Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Signs of Scott Ewalt; Interview, Part One


Burlesque signs have always rocked my world. As a child, every time I saw a burlesque sign on a lounge I got an illicit thrill, imagining women of impossible repute removing stockings with a knowing wink. I could picture the heavy lashes, the big hair, the chiffon robes. I was mesmerized.

As a teenager, I was excited by the signs on strip joints in Atlanta. I knew that the Domino Lounge was one of the last of the old school burlesque venues in town, but the contemporary signs got me riled up with promise—one day I’d be of age, and I’d know where to go by the signs. A favorite was the sign for Tattletale’s, of “Girls, Girls, Girls” fame—a delicate outline of a nude woman’s hip drawn from the back, her weight on one leg, her hand relaxed at her side, based on this line drawing by Picasso:
Later they had to take it down, since it incorporated Picasso’s drawing without permission. Bad strip joint! But good taste.

In the early 1980s I had started working in those clubs. One of them, The She Club, got shut down for trying to blow up Starcastle, the strip joint across the street. The government took possession of The She Club and publicly stated they would open and operate it, though they never did. I fantasized about them actually doing it so I could work there and tell my mother I was working for the government. For years afterward the big sign that had been posted at the entrance was leaned against a cement wall behind the club, and every time I drove by I coveted that sign.

Above: Scott at home with his Venus sign.

Scott Ewalt, like me, is fascinated by signs. He is fascinated by other things, which I’ll get to in other sections of this interview when I post them later, but I fixated on the collection of signs in his apartment the first time I saw them. I thanked him in the intro to my book—his passion for burlesque legends is contagious and has inspired me over and over. Also, he was the first DJ I worked with at the Slipper Room, spinning some of the best go-go music I’ve ever heard.

Currently he’s represented in the book Dead Flowers, edited by Participant Press and Vox Populi. It’s full of prepunk and postbunk artists that all segueway into each other. The main subject is Timothy Carey, a psychotronic filmmaker; the link between Scott and Timothy is that Lilly Christine taught Timothy his signature dance, which he debuted in a movie called “White Trash,” and Scott Ewalt has done extensive studies of Lilly Christine, including his latest, Which shows Lilly Christine walking in front of a building with burlesque signs on it. Scott also does reconstructions of Times Square Burlesque houses as digital artwork. His eye for the sign is as obsessive as mine, or as any cop perusing the signs on broadway. When I interviewed him about his collection, the signs were by far his favorites.

How did you get interested in Burlesque?
That's a many layered question. I was inspired by Bugs Bunny, the outro to Bullwinkle, I Love Lucy, seeing the Carol Doda sign at the Condor Club as a kid. Seeing the postwar burlesque houses in San Diego as a kid. A Date with Elvis by the Cramps. Meeting John Sex, Katie K, and International Chrysis. All these things combined helped me find this aesthetic.

How did you start collecting burlesque ephemera?
Paula Klaw from Movie Star News sold me a Tempest Storm Teaseorama poster and from that point on I was equally fascinated with burlesque as with the vintage S/M imagery I had been collecting. It would have been in 1986.

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?
Original Tura Satana lightbox, the Venus and Eros marquee neons, the first all-male burlesk sign ever put on the exterior of a building, my Zorita lifesize cutout, my Liz Renay silver hologram, my lifesize sign of Virginia Bell, the Babydoll Lounge sign, the Billy's Topless sign, my Patrick the All-American stripper 8 by 10, my Sally Rand fan dancer lamp from the 30s, and my Henry Dixey commemorative coin.

Tell me about some of the signs.

The Tura Satana Light box: A poster store called me and told me they were tearing down the theater next door to them, and when they pulled off all of the signage underneath there was this image of a woman, and when they told me it was Tura I almost lost my mind. It's from 1957. Buffalo New York. The guy from the store mailed it. He had sold me 24 Jon Voigt posters, the ones that wallpaper my kitchen. When I first met Tura she remembered having lost that sign. She kind of widened her eyes like: "Would you give it back?" and I kind of narrowed my eyes like "No"--I mean, she gets to be her, right?

The Venus and Eros Marquees: I lived in Times Square in the late 80s . I was walking home from work one days and they were taking down the Adonis sign and cutting it into one foot sections and dropping it into a dumpster. I tried to stop them and they said if I could take the sign right then I could have it, but my apartment wasn't even as big as the sign. So it piqued my interest and I realized that there was no effort being made to preserve these things. When Giuliani was closing all the burlesque houses I contacted Chelley Wilson, a grindhouse pioneer and the meanest woman in Times Square. She sold me the Venus and when she passed away her daughter sold me the Eros. They were just happy to have someone get them--it was a ridiculously low price. They were on 46th and 8th ave.

The first All-Male Burlesk sign--that was part of that lot. When I got it home it was about 4 inches thick and I realized it was more than one sign and I cracked it open and there was an older sign from when it was the one of the first gay theaters (three opened simultaneously in the 1960s) in the US.

Zorita cutout--I got it at the Chelsea flea market for 50 dollars. Rode it home on my bike--to cheers from people I passed by! They were cheering when I went by with Zorita flapping in the wind. Was it 1994? I never got to meet Zorita unfortunately. I had known about Zorita because I had found some 4 by 3 images of her in a box in the back of an adult book store in Loa Angeles, a store that was a front for a gambling and crack den, that actually had a rotating wall and it turned and behind the pornography were guys gambling and smoking crack.

Liz Renay hologram--Luke and Laura rescued it from her attic and it's a print plate for her 8 by 10s when I went through her collection; it was something I was allowed to pick for posterity. It was covered with rat turds but of course it's not anymore. I met Liz after having lunch with John Waters in 1994. He said to look her up she's in the phone book, tell her I sent you. I flew to Vegas, called her up, and I was there for five days and on the third day she said she had a cancellation for lunch and I could meet her. And I was hooked after that. Her memory was so sharp and she was so sweet. And funny. And sexy!

The Virginia Bell Sign: A man called me from Toledo and said he had a sign from the Roxy Burlesque and Vaudeville theater in Cleveland. Irma the Body, Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr--all those signs had been destroyed. The picture he sent me of the theater showed a tractor parked in front of it. His grandkids were getting old enough that they were starting to ask who the naked lady in the garage was. Actually his wife called me and asked if I could buy from him. I had bought some other ephemera from them.

