Interview with Desire D'Amour, Burlesque Pioneer (Neo-Burlesque History)




There are a few people I've known in burlesque over many ups and downs, through all its changes, as we've watched changes both welcome and unwelcome in the art form we fell in love with over two decades ago. Desire D'Amour is one of them. I've been wanting to interview her for a long time, not only because she's one of the smartest, funniest, most passionate people I know, but because I often find her contribution to burlesque is under-represented. She's not one to promote herself on social media, though she can be found there; she just quietly, thoroughly, consistently, gets shit done.

I'm excited for you to get to know her better!


Jo Weldon: When and how did you get into burlesque?

Desire D'Amour: I was a club stripper for several years. I had recently quit and started working in an office job, but I missed some things about stripping – picking music, creating the right costume, interacting with the crowd and, of course, being on the stage. I was still doing fetish and pin-up modeling and acting as an “escort” for Incredibly Strange Wrestling. I ended up spending a year in the feeder circuit for professional wrestling. So I was still into alternative and adult entertainment but not doing outright stripping.
Harvest Moon and I worked at the same strip club and I knew she was doing burlesque. Another friend of mine was in a troupe called “Dane’s Dames”. At this time I moved in with a new roommate and they had a book called “This Was Burlesque”. All of these things were sort of coming together at once and creating this path to burlesque…
Then Eddie, the leader of Dane’s Dames, asked me to join the troupe. This was also the first year of Tease-o-rama and the first year a few of us went out to the ranch to see the original museum and pageant. It was like drinking from a firehose…suddenly burlesque was my life.

Where did you perform regularly, and where do you perform now?

Originally I was based in San Francisco but I also performed in Los Angeles and New York often during my early years. And of course I competed in MEW every year from 2003 through 2007. Back then troupes were loose – we would perform together whenever we could but we also took solo gigs. Sometimes we even got our troupe mates solo gigs in shows we were asked to be in. There were few places to perform in the early years so everyone took every opportunity they had.
I was very lucky that Rita d’Albert was a judge at the 2003 MEW competition. She noticed me and eventually brought me out to LA to do some of her shows in both LA and San Francisco, including Lucha Va Voom. I knew all about Velvet Hammer so working with her and some of the other VH members like Kitten DeVille and Ming Dynatease was an absolute thrill and honor.
It was Rita who suggested me to Kate Valentine, aka Miss Astrid, for the west coast VaVaVoom Room cast. I performed every weekend for almost a year in that production. We did multiple shows every weekend – sometimes it was draining but it as definitely one of my best burlesque experiences!
I went on tour with the Fluff Girls a few times. That introduced me to Tucson and when I moved here in 2005 I helped start the first troupe in Tucson. At the same time Scandalesque had recently formed in Phoenix so I have been performing pretty regularly here and in Phoenix ever since. There were a couple of years that I was performing exclusively out of town, but I’ve been back in the local scene for a while now thanks to inspiration from Don’t Blink. I still perform around the country now and then but so much has changed and it’s so competitive now, I find myself staying local more often.


Above: Desire in the desert behind Exotic World, 2004.


What are some of the most significant changes you've observed in the burlesque scene since you started?

Wow….so many. The first thing that comes to mind is the almost exclusive use of Facebook for booking and communication. When I started we were still using MySpace and Yahoo Groups!
As I mentioned above, the competition aspect is a huge change…and not one I love. When I started we were all a bunch of sort of misfit, alternative people looking to have fun, let off steam, be creative and, at least for me, form a community. Nowadays it seems like it's all about collecting titles and forming factions and even rivalries. Like I said, I stay local so I may be wrong about some of this but that is my perception from following the Facebook threads.
Definitely video and photo…it used to be impossible to get video or photos of your performance unless it was a BIG show or unless you had a friend who was willing to do it for free. Now having video of your acts is expected.
Auditioning is another strange thing to me…there are so many performers now and such a huge spread in quality, ability and style, I guess producers have to know what they are putting on the stage – obviously we do for BHoF – but I do miss the days where you didn’t really know what would happen next. There was a little bit of mystery and risk with the un-curated shows of yore….most shows are very fine-tuned and orchestrated these days. It leads to a higher level all together but it does create various barriers to entry and sometimes you end up with much of the same because of it.
There are obviously a ton more people in the scene from performers to producers.

