlesque fan dance number at the 2009 Pole Dancing Championship, after which Carmit Bachar of the Pussycat Dolls came up to me and said how lovely my number was. The pole dancer and the fan dancer should be friends!


Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Me at the Mothers of Burlesque Show in AMNY!

Click the image to view larger.

I recently bought a pair of feather fans from ostrich.com and have to assemble them myself. Do you have any tips for assembling them? I have read the instructions and it looks a little tough. I don't want to screw up since the feathers are kinda spendy

Just go for it. The feathers are tougher than you think! Assemble it without the glue, though, because you never know when you'll want to change or add feathers. Take your time to make sure all the feathers curve in the same direction--lay it out without attaching the feathers before you begin. And I usually leave the lengths of string knotted between the staves to be about 2.5-3 inches. Check my facebook page, under the name Jo Weldon, to see if other folks have added other helpful tips to this post.
I love the collapsible fans! The fans I'm using in this photo are ostrich.com Junior Sally Rand fans:
/Jo at Surf Burlesque

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Hi Jo, I'll be visiting New York City for the summer from LA! I've never been to a burlesque show in the city, so where can I find out about all the latest happenings?

Whatever you do, don't miss the shows at Coney Island!
To find shows, I recommend Brooklyn Ed's burlesque calendar:
And check out the Burlesque/Variety listings in Timeout NY, which has both a print and online magazine:

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is it possible to copyright an act? How is it done? Do you think it is important? If a performer seems to be appropriating work, is it best to confront or ignore? Defend idea.. or take as compliment??

I've answered this question before, so this time I'll give the short version.

My tone is going to be a bit brusque, not towards you, but towards people who feel entitled to use whatever they see to choreograph, teach, or perform others' material.

1) In the US, we copyright numbers like so:
If you don't have it in you to research the equivalent in your own locale, that's too bad.
Added note, the only legal advice with any value whatsoever comes from legal professionals. Backstage discussions don't count unless the people involved in them are legal professionals.

2) Most performers would rather be attributed and hired and paid than have their work "complimented" by "appropriation."

3) If you're thinking about doing a tribute to someone, the best person to ask is--BIG SHOCK--the person themselves!

4) Acts you think may be classic reproductions may not be. Acts you think may be original may not be. People you think are dead may not be, and even if they are their families or others may hold rights to their material.

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Once in a Lifetime Burlesque Show in NYC!

REALLY Once in a Lifetime!
Mother’s Day Burlesque Brunch
A Salute To The Mothers Of Burlesque
Featuring Legendary Burlesque Queens

Performances by

May 9,2010
Show starts @ 1:30PM Doors open @ 12:30PM

Tickets and More Information

The World Famous *BOB* and Jo Weldon of The New York School of Burlesque will co-host this landmark event featuring The Mother’s of Burlesque, Dixie Evans, Dee Milo and Toni Elling. The event will feature a question and answer panel with these legendary Burlesque Queens, select performance and tribute numbers by Angie Pontani, Mstickle, Jo Boobs, Perle Noire, Dr Lucky, The World Famous *BOB*, Ruby Valentine and DJ Momotaro. This is the first time in over a quarter of a century that these legends of burlesque are being showcased in New York City. This is truly a one of a kind event, not to be missed.