The Babydoll Lounge Sign: I had some girlfriends that worked there. I went to visit them one day and I noticed that the shingle sign was gone. I went in and asked what happened to it and the owner looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how much I had in my pocket. I pulled out two twenties and said that was all I had, and he said to take it. One of my favorite things that attracted me to the Babydoll was the fact that it was across the street from the Mudd Club, and in a classic symbiotic relationship the musicians dated the strippers--Cookie Mueller was there. It's also the bar where the famous headline “headless body in topless bar” comes from, and it was Janis Joplin’s favorite hangout when it was a Hell's Angels bar. I love it for the crudeness of the painting. Hand-painting is definitely my ongoing fetish in all of them. They remind me of Stuart Davis paintings. He was an artist in the late 1920s who came from Paris to New York and did paintings of signage, and who is lightly regarded as the father of pop art.

The Billy’s Topless Sign: Billy’s was where the House of Domination all worked during the day, those performers from Jackie 60. One day I was there visiting them and the sign had blown off and I went into the back room and talked to him about purchasing the sign. He was much less green than the other people I had contacted, having worked with people like Gypsy Rose Lee, and he said he knew it was a valuable artifact. He said if Guiliani passed the text amendment that made the word "topless" illegal on the exterior sign of a business, he would sell me the sign for 300 dollars. Three months later I opened the paper and read that Guiliani had passed the text amendment, and I called the owner, and he said he'd been waiting for my call all day. He was able to keep the signs that read across in one line because he moved the exclamation point and made it Billy Stopless, but he couldn't do that on the shingle sign because it set in two lines.

I’ve been interviewing Scott about Boylesque as well as his involvement with the Burlesque Hall of Fame—lots more to come!

And, if you've got any photos of burlesque signs you'd like to share, please do! You can post links in the comments.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Breast Cancer Survivors Performing This Sunday

Pink Light Burlesque is a program to provide free classes for breast cancer patients and survivors, provided by The New York School of Burlesque.

Pink Light Burlesque Free Classes for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

December 4th is our first-ever showcase, featuring students and instructors of this program.

The show will be dedicated to our friend Diane Naegel, who was hoping to perform as part of the project but lost her battle with breast cancer due to complications on September 25. Our hearts go out to her and her friends and family, and to all others experiencing the same struggle.

The proceeds of the show will benefit You Can Thrive, Sloan Kettering, and the operation of Pink Light Burlesque.

Sunday, December 4, 8-10.30 pm.
The Wild Project 195 East 3rd Street
New York, NY 10009
Contact Jo Weldon at
School of Burlesque Phone 212.561.1456
Wild Project Phone 212.228.1195

Buy General Admission Tickets
Tickets are $10, $15, and $20. Visibility is perfect from all seats; lower prices are furthest from the stage.
This is a small venue and seating is strictly limited, so do not wait to buy tickets.
Priority seating in the front two rows is available to donors and sponsors.
We have tiered the ticket prices to make this event affordable for as many people as possible.
If any tickets are remaining the night of the show, they will be available for cash purchase at the door for $25 preferred, $20 second tier, and $15 third tier.
Please contact us about donations or sponsorship opportunities.

Burlesque celebrates the human drive to amuse, provoke, charm, and seduce. The Pink Light Burlesque project invites survivors to take classes to experience the joyous and body-loving fun so many burlesque students embrace. For those who would like to perform, we hope to create a performing troupe of burlesque dancers made up of breast cancer patients and survivors (and a few of their allies). If they continue beyond the classes, these dancers may wish to perform professionally as well as to benefit charity and fund raising events.

We would like to thank Duane Park, home of some of the fiercest classic burlesque, live jazz music, and fabulous food and drink, for sponsoring our studio rentals for November and December.
Check them out!

We would also like to thank Night Owls, The Champagne Riot, and the friends and family of Diane Naegel for their substantial support.

We will be helping other burlesque schools to create similar programs in Seattle, Denver, Columbus, and more cities. Please contact us if are an instructor, survivor, or patron wishing to create a Pink Light Branch in your area.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview with Veronica Varlow

I've had this interview for awhile and have been trying to write the perfect intro for it, and I give up. She's just too awesome. I am so thrilled to have this woman as an instructor at The New York School of Burlesque, and that's that.

Me, David Byrne, Veronica Varlow
Above: Veronica Varlow and me with David Byrne at the Bowery Hotel. Why not?

How did you learn to do burlesque?
When I first saw burlesque, it was as if I was spying on an ancient and secret rite of women to claim the power in their own sensuality. I was awe-struck that first night I stumbled upon this world of burlesque in 2000 at the Slipper Room. That little corner of Orchard and Stanton became my version of church which I visited weekly to worship the power and beauty of the performers there.
At that point, I was learning. I was an eager pupil to learn the movement of confidence, to learn the slowness of sensuality, to learn the power of being unafraid.
I was a bystander for 3 years. A witness to the world I longed for. But, alas, the comforts of my cubicle were too good. I was skilled at the world of work, but I knew nothing about this mysterious world of boas, of fringe, of tassels.
In December of 2003, I was volunteering at a local animal shelter in Brooklyn, when a recently picked up dog, a rottwelier - sunk his teeth into my face. He ripped the right side of my nose and tip of my nose from my face and his top teeth landed less than an inch away from my left eye, digging into my skin.
I was in surgery for eight hours, staring at the ceiling, contemplating my life. In the end, that rottwelier was an angel in disguise. Lying in that hospital bed that day, I was at a crossroads. I realized that the only reason that I hadn't done burlesque is because I was afraid of what others would think of me. I realized that I had stayed in a comfortable life that I was bored with to appease others. I realized that the rottwelier could have killed me if he wanted to, that I could have possibly been lying there in the hospital with ten minutes left to live regretting all the things I hadn't done in my life.
That was the turning point.
I started watching old films of burlesque, going to shows, and developing my alter ego (who has since taken over entirely). I signed up for a Burlesque 101 class with the NY School of Burlesque when it was back at the Bowery Poetry Club and dragged a friend with me. World Famous Bob was a guest speaker that day and the things that the both of you said during class opened up my mind to what could be possible. You presented a whole new delicious road to me. A month later, I debuted in World Famous Bob's New Revue for the first time, and a week after that did my first full show with Ixion Burlesque, and I was hooked. The burlesque bug bit me. Hard.