I met you on the goat farm in Helendale CA, the original site of The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum 14(?) years ago. When did you first hear about Exotic World? What was your first experience with it like?

Yes – 14 or 15 years ago!  I can’t believe it’s been so long. I think of your Godzilla costume often! I first heard about EW in 2000. Someone knew someone who knew Kitten and she was competing or had just won…I can’t remember which. A few of us decided to go out there. We didn’t even bring dresses…we just sat in the crowd in t-shirts and shorts or something. And we didn’t really talk to anybody nor do anything interesting. But the next year I came dressed and ready to learn/network/have fun!
In 2003 I was finally ready to compete. I really think of that as my first year out there because that is when I started meeting people and talking to Legends like Dee Milo and of course Dixie. I helped clean up afterward and I met Luke and Laura….that was really the gateway to where I am now. Luke and Laura invited me to help out more and more, I even got to be one of Dixie’s flag girls…and do Dixie’s dishes! Dixie was so prideful, she hated having us clean for her, but she let us because we made it clear it was our desire and honor.
After that each year just got better and better although it remained just as hot and it seemed to get dustier if that’s possible….

You're now the CFO for The Burlesque Hall of Fame. How long has that been the case? What are your responsibilities?

Well, I didn’t start as the CFO of course….it was a long, winding road to this point. I started out most focused on the Weekender – I’ll talk about that in a minute. From my work with the Weekender I was tapped to join the Board of the museum (in 2013) and shortly thereafter started helping with finance matters for the museum. That’s a role Board members often take when you can’t afford to hire a finance person. But honestly Dustin does 90% of the day-to-day work – I just come in and tidy up. If I become independently wealthy I will relieve him of that day to day stuff but until then he and I tag-team the financials. However, the Weekender is another matter…it's like a full-time side hustle without the pay for Dustin, Joyce and I.
I started volunteering out at the ranch as I’ve already mentioned but I got more behind the scenes in 2006 and 2007, the first years in Vegas. I was an escort to both Tura Satana and Tiffany Carter – that was AWESOME in so many ways! And I started to help out with some other things but I didn’t have a specific role. In 2008 I became a more formal team member...I think my “official” title was “Fiscal Evangelist” lol! Then I moved on to Sponsorships and Vendors.
At that point there was some turnover and then issues I won’t go into here, but I didn’t plan to come back and help…then Mig and Brett Rollins reached out and asked me to join the Executive Team. That was the year we really started to find our “groove” and nail down planning.
We had always been a great group of friends who volunteered to put this on out of sheer love and passion. Only a few of us, like The Swedish Housewife, had solid production experience. But we all believed in it and worked our asses off so we put on very good Weekenders but we weren’t quite at the “next level”. In 2009 Joyce had joined the team and in 2011 Dustin became the Executive Director of the museum. In 2012 they both became more involved with top level production and by 2013 the three of us became the Executive Team that remains today.
I believe the Weekender has only gotten better every year – though we have our challenges and failures, it’s definitely a smoother ride each year!




What do you most want people to know about The Burlesque Hall of Fame?

Ugh…this is the part I don’t like. Everyone knows all the good stuff about the museum. What people don’t know and I want them to understand is the stuff that isn’t so rosy. For example, we are organized as a 501(c)(3) under the “educational” purposes rather than “charitable” purposes. This affects what type of things we can do with our money and we have to provide certain outcomes to retain our status. This is why we can’t provide retirement benefits or care for the Legends – we weren’t organized to do so. I know many people think that’s what Jennie and Dixie wanted…I believe that was part of their vision…but that’s not what was put on our application or in our original bylaws or mission statement.