DIXIE EVANS - Nobody around today has done more to keep the memory of burlesque alive than Dixie Evans. As the current conservator of Exotic World (a position she's held since 1989), Evans watches over a remarkable collection of g-strings, pasties, fans, and photographs from the golden age of the bump-and-grind. What makes her involvement more incredible is that Evans has a personal connection to 1950's strippers--she was one herself. Back in the era where most strippers had a gimmick, Evans was handed hers on a silver screen platter. Marilyn Monroe fever was running rampant due in no small part to the star's admission that she was indeed the nude model featured in the first issue of Playboy. Evans had been dancing on the circuit since the early 50's, but it wasn't until she decided to become burlesque's answer to Monroe that her career really took off.
TONI ELLING - Toni Elling got her name from Duke Ellington, a close friend of hers, when she began performing in the 1960s. She became known for her originality and her skillful strut.
DEE MILO - Dee Milo is a Burlesque historical figure. She was born in the year 1930 in Queens, New York. At a very young age she moved to San Francisco and when she was old enough started dancing and gained the stage name "Dee Milo Venus of Dance." Between 1949 and 1964 she traveled and lived around the world including Japan, Mexico, and the United States performing in theaters, clubs, and USO Shows.
THE WORLD FAMOUS *BOB* - Known for her over the top blonde bombshell image *BOB* has captivated audiences all over the world with her unique Burlesque stylings, humorous performance art, and MC skills. Famous for mixing martinis in her cleavage *BOB* combines her unique sex appeal with a strong sense of humor to bring you the best in burlesque.
JO "BOOBS" WELDON- Jo is the Founder and Headmistress of the New York School of Burlesque. She has been awarded the title of "Best Teacher" in Arts and Entertainment in the Village Voice, and Best Burlesque Teacher and Mentor at the New York Burlesque Festival.
ANGIE PONTANI - Bedazzled Brooklyn Bombshell Angie Pontani is "The Reigning Queen of Burlesque, Mis Exotic World 2008". She is one of the most sought after burlesque performers in the world. Her classic style, contemporary edge, impeccable costuming, choreography and physique, has made her the go to gal for anyone and everyone who appreciates a serious approach to serious entertainment! She has performed her signature burlesque acts all over the globe, doing her part to bring glamour back to entertainment.
MSTICKLE - Crowned the “Queen of gags and gimmicks” for her sorceress-like ability to design and create gorgeous and unparalleled costumes.
PERLE NOIRE - Burlesque Sensation Perle Noire the Black Pearl has been featured in the L.A Times, Times Picayune and recently won the "Best Debut" Title at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Pageant for her Amazing Stage Presence, Seductive Moves and Artistry.
RUBY VALENTINE - Miss Ruby Valentine, "The Alabaster Beauty", embodies the spirit and essences of classic striptease. You may have seen her as a burlesque dancer on the hit series Mad Men. Since 2003 she has been a mainstay on the New York burlesque scene.
DR LUCKY – LUCKY has been featured in Bust Magazine, NPR's Morning Edition, NY1, Time.com, and her image has graced the pages of the Washington Post, Washington Blade, Express (DC), Bizarre, L Magazine, and many others. She has appeared in documentaries including 5'2" and Showy and WCTV's critically acclaimed Chronicle, among others. Other awards and accolades include being voted "Sexiest Alien" at Coney Island and being featured in the New York Burlesque Calendar as "May."
DJ MOMOTARO - New York DJ Momotaro can be found spinning for burlesque events such as the annual NY Burlesque Festivals, Exotic World this summer in Las Vegas, and as a resident for The Slipper Room, home of NYC's longest running weekly burlesque show.

Presented by Thirsty Girl Productions & The NY School of Burlesque.

Tickets and More Information

As a budding burlesque beauty how does one promote themselves? I just graduated from Trixie Little Burlesque Bootcamp and had my first performance. I live in the Washington D.C. area. Any tips?

Congratulations on graduation!
It depends on what you want to promote yourself to do! If you want to perform, put together a facebook page, create a few more acts, develop them as much as possible, film them any old way you can (rehearsal space is fine), and offer to help at other shows in order to get to know producers, performers, and venues. For many shows in smaller venues, people hire performers first because they are good performers, but also because they are reliable and easy to get along with, and this offers a chance to let them get to know you that way.
If you see auditions, go to them! Even if you don't get the gig, again, you'll develop a reputation for being reliable and easy to get along with.
Various cities are different, too, so this is just a brief answer.
Never offer to perform for free for gigs for which other performers are getting paid. Most producers are also performers, and will feel you're undercutting them. Plus, you'll be lowering the price for all performers, and the business can't sustain performers if they can't afford to keep performing because they aren't getting paid enough.

Ask me anything about Burlesque!