Lily Burana is one of my personal heroes. When I read Strip City, I felt like I had finally read a memoir that addressed the ambivalence most strippers feel about the job in a nonjudgemental fashion. Not long after I read that book, I performed with Lily in the video for Debra's song Take It Off, a video recorded to accompany the release of Jill Morley's documentary Stripped. Working with these three women has created one of the strongest support systems of my life. Lily's book I Love a Man in a Uniform is not only a fascinating memoir of the life of an army wife, told with Lily's characteristic candor and charm, but a deeply inspiring account of her personal struggles with PTSD and identity. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to choreograph a routine for Lily's Operation Bombshell, her burlesque school for military wives, and to have had her blurb my book! It's a treat to finally be able to interview her.
Lily and Me in Las Vegas for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender
You have such an amazing project in Operation Bombshell. How is that going?
It is beyond insane. I'm frankly startled. I started Op B as a little indie project, hosting the first class on the skating surface at the roller rink on Fort Hood, Texas. Then, my friends at Pin-Up Girl Clothing (www.pinupgirlclothing.com) hosted a few benefits for me in LA, one graciously hosted by Diablo Cody, and raised a bunch of money for me to keep going. I added military installations here and there when I could. Then Op B ended up on the front page of the New York Times, on CNN and on Fox News. Now, military installations are sponsoring my visits. If you had told me that the military would spend money to bring a burlesque teacher to posts to teach, I never would have believed you in a million years.
You and I sat at a table together once and watched Kate Valentine's Vavavoom Room about six years ago, which was one of the first neo-burlesque shows in NYC. What was your impression of burlesque from that show??
My impression was that passion--for glamour, for performance, for feminine excellence, is what's really behind the new burlesque movement. It blends the best of the primal drive for self-expression with the elemental theatrical feminine essence. And it's a blast to watch. Seriously? I have an almost boundless appetite for good burlesque. I could watch it all night, no exaggeration.
In Strip City you describe going to feature dancing school. Did that remind you of burlesque at all??
It did! Because the class was taught by a feature performer, with a slant towards encouraging dancers to become features themselves. Today's feature dancers the true descendants of the old burlesque girls--I learned a lot about developing a persona, how to work with choreography (which I had never done as a house girl), matching costumes to music, themes, how to captivate an audience. I knew I would never have the energy to be a feature, but I loved pretending for a few days.
You've been to the Burlesque Hall of Fame events in both the original location in Helendale and the new weekender in Las Vegas. What are some of your memorable moments from both??
Memorable moments? My heavens, so many. Windstorms. Heat. Kiss curls and big sunglasses. Catherine D'Elish in a golden birdcage, stepping carefully down the runway and opening a huge fan of peacock feathers behind her. Tempest Storm, in her purple sequins, showing the world the true meaning of star power. Beautiful, loving Dixie Evans being surrounded by young women who positively adore her. And shoes, sequins, feather fans, pasties, glitter, headdresses, boas, gowns, gloves, stockings. Bumping horns and nasty drums. Humor. Glamour. Love.
What are some of the most memorable responses you've had to it? Memorable incidents in class or related to running the project??
Op B has really grown my heart. I don't know that I was a Grinch before, exactly, but since starting Op B, I'm certain my heart has leapt up at least three sizes. I'm deeply touched that the military sees the value in the program, and is willing to put resources toward sponsoring my travel so I can teach so many wives. On a personal note, I was moved when one of my students told me that she had recently lost her young son to a tragic accident, and that the day she took my class was the first good day she'd had since he died. I'll never forget that, ever.
And on broader a wife-to-wife level, it's just wonderful for me to meet so many strong, amazing, resilient women. Military wives have a ferocity of spirit that is nothing short of inspirational, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to sass up their lives for an hour or two.
What's next for Operation Bombshell??
We're headed to Germany in September, which is so exciting! Then, Fort Carson, Colorado in October, Savannah, Georgia in November and maybe a couple other places in between.
What's next for you? What projects are nearest and dearest to your heart??
Believe it or not, I'm trying to find another way to approach burlesque. I feel like there's still a new story to be told there. And, of course, I'll be at the NY Burlesque Festival showcase. Can't wait to see everybody there!
Lily on Fox News
Lily in the NY Times