Inspiration and Execution: Tribute Numbers in Burlesque

Every year at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Striptease Reunion, several performers bring numbers constructed to tribute their favorite superstars of classic burlesque. Sometimes they are recreations, sometimes they are simply inspired by and include elements of movement, costuming, and/or lore associated with those performers. This year I'm tributing Sherry Britton, for which I have the honor of having had her guidance and suggestions before she passed away.

As the BHOF Weekend nears (or I should say, zooms in, as I'm feeling a bit behind in my preparations!), I want to make note of some of the loveliest tributes I've seen, so I've asked the performers who did them to make some comments on the experiences they had with their numbers. This is the first of two or three posts I'll make about tribute numbers.

Above: BOB and Ruby at the New York Burlesque Festival.
Photo by Kitty Kowalski.
Video of an Interview with Liz Renay

"Last year for the NYBF 2007 I decided upon the exit of one of the world's blondest and brightest stars, Liz Renay, that I would create a tribute piece to perform at the festival. Liz Renay travelled the US with her daughter, Brenda, in a mother/daughter strip act. I find this to be one of the several things that sets Liz apart from other legends. I researched their relationship and was touched by it. Brenda took her own life years ago & I approached the duet with Ruby Valentine as Brenda with great respect. A friend recorded the song they used, "Heaven Sent Me An Angel" off of Liz's ACTUAL copy of the record. After costuming , research, & choreography we performed it live. It felt like I was sending Liz & Brenda a thank you card wrapped in a pretty song and a young girl."
--World Famous *BOB*

Kitten Deville Tributing Dixie Evans
Above: Kitten Deville preparing for her Dixie Evans Tribute. Photo by me, taken backstage at the BHOF Reunion, 2006.
Video of Dixie Evans in the original number

"It was an exciting and intimidating experience performing Dixie's number with her and an audience full of my peers. It was my first time trying to do someone else's performance. Dixie had coached me on her routine and the songs that I used were hers. But she insisted that I add my own song and my style to the end of the act. And so I did. I tried to stay true to her coaching of what she had done in that number from the different times that she had performed it and then added my own twist to the ending."
--Kitten Deville

Above: Michelle L'Amour at The BHOF Striptease Reunion, 2007.
Photo by Mike Albov.
Video of Sally Rand's Fan Dance

"The tribute to Ms. Rand happened by accident. I was working with to develop these fans and had been working with them for a bit, when I got the call from Luke. He asked me to do a tribute and I immediately thought of Sally Rand, however, when I hung up, I thought, 'What the hell am I thinking? I'm actually going to try to tribute this woman, whom almost all tribute when they do a fan dance?' I knew it had to be something special and really different from what was out there already. First, I had to find the right version of Clare De Lune. I used a version with this sweeping violin that just tugged at your heart. Then, I had to work out to lift those gigantic fans. When I was practicing, my hands were blistered and cut up. When I was done with practice (and I could only muster an hour at a time), my arms, hands, forearms and back were so sore. In developing the choreography, I didn't want to mimic her moves, but her feeling behind the act. I had seen her video of this dance a couple years ago, and I just want to remember that feeling and I wanted to tribute that.
"The only thing I wanted to do in the tribute was not to cry. I would cry in rehearsal and I would cry in the car just listening to the song. I almost broke a couple times in the performance but I didn't want to ruin my make up! Afterwards, while I was taking my bow, I was holding it in, and then I went backstage and Franky met me there. He had tears in his eyes and gave me this big hug and then I let it out. The song just gets me every time and knowing that I was tributing one of the biggest influences in burlesque was overwhelming. It was one of the proudest moments in my performance life."
--Michelle L'Amour

Above: Sally Rand's fans in the Exotic World Burlesque Museum.
Photo from Erochica Bamboo.

Coming up, stories of tributing Hot Honey Harlow, Blaze Starr, and Zorita!

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for


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