What are some of your favorite acts to perform?
I just performed with Gotham Burlesque singing My Heart Belongs to Daddy with Albert Garzon on piano - and that was an epic night. I love weaving magic into the words I'm singing and also creating a spell with the slow stripping out of my clothes simultaneously.
I also love doing my Isis number because it mixes the sacred and the sensual for me. I perform a magic ritual with my dance and I honor the dancing women of lifetimes past. It's a special one for me.
I debuted a new fire poi burlesque number at Coney Island this Summer. For me, that is reclaiming the fire, after we lost our home and our things in an electrical fire in April. When I was on stage, I was dancing with the fire as a partner. That powerful element swirled around me on the Coney Island stage in the dark, two months to the day that our house burned to the ground, and I truly felt like the Phoenix in that moment.

How did you come to tour with Emilie Autumn, and what was that like?
Amazing and life changing! Emilie doesn't hold auditions. She just puts the call out. She's a very magical person and she's incredible at manifesting the world she wants to create. My good friend, Aprella, was performing with her for a year and had suggested me as a possibility for a new member in the show.
What's crazy is that Emilie had seen me and bookmarked my Danger Dame site years before. So we were destined to perform together and when the moon was full and the stars perfectly aligned themselves, I found myself on a plane to Germany for rehearsals. We are a tight knit family and I am grateful for all the beautiful adventures we have had together all over the world and I'm looking forward to future adventures. We are headed to Australia in November!

When did you start teaching within the burlesque community?
I believe that was 2007 and it was inspired over a cup of tea at Teany's with you when I finally got the courage to ask you if I could teach a class at the NY School of Burlesque. You said that you wanted to create new classes that were different than anything else out there and asked what I was thinking of. Then I said I had this crazy idea of teaching my gypsy magic combined with performance - to be able to use magic to boost confidence and cast a gorgeous spell on a willing audience. You fully supported the birth of that idea and gave me a shot at teaching and I fell in love with it. I love passing on my Grandma Helen's magic in my classes to other women. It has changed my life and I hope it can help others as well.

Did you ever expect to be teaching regularly?
No! Teaching kind of weaved its way into my life and it's a definite passion of mine. It started as something I wanted to try and I'm in love with it. I just think back of my first class with you in 2005 and how much you changed my life by sharing your experiences and knowledge. Teaching has the power to make the world a better place. It really does.

What are some of the classes you teach?
I am so proud to be teaching all of my burlesque classes, Spellbinding Burlesque and Advanced Spellbinding Burlesque at the NY School of Burlesque. I'm excited for this September 17th to be teaching Spellbinding Burlesque again at NYSB.
I also teach non-burlesque classes at my own Danger Dame School of Deadly Charms, which has classes like: Love Magic for Couples, Foundations of the Femme Fatale and the Seven Secrets of Seduction. It's about confidence, signature style, and rocking it out in our day to day experiences as women. It's the sexy version of life coaching.

What have been some of your favorite experiences as an instructor?
Seeing change occur. When I worked with Andrea on MTV's Made - and I got a chance to be a teacher for her every day for six weeks, I saw a big change happen. One of my favorite things that made me cry, was just seeing the way she held herself, it had changed by the end. Her shoulders were back and proud and she held her head high. That was not the girl I met, it was the girl she became. We saw each other in March when I was on tour, and two years later, she is rocking her confidence. She has grown leaps and bounds and is an inspiration to others.
In Spellbinding Burlesque, one of my favorite parts is teaching them to strut with magic intent and then seeing all these badass girls strutting with me as we dance towards the mirror together. I have learned that the magic part is more than something you can see, it's something you can feel. You can feel the power radiating off of them. It's not something you can fake, it's something you have to draw from deep within. When it works, it's earth shattering. It's literally spellbinding. One of my favorite experiences as an instructor is being a witness to that.

Veronica Varlow. Photo by Burke Hefner
What do you most hope people take away from your classes?
I hope they can have a more positive and saucy outlook, knowing that we can create our experiences with the magic that we were born with.
I once heard this analogy that stuck with me.... I realized that when I was running around in my life doing all of these things I didn't enjoy and trying to please others, I was like a a person running up and down a beach with a flashlight trying to bring the boats in. Which doesn't work. Only when I stood tall in my true self, unashamed and wholly me, was when I could become the lighthouse and draw the right "boats" in. Everything in my life clicked when I was the true me. So I tell my students - Be the lighthouse. Shine who you are to the world and the world will come to you.

Veronica Varlow
Final word of advice for aspiring performers?
See you in class!

Catch Veronica's next class at The New York School of Burlesque!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Interview with Kitty Hartl, the producer of Cabaret New Burlesque.

Kitty Hartl is one of the loveliest people you'd ever want to meet, but sometimes I get so darn mad at her. My roommate is Julie Atlas Muz, and Kitty is always stealing her away to perform overseas! So I decided to pry into the motivations of this woman who deprives me of staying up late nights with my roomie.

"Forget the Follies Bergere, this is the Cabaret New Burlesque. Nude girls galore, but no porcelain dolls. Ferociously funny, extremely rock n roll, spicy, accomplished singers, and heirs to a long and rich American tradition, the savvy performers of the Cabaret New Burlesque are among the best in the business who, through sauciness and excess (in language and body), know how to find elegance and poetry in the absurd. Mezmerized spectators won't soon forget the grace and charm of [these performers]."

Cabaret New Burlesque photo by Eve Saint-Ramon

On Tour Now! See tour dates.

What is your background in the entertainment industry?
I have worked as a music and performance curator in a cultural center in France over 10 years, organised and curated several music festivals & art events.

What is Cabaret New Burlesque?
It's a burlesque show with 6 amazing American performers created in France in 2004.

How did you get the idea for it?
While doing researches for singular, unique and surprising projects for festivals, I found there's an artistic connection among some artists, especially rock'n roll ones I aready invited before.

How did you find the performers?
Dirty Martini, Kitten on the Keys and Mimi le Meaux at Tease-o-rama in Los Angeles in 2003, I also discovered Roky at this edition but only decided to add him in 2007 due to his cowboy pogo act! I think Dirty recommended Julie as I was looking for a mermaid for an art event in 2007, but then discouered her multi talents and since then she's been a regular part of the cast. Evie was recommended to Mathieu Amalric for the movie Tournée when he was looking for someone extremely shy and without much stage experience, so she's part of the Cabaret since 2010.

How are audiences responding to the show?
Great, of course differently than in the states, less expressive and no shouting, but with the time to get used to it they learn to scream. Also, Kitten on the Keys coaches them very well how to behave.

What kind of people do you think come to the show?
All of ages, from 10 to 90 years, male and females mixed, all classes, from popular to high bourgoisie .

Cabaret New Burlesque photo by Eve Saint-Ramon
Photos by Eve Saint-Ramon

How big are the venues where you have the show?
It varies from 150 to 1000, lately more over 500 people, we even did a show at a huge Rock festival in front of 9000 people outdoors.

