Interview: Kalani Kokonuts

There are some people outside of New York that I've met as a result of being involved with Tease-O-Rama and Exotic World that make me particularly grateful for the community of burlesque, and Kalani Kokonuts of Las Vegas is one of them. She is one of the most charming, warm, and gracious people you could ever wish to meet, as well as a spectacular performer and a rather astonishing beauty. When I began this blog she was one of the first people I interviewed, but due to a few unfinished details my post got put off till now.

Kalani Takes the Stage at MEW 2006. Photo by Jo Weldon.

How did you get interested in burlesque?
I was stripping underage in a topless biker bar in Alaska, when I first saw a ''feature entertainer.'' Features are week long acts that are booked to perform about 3-4 shows a night. They usually have centerfold credits or they can be porn actresses. Week after week the club would book different acts. Some were good, some were not so good. It seemed very glamorous to me. So I watched the features every night and learned. When I turned 21 I decide that if I wanted to perform and improve I would have to move where I thought the best performers were. I packed all my costumes into the back of my truck, I had six trunks and that was all that would fit. So I left everything else. Then I drove from Alaska to Las Vegas. Where I learned to perform real burlesque at the'' World Famous Palomino Club''. By then burlesque was on it's last leg and a year later the owner died, so I went on the road as a ''feature entertainer''. I never really cared for feature entertaining, some of the venues were sketchy and mob owned.

Where did your stage name come from?
My stage name Kalani Kokonuts was a nickname my sister gave me. She also calls me K-nuts or Special K. I don't particularly care for it, but I never thought of anything better.

Kalani in the dressing room at Tease-O-Rama. Photo by Amanda Brooks.

What does burlesque mean to you?
Burlesque is the way I express my art. I am very shy by nature, so I have I this conflict between the desire to reach an audience and the desire to be secretive and esoteric.

Do you travel to perform?
Yes, I do often travel for shows, I rarely update the schedule on my site though...I'm lazy.

Who inspires you most, and why?
I am not so inspired by performers as much as I am inspired by music. When I hear music I see images of how I could create an act. Music moves me, frees my mind and distracts my conscious thoughts so I can create from a higher place.

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
I love the variety in burlesque. Please give me more variety!

What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
Honestly, I would like to see more commitment, and more production quality. Great acts need great costumes. I know that costumes are expensive. For that reason I only create one show a year. It is better to have 3-5 amazing costumes than 20 mediocre ones.

How do you go about creating a show?
Okay, this is my method for creating shows. I set the intention that I would like to create a new act. Then I send that intention out into the universe. I ask creator or God for an idea that is spiritual beautiful and powerful. All I do now is wait. It usually takes about a week or less for something to hit me suddenly. I load up my Ipod with potential music and then I space out at the gym or get stoned. If my mind is empty and my body is engaged I get more ideas than I could possibly ever create. After I flesh out the idea in my head, and make sure that the idea is possible, I start to draw out what the costume might look like. I research resources online, then I start. It is important to stay focused and on task, or you never finish the act. In my opinion it's all about the music or song that you choose. Everything else is secondary. You must get the audience's attention in less than five seconds. If I haven't given you goose bumps or had your complete undivided attention, I have failed. Myself and the audience.

Kalani onstage in Las Vegas, 2007. Photo by Mike Albov.

You did one of the most spectacular productions I've ever seen in or out of burlesque at MEW 2007. How much of that is your property is yours? How do you transport it? Who made the costume and props, and where did you learn to twirl fans like that? Can you tell I'm amazed?
Thank you so much! I started to put that show together right after MEW '06. The Japanese Taiko drummers are a local drumming troupe which I had booked seven months in advance. They needed the time to learn the song and choreography. Everything else is mine including the snowmaker. If I am booked to perform the full show, first I have to book my drummers. Then the very large Odaiko drum must be transported by a moving truck earlier on the day of the show. The Odaiko drum is extremely expensive and weighs one ton, so it must be moved by seven or eight people. Of course the drums belong to the drummers. As far as the costume is concerned, it was made by Imagination Costume in Las Vegas. It took them nine months to complete. I drew out exactly what I wanted and how it would be removed. I also perform that same show to different music where I do Mulan or Kung Fu fighting fans. It is very fast and dynamic. I trained with a Kung Fu master from Hawaii for almost a year to perform the fighting fans. Though I prefer the softer version I did at MEW '07. Twirling fans is easy, stick your finger in the slat, and twirl; I swear that's it. You just have to use a professional fan.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Someone once told me that an ounce of presence is worth a pound of performance. With presence in place, everything else can be learned.

A brief clip of Kalani onstage at MEW 2007.
Kalani's Website
Kalani on MySpace


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