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!


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