Where is Cabaret New Burlesque scheduled to show in the next six months?
Mostly in France, but also in some other european countries, eg London, Slovenie, Spain, Italy, perhaps Greece....

What would you like to see happen next for the show?
To tour and develop the spirit and the mouvement in some countries in Asia, especially also in Japan and South America countries.

She is absolutely shameless about her intentions to take my GF even further away! But I forgive her--the postcards are amazing.

Cabaret New Burlesque Website

Friday, September 30, 2011

Four Nights of Glitter and Glamour in Gotham!

September 29-October 2
The New York Burlesque Festival

New York Burlesque Festival
It was the first burlesque festival of its kind in the world, and people come from all over the world to be in it!
Thursday September 29th
Hosted By: The World Famous *BOB*
The Bell House
149 7th Street (between 2nd & 3rd), Brooklyn
Doors 7:00pm | Show 8:00pm
$10 advance, $15 at the door
Friday September 30th
Hosted By: Scotty the Blue Bunny
Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn
Doors 8:00 pm | Show 9:00pm
$10 at the door
Saturday October 1st
Hosted By: Murray Hill
BB King's
237 West 42nd Street, Manhatten
Doors 6:30 pm | Show 7:30 pm
$25 advanced, $30 at the door
$65 VIP advanced
Featuring DJ Bill Coleman, GOGOs, & More!
11pm - 1am @ Lucille's Bar
(Next door to BB King's and free for all Saturday ticket holders)
Sunday October 2nd
Hosted By: Miss Astrid
Highline Ballroom
431 16th Street, Manhattan
Doors 7:00 pm | Show: 8:00 pm
$20 advanced, $25 at the door
$30 VIP advanced, $35 VIP at the door
Sunday Night Official NYBF "All Stripped Out" After Party presented by
DJs 2BTs, cocktail specials, mini-burgers and more!
11pm - 2am @ POP Burger
60 9th Avenue btw. 14/15th Streets
Headmistress Jo Boobs Weldon will be debuting a never-before-seen spectacular number Oct 1.
For details on the festival visit
For details on the classes we're providing during the festival visit

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unleashed with Garo Sparo Premieres Tonight!

AM New York's photo of me performing my Sherry Britton Tribute number at the Mother's Day Show at the Highline Ballroom.
suit by garo sparo
Above: Me in the suit Garo made for my "Show Business" number, performing in my Striptease How-to video.

In honor of the premiere of Garo's show, I'm rereleasing this interview, which was also published in Alarm Press magazine.

In a recent post, I described how many burlesque performers collaborate very closely with designers, and named corsetier Garo Sparo as one of our favorite collaborators. Happily, Garo consented to an interview and allowed me the honor of taking some photos in his studio while he fit me for the "Parade of Muses" in his Sparkle and Cinch Fashion Show coming up on February 6.

In Garo Sparo's Studio

Can you give me a little history about Garo Sparo? How did you begin designing? What do you like most about it?
I grew up around design. My grandparents were experts in bead-work and lace making. We always had sewing machines in the house while I was growing up. I began learning clothing construction from a Native American costume designer in Long Island when I was 11, which led to designing my first dress at 14. My teenage years were spent making hats that were sold in local shops and night clubs and making clothes for myself and friends. I think what I enjoy most about designing is that it allows me to make a living doing something I love, and I constantly get to work with inspiring and talented people.

In Garo Sparo's Studio
Photos on the wall in Garo's Studio.

You're in the East Village where so much of the current burlesque scene exists or originated. How is the East Village scene for you?
The East Village is an amazing place, I live and work here and I would not want to be anywhere else. I think it is the only place in Manhattan where I could really feel inspired. There is always a strong gathering of colorful and creative people here to work with.

How did you become involved with burlesque costuming?
It began with working with * BOB * in the nineties. I always loved doing costuming, especially that which is functional and involves layering and mechanics, which burlesque often does. It also made sense that I would do burlesque work because corsetry is one of my specialties.

Bambi in her shrimp costume at Exotic World, Helendale, CA.

Tell me about your relationships with two or three of your burlesque clients.
Bambi: I love working with Bambi because her costumes are always transformations of her own personality into some kind of creature; a character that represents who she is by being totally off the wall and quirky but still beautiful and elegant. Her personality is embedded in the outfit and the costume is used to portray it.
Bunny Love- The purpose of Bunny Love's costumes is, and the reason I love working with her, is that they are created to abstract her true motivation. I once heard * BOB * describer her as "a playboy bunny with rabies," which is absolutely true. We always design things that are very sweet and girly, super feminine and even prim and proper. It is always to counter the truly subversive and bizarre nature of her acts.
* BOB *: * BOB *'s personality is framed by her costumes. She is not necessarily transformed into another character, but they serve to honor and present her own beauty and character and represent her distinctive taste and aesthetic.

How involved in the process of designing the costume or act do you become?
I become very involved in the creation of the entire piece. I discuss with the performer what will happen in the act. I then break it down so that the costume completely works with the choreography, and allows everything that will take place to happen in the smoothest, most beautiful manner possible.

As a costumer and performer I often find that the costume dictates the choreography, or the other way around. Do you find yourself getting involved in the acts? Do you go to see them after you make the costumes?
I always dissect the whole act so that everything will happen in a gorgeous succession. I design the costume, but also work with the performer on the choreography so that everything works together as a whole. Usually the performers that work with me perform acts that are particularly "costume –centric," so the outfit and choreography go hand in hand. I am always busy but I do try to see my clients perform when I can.

Bunny Love

What has been your most challenging experience with creating a burlesque costume? Your most satisfying? Your favorite costume?
I think the most challenging outfit to date was probably Bunny Love's pink cake. It has to go from being a 5'8 tall cake to falling onto ground into a pile of ruffles in a matter of seconds. This was definitely quite a challenge mechanically.
It's hard for me to choose favorites but one costume that was very satisfying was Bambi's shrimp costume. It was very complete and extremely layered. It included something like over 10 elements of accessories and layers, and to top it off she had a lemon wedge that squeezed glitter juice all over her body! All the coordinating elements that created a beautiful whole made it very satisfying to design and create.
Another one of my favorites was Bambi's blacklight snail costume. I love it so much because she actually could get inside of it. It was beautiful on its own or under blacklight. It was extremely visually pleasing and also very layered and complex.

In Garo Sparo's Studio
A sketch in Garo's studio.