I also want people to know that no matter how much anyone wants to believe it we aren’t vindictive, power-abusing, nepotists that use our roles to further ourselves in the community. None of us is getting rich – only Dustin is paid and you can see his salary on our very public Form 990….it not nearly enough for what he does. None of us receives memorabilia or special treatment by the community – I apply and get rejected for festivals just like anyone else. Joyce and her husband built a sustainable, nationally known show together but that started long before she became our producer.
And the Board is made up of people both in and out of the community. When I joined I only knew 3 of the other 6 people. No there are 8 of us and I still only knew 3 of them before they joined. I actually had to introduce myself to Bunny Bee so I could vet her – we had never spoken before…Dustin heard about her, her muggle professional life her troupe and the production she is involved with and thought she’d be a good fit. Rob, our fundraising professional, was introduced to us because he knew fund-raising – he had never been involved in burlesque before joining. I can give a ton of examples that would debunk the myth that only a close-knit group of friends who are in the innermost circle of burlesque are part of the leadership of BHoF….but I won’t because I shouldn’t have to and anyone who does a little research should through their own discernment, realize those are just assumptions and rumors.
 And please, if you only take away one thing from this entire interview it would be “Just ask me.”  Ask anyone who has ever asked me a question – I will give you an honest, forthright answer or I will research it and get back to you.  I am approachable and willing to listen, learn and educate. I love this community and I harbor no ill will other than against those who ignorantly make statements as if they were fact. And even in those cases I will talk with people and try to reach an understanding.

So please, if there is something you want to know about BHoF, the museum, the Weekender or anything, just ask.





What advice would you give to people starting out in burlesque?

Don’t get too far into the hype. It’s just burlesque - it can’t kill you and it probably won’t make you rich. Don’t let rejection keep you down, don’t let divas put you down and don’t forget to hold others up.

Competing should be fun and satisfying but not catty and depressing – if it starts to feel that way, stop doing it. There are plenty of non-competitive opportunities.
Perform for the audience just as much as yourself….I see some of the younger performers forgetting that this is well, performance! We sell tickets to people who ultimately decide if we have a stage or not. Engage the crowd when you are on stage. Try to spend a few minutes offstage mingling with them, assuming you are socially comfortable. Many audience members love to meet the performers and it really makes their experience 10 times better…and they love selfies with the cast!  
Don’t think it’s your song, gimmick, color, hairstyle, title, move or stage.
If you don’t want to burn out you have got to pick your battles. The minute you think you own it, someone is coming for you. If you do it and do it good, it will be yours…but it can also be someone else’s and not ruin your career so get used to sharing….you might even appreciate their take on whatever it is.
Of course, if someone completely takes your shtick – try talking to them first and if that doesn’t work make sure your trusted peeps know the story so they can champion you as the original. But also be open to the possibility you will find out they were doing it before you – what a shock! So be careful before you throw around statements like “That’s my move” or “That’s my song”. 
And even if they did use something you had first, start with the benefit of the doubt…it’s hard to know what everybody else is doing. I see acts from around the globe and there are always a handful of similar acts…I am positive that in most cases it’s just coincidence and global trends coming to life on stage. Imagine if all those people were attacking each other just because they have the same taste and thought patterns? I look at it like if your acts and ideas are similar to mine, maybe you should be my act reviewer not my enemy lol!
Most importantly….don’t burn too many bridges, it’s a very, very small community. Do stand up for yourself and what you think is right – others WILL know and respect that – but be nice about it. Help others even if you are envious of them. Go to other shows and cheer for the performers. Be part of the community, not just a performer.

Good karma works everywhere, even in burlesque, I promise!!!


Above: Desire performing at BHoF, 2006. Photo by Mike Albov.


Anything else you want readers to know?
I want people to know that I am Black, Hispanic and White. If I am not enough POC for you to recognize me, that’s fine - I don’t want your recognition. But for those who do see me I want them to know I was one the first POC neo-performers and MEW competitors, and for a while the only Black soloist…and that all happened in the early 2000s. I have been a major supporter, participant and all-around champion of the entire burlesque community for almost 20 years.
I am not shy but I do try to be humble - my mom raised me that way - so I have never gone around demanding to be noticed, named or heralded. I need to share that it hurt pretty badly when I sat in on a history of Black performers in a burlesque seminar a few years back and didn’t hear my name, or the names of Simone de la Getto, Harlem Shake, etc. I realized we had been either forgotten or erased by our own community, by those who should want to champion us. That made me decide to get off my ass and try to be vocal without being entitled. I appreciate an interview like this one as an opportunity to be heard and seen.

See and hear more of Desire D'Amour at
https://www.facebook.com/desire.damour.9











Comments

Brandy Wilde said…
Thank you for sharing this interview. I found it very interesting. I started dancing in 1961 and have seen lots of changes too.