What's next for the fabulous Garo Sparo?
I am doing a fashion show in February 2008 that I am very excited about. I will be showcasing my recent work and many of my burlesque and drag clients will be present to show off things I have made for them. I am very happy in my career at this point and am working to keep doing what I'm doing but on a larger scale. I want to continue to do couture, and costuming for film, events, burlesque and all types of performance. I love doing all of these things and I want to keep growing and expanding.

More photos from Garo's studio
Garo's Website

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Heat Wave Burlesque!


Rock Stars of Burlesque Performing in New York City
August 27, 2011 7-10 pm
Prepare yourself for record heat when sizzling West Coat Burlesque joins forces with the hottest Burlesque performers of the East Coast for a show that can’t be missed. It’s a rare and sultry opportunity to see a spectacular cast of New York’s biggest stars with some of Los Angeles’ most celebrated talent. It’s all about the clothes—and about taking them off!
Pinup Girl Clothing, the most popular retro and alternative clothing company in the US, joins forces with Jo Boobs Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, to present an irresistible show of sexy striptease, amazing acrobatics, and fabulous fashion at the gorgeous Highline Ballroom.
“Watch ‘em dress. Watch ‘em undress. It’s a hell of a show!” says Weldon. Featuring your host from the West Coast, the inimitable Lucky Day; Miss Viva Las Vegas, La Cholita, known for her relentless shimmies and Latin fire; Laura Byrnes, famous pinup star and clothing designer; The Diamond Betties, one of the most sought-after troupes on the circuit; Jo Boobs Weldon, award-winning stripteaser and author of The Burlesque Handbook; Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey, acrobatic burlesque super heroes; Julie Atlas Muz, international art star; and Dirty Martini, worldwide headliner, voted number 1 Burlesque performer in the world. Plus, a fashion show from Pinup Girl Clothing, featuring their exclusive lines of clothing and accessories.
Sponsored by Pinup Girl Clothing, Lucky 13 Clothing, and The New York School of Burlesque.

At the Highline Ballroom
Located at 431 W 16th St
New York, NY 10011
between 9th and 10th Ave
(212) 414-5994
Email contact: Jo Weldon at
Heat Wave Burlesque website

Friday, August 5, 2011

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

[This article was originally published March 5, 2009.]

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Quickie with Gal Friday


I don't know what I would do without the aptly named Gal Friday, burlesque star, pinup model, and Miss Coney Island 2009. She's a great girl in a pinch (and to pinch). You can take her anywhere and she can handle anything. She's charming, beautiful, and hilarious. And she's a fabulous performer with some fine, fine moves. She's saved my sanity in the middle of the night many a time, and I'm extremely fortunate to have her teaching at NYSB! I wish this was a longee instead of a quickie...

Gal in the private NYSB space at the Slipper Room.

How did you learn to do burlesque?
I'm still learning to do Burlesque! That's the best part... I keep learning and evolving. I never want to grow up, I just want to keep growing up !

When did you start teaching within the burlesque community?
About 3 years ago, at NYSB.


What are some of your favorite acts to perform?
This changes frequently. But at the moment I'd say Conquistadores, a newer act. I've just revamped it a bit, it's come a long way since I debuted it months ago. I like seeing how acts mature, like having kids. But kids you stuff in a bag at the end of the night when you're done with 'em.

Did you ever expect to be teaching regularly?
I actually figured it would happen at some point, though I didn't know it would be in Burlesque! Back in ye olde University my professors were trying to nudge me in that direction. I didn't want to hear it! For me it perform perform perform. But, I now see what an honor it was that they saw that in me. Teaching is hard work. You want people to trust you and what you have to offer... and sometimes you have to set aside your own opinions/feelings & let them take what they want out of it. You also have to be willing to give up a part of yourself and what you've learned... that's scary. Knowing how to be a good, fair, yet entertaining teacher is an admirable skill.


What are some of the classes you teach?
Classic Moves, Chair, Glove/Stocking Peel. I'll step in for Peekaboo Pointe's Booty Class when she's off being famous somewhere! All are great fun! But I love any class where I throw in a small workout and make you sweat and curse my good name. You'll thank me later :)

What have been some of your favorite experiences as an instructor?
Teaching a Senator from Oklahoma to tassel twirl. She was 63 and a breast cancer survivor. She had a double mastectomy and be damned if we didn't figure out a way for her to twirl!! She wanted to learn and thrilled to find out she could. I always tell girls who bemoan about their breasts (too big, too small, etc) about Joyce. " If she can do it, you can too! Now take off your tops..."

What do you most hope people take away from your classes?
Confidence, solid practical advice, and maybe some sore muscles!

Final word of advice for aspiring performers?
Go to shows and support. You'll learn so much by watching your peers. Respect your fellow performers, a lot of them paved the way to make this a lot easier for you to do. Also, honor your art. Burlesque isn't just flitting around til your boobs are out... it's Strip Tease, it's telling a story! And whether you do classic, avant garde, etc... you want to entertain your audience. Remember, we all practice and rehearse our butts off to make it all seems so improvised and easy. We all have boobs, so the challenge is: what do I have to offer to make this entertaining for that crowd out there?

Me N My Gal
Gal n me after our mother-daughter act. It's ok to be disturbed... ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stage Kitten Guidelines

Hey folks! A lot of my students are asking about stage kitten duties. I'm creating a handout, and one of our former students will be conducting a workshop. I'd appreciate your thoughts on what I've written. Most of the shows I produce are workshop showcases, so I've gotten input from regular producers and kittens who work for them.

Ray Ray Sunshine kittening after my Godzilla act at Michelle L'Amour's Speakeasy in Chicago.


It’s crucial to understand first of all that each producer will have their own guidelines, some of which may be different than these. However, these will let you know some of the things stage kittens need to think about, with the questions they most frequently ask.

Q: What is a stage kitten?
A: A stage kitten is the person who picks up the costume pieces and props after a burlesque number. They get lots of stage time! When you're kittening, be sure to watch the performers undress to help you know what to pick up and get every piece. Remember, there are usually two gloves! If one is missing, wait until after the show to find it rather than rummaging around in the crack between the stage and the wall during the show.

Will I also have to set up the stage for the act?
It depends on the show, but it’s very common for stage kittens to also set out props such as fans, chairs, and tables with props.

What should I wear?
Ask the producer, but if they don’t specify, wear something fun and flirty and sexy. Not a party dress, but perhaps a go-go costume with fringe and some high heels. Wear makeup and hair as if you were performing. You can often be a character if you like, but be sure to check with the show producer about that. Depending on the show, you may need to be lowkey.

What else will they need?
A stage name. Do a search on this blog for stage name tips. Remember, names like Kitten, Kitty, Kat, etc., tend to be taken and it will be hard for you to get gigs if you're getting confused with someone with a similar name.

Will I get paid?
It depends on the show and on your level of experience. Some shows just don't have a budget, and you can kitten for them based on how you feel about that--it's always fun. Most of the time you will not get paid the first several times you do it. After that, you will probably get something along the lines of tips, $20-$50. It isn’t fair for people to ask you to do it for free if you’ve been doing it a lot and they are making money. If you become a very good and adept stage kitten and highly in demand, you may get more, especially if you really dress for it and use your stage time wisely. If everyone else is getting paid, you should probably get paid too. If you are selling things for the show during intermission or before or after the show, you may get a percentage of sales.

What will I get out of it?
It’s one of the best ways to find out what really goes on in a show. You’ll learn a lot about costuming as you pick up the costume pieces and about staging as you handle the props. You’ll learn backstage etiquette quickly. You’ll get to network and meet a lot of people and get to know a lot of venues. There may be other perks as well--free dinners, free shows, swag, and other treats!

Also read my interview with Fleur De Lys about her experiences as a stage kitten!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Memorabilia: Dorothy Dorne

Last winter I spent some time going through paper archives in the Burlesque Hall of Fame collection in Las Vegas, with the help of Laura Herbert and Brian Newman. I was particularly interested in the sheet music and the notations on it. I intend to share more about the sheet music project later, but I got to see something so unexpected and charming and lovely that I want to share it with you. It's a collection of scrapbooks from an early 20th-century burlesque and cabaret performer who went by various names, among them Dorothy Dorne. I spent hours going through them, taken to another world, amused and enchanted by the way her scrapbooks brought her to life, and took a few snaps. At the time I was too busy dealing with the publication of my book and lost track of all the work I had in mind for those archives, but I did take some pictures of this gorgeous find and want to give you a glimpse. Be sure to click on them to view them larger and read some of the texts.


This is part of our heritage as fans, as performers, and as women. No collection is guaranteed a museum, as we saw when Debbie Reynolds was unable to find a home for her collection of Hollywood memorabilia . But the Burlesque Hall of Fame retains its space in Vegas and this stored collection for lovers of this art form and the eras in which it flourished. I love watching the pageant and the performers over the course of the weekend, but these archives are what strikes me to the heart. I hope to see a great deal more, and hope to share more with you.

Find out more about the Burlesque Hall of Fame and its collection.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Interview: 21st Century Burlesque Founder Holli-Mae Johnson

About ten years ago I began a website called G-Strings Forever!, a tribute website to both strip joint strippers and burlesque. I was posting fuzzy digital photos of the scene I knew and setting up links and writing articles without the benefit of much site programming ability, and without blogging technology, flickr, or youtube. Inspired by the original Velvet Hammer website, I interviewed curfnt performers and burlesque legends. I wanted desperately to convey what was amazing and inspiring about these art forms and the people in them. Fortunately, as the School of Burlesque and The Burlesque Handbook have begun to keep me busier and busier, other, more able people have picked up that job, and one of the most inspiring is Holli-Mae Johnson, Editor-In-Chief of 21st Century Burlesque.

Above: Holli-Mae, The Editor-In-Chief.

How did you become interested in burlesque?
Well, I suppose it was likely that, as a performer and with the friends and interests that I had, I would come across burlesque eventually. In the nineties, when the 21st century revival was in motion, I was still quite young, and although I encountered ‘burlesques’ and satire in literature, films, plays etc., and various forms of variety and cabaret/showgirl entertainment (in fact I was often singing the 'scene-change' numbers in shows of that type when I got a bit older), my first glimpse of ‘classic’ burlesque-striptease as we know it was in some of the old movies I adored - ‘Gypsy’, 'The Night they Raided Minsky's' and 'Lady of Burlesque'. It wasn’t until the millennium, when I was about fifteen, that I saw more examples of it online and at UK events. The first live American burlesque I experienced was at Tease-O-Rama in San Francisco. I was still underage in America, so it took a little creativity to get me through the door check!
Above: Me with Holli-Mae during the most recent Tease-O-Rama.

Holli-Mae continues:
That first visit to Tease-O-Rama was an epiphany. I was like a kid in a pastie shop. An overdose of glamour, drama, spectacle, exaggeration, fantasy, hilarity, affection, and intelligent, joyous and unapologetic sensuality. And it’s still strong in my veins years later.
But why did I become so interested in it and go on to devote so much of my time to it, as opposed to something else? I guess that’s a ‘why’ question, rather than a ‘how’...

When did you begin the magazine, and what were your goals when you started? What were your resources? With whom do you work?
I founded the magazine in 2007, and launched the website later that year. ‘Flip-book’ style websites were a new option, and with some help I managed to create a page-turning flash template from scratch – so it could be as close to turning the pages of a paper publication as possible, but reach a global online readership quickly and on demand. It was novel and proved popular. Eventually the format changed to allow for a stream of coverage and articles, rather than single flip-book editions.
I remember sitting at our table at Tease-O-Rama in 2007 and thinking about the community of warm, fascinating and skilled individuals all around me. And I wanted to create something fun, informative and entertaining that showed them off, recorded their achievements, and gave people all over the world who were unable to attend these big events, or didn’t have a national ‘scene’ to get involved in, the opportunity to see and read about each other. Something that told stories, and could examine and discuss ideas, issues and approaches. It seemed such a shame to me that once a show was over, you often wouldn’t hear much more about it, or have any record of it unless photographers circulated their photos. (That was one of the most criminal things – so many stunning photographs that weren’t being appreciated by a wider audience. We have some incredible burlesque photographers!) A lot of people I spoke to, especially in the UK and Europe, were eager to learn more about the emerging ‘burlesque celebrities’, beyond their stage personas and iconic images. ‘Dita-mania’ was in full swing by then too of course.
As a non-burlesque performer and a journalist, I felt that I was in a good position to cater to this – I understood what it was to be a performer, but there was no conflict of interest and I posed no ‘threat’ to anyone by making requests and interviewing people. I had been a freelance writer and interviewer for a while at this point, and had produced some small but popular ‘zines’ that covered some of the creative communities I was involved in, or other issues I was passionate about. The burlesque community has flourished and expanded so much in the years since, but at the time I really felt that a magazine might be well received, and add to the relatively small number of established burlesque and pinup related websites available online.
Initially the magazine catered to a broader readership – burlesque, pinup and rockabilly all overlapped to an extent; although the original name, 21st Century Pinups, was supposed to refer to anyone inspirational and/or beautiful that you would pin up on your wall and admire, rather than just a cheesecake pinup girl. Gradually the content became almost solely focussed on burlesque, and the publication was re-branded as 21st Century Burlesque.
Over time, our ‘aspirational’ and celebratory approach, high-profile contributors and collective expertise established 21CB as an industry publication rather than a ‘fanzine’ – focussing on the professional, performing community, but welcoming burlesque fans and enthusiasts, and hopefully inspiring new or less experienced performers with big ambitions by showing them what the best in the business are achieving, how they conduct themselves, and what they have to say.
I had to rely initially on what knowledge I had of site building (my previous zines and websites were fairly straightforward) and basic flash and code (a job after university taught me a lot more about HTML, PHP and SQL, which has proved extremely valuable); my experience and skills as a writer and journalist up to that point, my experience and perspective as a performer, my contacts and industry friends, a fair amount of charm and persuasion... But overall, I think passion and dedication is what really makes things develop and improve. I slept, ate and drank burlesque. I quickly amassed a large collection of footage, articles, books and images. I attended shows in as many countries as I could, watching hundreds of live performances, and quickly developed a critical eye and a detailed understanding of what set the most skilled and captivating performers apart from the rest.
I have always stuck to writing about what I know best, or already have experience of. I really don't like it when ‘mainstream’ journalists decide to start a niche/industry publication (perhaps to make money, or to jump on a trend) and don’t give that industry, and the people involved, the respect they deserve; or announce themselves as an authority before they have contributed anything of value or demonstrated any real knowledge or commitment. Enthusiasm is great, but I think it’s your responsibility to make sure you really know who and what you are talking about if you are representing something through a publication. Much of this can only be achieved over time, but you can advance more quickly if you make it a compulsive obsession, approach people with humility and respect, build strong relationships, and above all - get your hands dirty. If you aren't willing to devote a serious amount of personal time, investment and genuine passion to something and be actively involved, with no expectation of reward or return, then I don't think you should be representing it.
I began as a team of one, and to an extent it remains that way – mainly because I am a ridiculous control-freak! As the site grew and the traffic exploded, I took on more administrative helpers. A long-time friend of mine, Jules, is an excellent assistant – she helps me get through all our emails, run our social network pages and profiles, and makes sure I don’t forget the important things. When we are on the move and spending time overseas, I often have my good friend Verity Vale with me in a travel buddy/wingwoman/childminder capacity (we don’t have kids – she’s minding me! I have been known to leave passports in hotel safes and wander way off schedule frequently!) I also have a great web host, who has hosted many of my sites over the years – a good web host is worth their weight in gold! And our industry contributors are AMAZING - the columns and diaries and articles are fabulous. It’s a pleasure to publish it all and it’s wonderful that so many amazing people ask to contribute.

Above: Holli-Mae with Dixie Evans.

Do you have plans for other magazines?
I would like to create a magazine or possibly a published volume about women, but with some key differences to many of the existing publications I read, and they way in which they do things. I like to tell stories – women’s stories in particular - regardless of how famous they might be, and beyond the usual ‘real life stories’ I see so frequently in women’s magazines. I do enjoy interviewing well known, successful women (whether that high profile and success is mainstream or within their own industry/niche), but even if it is someone I am in awe of or greatly admire, I try to get past that quickly and speak to them as I would anyone else. I think of them as ‘conversations’ rather than ‘interviews’. Often the motivation or ‘excuse’ for an interview is publicity, and that is understandable and often unavoidable, but as long as some of the conversation involves ‘real questions’ and natural, spontaneous responses, I feel it is worthwhile and legitimate. It’s often easy to tell when you are hearing rehearsed or PR friendly answers, and I tend to combat that by asking different, more thoughtful questions that they may not expect, or don’t get asked very often. Sometimes you have to ask some standard questions that they’ve answered a hundred times over to begin with of course – your readership may not know how they got started in their career, for example (sometimes I don’t know precisely either, so I want to ask). But I think you should ask these questions with genuine interest – I certainly know when someone is interviewing me ‘on autopilot’.
I feel so disappointed and bored by what I often refer to as a shallow, ‘What’s your favourite colour?’, interview; the journalist clearly has no great interest in the person they’re speaking to, hasn’t done much research or read previous interviews, or often just has very little imagination. And I really don’t like to hear journalists talking about an interviewee with disdain or a complete lack of respect for them as an individual, because they didn’t appreciate or cooperate with pushy or invasive questions and requests. In my view, they aren’t public property; they aren’t obliged to admit you regardless of how rude or unreasonable you are, or how little interest you have beyond boosting your media career. You often end up with a more honest and interesting interview if you don't milk them for intimate gossip or sensational headlines. If you respect their boundaries and always proceed with discretion and integrity, people will be more disposed to trust you, and feel able to talk about more personal aspects of their life without fear of exploitation. If you don’t have a genuine interest in someone, or can’t be bothered to research and put thought into what you ask, at least respect them and treat them as you would expect to be treated. This sort of recurring attitude is one of the reasons I work independently and don’t look for full time positions at mainstream publications any more.
So yes – eventually I would like to publish collections of stories in some format. I do interview interesting men too, so I’d like to publish a mixed volume that is more gender neutral and simply about people enjoying reading about other people from different walks and stages of life.

Above: Holli-Mae with Miss Indigo Blue at BHOF 2011.

What are your long-term plans for 21st Century Burlesque?
21CB is definitely evolving at the moment. I sense that, but I’m not sure at this point precisely what it will include or the ways in which it will expand. I am happy to say that we continue to grow and discover new ways to support and contribute to the industry; the brand itself is established now, and I have a number of ideas I would like to develop alongside the publication. I am still building my acts and motifs database, and we hope to provide a number of resources in the near future that are requested and/or suggested daily. We are also discussing the possibility of producing an end-of-year print edition this year. We get asked about print editions a lot, and although we don't have a large team, publisher or budget, an annual special edition is something I am very keen to pursue.
Aside from the publication itself, the individuals involved in it contribute so many things to the industry too, and it is these people (as well as the industry readership of course) who make 21CB more than just a static brand or website. My work in the industry extends beyond the publication, and there has been some discussion about making some of the support and services we provide informally, and often privately or discretely, more official and available. It’s an exciting time with so many possibilities to think about – I just wish there was enough time in the day for everything at the moment! I intend to continue the publication, and the brand, until I feel we cannot contribute anything of value or interest any more. It continues to be a 24/7 delight and privilege to do this. It’s hard work, but it rarely feels like a chore; everything and everyone around me, including the issues or attitudes I would like to see changed or removed, reminds me why I love it and why I do it. It’s finding time and room for the rest of my life and work that’s the hard part!
When I began 21CB, I didn’t know if it would still exist years later, or if the community would embrace and support it, so it's wonderful to still be going strong today. 2011 has been pretty surreal so far; it's a dream to officially work with the Burlesque Hall of Fame, it was an honour to judge at the BHoF Weekend this year, and to hear 21CB mentioned and referenced on Saturday and Sunday night was overwhelming for me. I'm trying not to use the word 'honour' too much here, but it really is an honour - I feel truly humbled and grateful for the warmth and support the magazine and I receive from the wider community, and of course the performers, pioneers, leaders and legends (past and present), producers and photographers who are so generous with their time, input and skills - many of whom I am proud to call my friends...
(, 21CB on Twitter
(!/BurlesqueOnline) and Holli-Mae on Twitter (!/HolliMaeJohnson)
Photos copyright Holli-Mae Johnson and Ed Barnas. There is strictly no usage of any of these images--you must contact 21CB for permission to use.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New York School of Burlesque on Tour!

The New York School of Burlesque Flyer

The New York School of Burlesque has presented classes around the world! We've taught tassel-twirling, seduction, and comic narrative from New York to New Zealand.

If you want us to bring our classes to your location, email us at We can bring you classes on any subject related to burlesque, including full weekend workshops on creating numbers. Ask us about our instructors, or check out this page to learn more about them. We curate carefully for the most experienced teachers--not only do we represent the most experienced performers, but also instructors with a real gift for bringing out the best in their students.

In association with Miss Indigo Blue, Reigning Queen of Burlesque, we also curate and produce classes at Burlycon and The Burlesque Hall of Fame.

NYSBback-1000x1500 flyer


The one and only New York School of Burlesque takes the showgirl on the road when Headmistress Jo "Boobs" Weldon (named Best & Hottest Teacher by the Village Voice) brings classes from the New York School of Burlesque to fabulous cities across the Midwest. Learn bump and grind from the woman who wrote the book on burlesque... literally. Copies of The Burlesque Handbook will be available for purchase, or bring your own and Jo will sign it for you! With special guest instructor Jonny Porkpie.

July 7: Kansas City, MO
The Living Room, 1818 McGee -
July 9: Minneapolis, MN
at The Playful Peacock Academy -
July 11: Madison, WI
at A Woman's Touch -
July 13 - Des Moines, IA
Des Moines Social Club, Kirkwood Theater 400 Walnut St
July 16 - Chicago, IL
at Studio L'Amour -
In conjunction with the GRAB MY JUNK summer tour. Jo appears with Grab My Junk in 07/06 KANSAS CITY, MO * 07/08 MINNEAPOLIS, MN * 07/11 MADISON, WI * 07/13 DES MOINES, IA * 07/14 MILWAUKEE, WI * 07/16 CHICAGO, IL -- more info:
CLASSES OFFERED INCLUDE(Check local listings for which are available in your town):
Bring what you've got! The point of this class is to make stripping out of anything dazzling. Bring a hoodie, sunglasses, a corset, a belt, thigh high boots, jeans, what have you, and Jo will help you find an artful way to remove it. Striptease is the msot unique element of burlesque performance, so hone your striptease till it's razor sharp! Concepts such as "Showing Them What You're Showing Them," "Eye Contact with an Audience You Can't See," "Why Lingerie is Not a Costume," and "How to Alter Street Clothing for the Stage" will be discussed. No matter what your level of performance, you'll be a better stripper after you leave this class! Please bring one to three items of clothing (accessories are fine) for this class. Do not bring costume pieces.
burlesque, ass tassels, tassel-twirling
Jo "Boobs" Weldon • Everybody twirls! For every level and every gender.
Pasties are a unique part of burlesque costuming, and tassel-twirling is a unique element of burlesque movement! The history of pasties and tassel-twirling is just the beginning of a class that will have you doing things you never thought possible! We will work to find your unique ability and get you beyond the basic bounce. Learn how to twirl in every direction and on every part of your body. We'll discuss the construction of various kinds of pasties, advantages of different adhesives and types of tassels, and how to choreograph an act that incorporates pasties as more than just a predictable ending. Basic pasties will be provided but we strongly recommend bringing your own if you have them, as many pasties work differently and we want to optimize your experience. Please note, unless you bring a garment with tassels sewn into the appropriate spots, you will have to have bare skin for the pasties to adhere properly. Even if you think tassel twirling is not your thing, you won't want to miss this opportunity to have hands-on training from a woman who has taught thousands of people all over the world to twirl.
Jo "Boobs" Weldon
Which is the realest thing--classic glamourous burlesque, or neo-burlesque with a topical twist? Jo would not be passionate about burlesque if it were only one or the other. However, this class is about finding what's rebellious and individualistic in our attraction to glamour and to the icons of mid-twentieth century burlesque striptease. Through exercises, discussion, and examinations of costume and bodily presentation, Jo will describe why she believes that objectification and display as it manifests in burlesque, circus, drag, fetish, and performance art is more than the search for another pretty face.

Jonny Porkpie • Appropriate for: All Levels You have the amazing costume—whether dazzlingly bejeweled silk corset or burlap gunny sack. You have the brilliant concept—whether neo, classic, or downright insane. You have the incredible moves—whether bump and grind, shake and shimmy, kick and stomp, or trip and fall. So how can you take your act to the next level? The answer may just be: Arc. Arc, the rising tension that builds in your number from lights up to dress down. From the moment the curtains open, you have approximately four minutes to establish, develop, and conclude a burlesque mini-drama... all while taking off your clothes. Jonny Porkpie, producer and co-creator of Pinchbottom Burlesque ("New York's masters of theater-burlesque fusion" -Burlesque Magazine) will uncover the dramatic structure of a burlesque act, from establishing your concept in the first few moments on stage, and building that concept up into a finale that will bring your audience to its feet. Whether a story-based number or a classic tease, a fall-down-laughing comedy act or a slow seduction, a character exploration, an acrobatic extravaganza, or all six at once, a good arc can be the difference between an audience liking your act... and loving it.

In 2012, The New York School of Burlesque joins forces with the School of Burlesque in Milan to bring you a series of workshops!