a magical night

April 14, 2011

photo by Norman Blake. Jo Weldon interviews Bambi Jones, April 14th, 2011

Last night I attended Bambi and Bambi: Classic Burley-q meets the New Burlesque at Coney Island USA, the museum and theater that houses Burlesque at the Beach and Sideshows by the Seashore. It was truly an amazing evening that included talks about burlesque at Coney Island, in interview by Jo Weldon with Bambi Jones, a burlesque performer who started performing in 1949 and worked with many famous performers and hob knobbed with Errol Flynn (who said said was a “nasty man”).

The show also included 2 other Bambi’s: Bambi Galore a wonderful neo burlesque performer  who plays a lot with gender and queer culture and Bambi the Mermaid who is one of the main neo burlesque performers who is responsible for the NY scene.  This plus Little Brooklyn (a NY burlesque staple) doing her first performance since the birth of her son, Bunny Love (another NY Burlesque staple), current Miss Coney Island Lefty Lucy and the cutie with the bootyKita St. Cyr made for a magical night.

It was an evening of fabulous performances, great lectures, and I’ll tell you, when Bambi Jones performered, I cried.  The woman is 80 years old, and she was up there, shaking it and the crowd loved her back. Check out the video below to see the powerhouse that she is and check out her book My Journey Burlesque: The Way it Was for more amazing stories about her life

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/9325669″>Bambi Jones Burlesque Hall of Fame</a>

Also, the next two weekends I will be back in Pennsylvania, which means I get to indulge in

shoo fly pie, A-Treat Soda and vegan Girl scout cookies! I love PA!

some of my favorite PA goodies! Note: In the photo you seem me with Girl Scout cookies.  Vegans – take note, there are two companies that make GS cookies.  If you live in an area that has caramel DeLites (and not Samoas) your company is ABC (not to be confused with the vegan Alternative Baking Company) and there are currently 4 vegan friendly cookies: Thanks a lot, the new cinnamon ones, the Lemonades and Peanut Butter Patties.

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I was lucky enough to meet Miss Ivy League backstage at a New York School of Burlesque Student Showcase. I was instantly enamored by her fans and asked if I could get her to talk about them on my blog.  She was a sweetie, and after my initial forgetfulness, sent over this great  write up.  Who needs feathers when you have this level of creativity?!

Whenever I go see burlesque, I leave with a million ideas for my own acts. Not re-workings of performers acts, but maybe they’ll do a little move, and in my head it will spin off into it’s own direction. I think I probably came up with the idea after watching a beautiful fan dance at the Slipper Room in 2008 or 2009. As in, “It sure would be neat to see or do this idea!”
I’m trained as a sculptor and as a landscape architect, and in a lot of my artwork and models I’ve used fake plants in non-traditional ways. In some ways, leaf-fans were the most obvious expression of that. In February of 2010 I took the Essential Burlesque series at the New York School of Burlesque and I already had the idea for the fans
then. I was excited to learn fan dancing there so that I could apply it to the as-yet-nonexistent leaf fans –but I didn’t know to what music, or when, or if I’d even like fan dancing at all!

So, that 3 hour class with Jo Weldon was my first time fan dancing and I loved it even though I was sort of appalled by the cost of feather fans. And the thought they’d have to match a number of costumes! How could I afford them anyway? Good thing I wanted to make leaf ones!

Photo by The House of Indulgence

Photo by House of Indulgence

Around that time, Michael’s Craft store opened in my neighborhood and I leapt for joy – they always have a great selection of fake plants, and decent sales. I waited and got four “boughs” of Ficus. Still didn’t have music, still didn’t know if I was actually brave enough to get on stage. But I had the boughs.

In May of 2010, Lena Horne passed away.  My father had been a big fan of hers, and when I was little (like 2 years old) I met her and apparently she picked me up and called me charming and such. She was always so elegant, and lovely. I was watching videos of her on youtube, when I found her singing with Kermit the Frog a duet of “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and I knew I had found my music and my act. It spoke to everything: my own childhood watching Kermit & Lena, it talked about being different – and when Lena sings it she is talking about being a person of color not just a frog, it talks about pride in being who you are. Best of all, it’s just a little funny too. Jim Henson (another hero of mine) has such a unique and funny voice. And everybody loves Kermit!

CONSTRUCTION OF THE FANS
I still had not made the fans though! Then Jo Weldon sent out a request for performers for the January 2011 new student showcase, and I said I’d do it…. And crap! I NEEDED THE FANS! It was a good thing I’d bought the boughs as Michael’s was out when I went to buy dowels and spray paint.

Photo by House of Indulgence

The fans are not constructed like traditional fans. Basically, I justtook a ½” dowel, cut it down to two 6″ long pieces, and drilled four holes into each piece for the bough stems. I cut down the stems with a good wirecutter, and glued them in with Gorilla Glue, which is super strong. When I hold them, I either hold the dowel against my four fingers and pressing down with my thumb, or I actually will loop my fingers over the dowel. Before going on stage I usually “fan out” the boughs a touch more and arrange the leaves.

To make the leaves pop on stage, they are lightly sprayed with metallic green spray paint in a blotchy layer, and on top of that a layer of gold glitter spray. They probably cost me a total of $50-$60 to make. The boughs were the most expensive part at $8 a pop or so if I remember correctly, and I used two cans of glitter paint, but only one can of the green metallic.

They work pretty much like “real” fans but they don’t collapse. Occasionally the leaves bind up together and you have to give a bit of a tug to separate them.
I adore them.

Photo by Anna Fischer

Photo by Anna Fischer

FUTURE ACTS?
I have lots of other non-traditional fan dance acts I’d like to do! I have at least 2 I think are pretty feasible, and another 2 that will take a lot of technical engineering. …
I tend to collect the bits I need as I go along rather than trying to do it all at once, right before a show.  The leaf fans in that way took a year to make – but really it was only a day of construction. Not even a day. A few hours, maybe 4 but they were spread out over a couple of days! So, these other fans may take a while. Right now maybe I’m missing the music or it’s not the right time for the event – I’d love to do a Christmas fan dance, an Easter fandance, a Channaukah fan dance! The possibilities are endless.

OK, I guess that’s more than four – off the top of my head I have 7 alternative fan-dances I’d like to do! Making stuff is a big part of why I do burlesque. I think it’s half the fun! The rest of the fun is split up between making people smile, and the liberty and freedom and confidence that comes from not being afraid to get naked on stage!”

To find out more about Miss Ivy League, friend her on facebook

Quick addition to yesterdays post.  This is a blog about being vegan in the burlesque world so I feel it is only fair to give a quick critique of the burlesque handbook. Now, Jo is not vegan.  She never says she is and even run a burlesque show that is a tribute to cheese.  I won’t therefore pass judgement on her non-vegan behaviors, but will just discuss parts of her book that vegan readers might want to know about.

There are three sections of the book that deal with pretty un-vegan topics: Chapter 4 – Fans: Your Fine Feathered Friends (pages 87-112), a section on choreography with feather boas on pages 40-42  and then the section on feathers as part of costumes (pages 136 and 137) in Chapter 6 – Costumes – Constructing Outfits for Deconstruction.

Now, I should point out that the chapter on fans does mention to variety of different kinds of fans one can use and even create, something I have mentioned on this blog before (for example Lefty Lucy’s flannel fans), so there is ways for vegans to find the chapter applicable.  The chapter does mainly focus on feather fans though, how they move, how to take care of them and how to create your own feather fan.

The boa choreography could easily be done with boas that are not fathers or made of fake fur, so this part isn’t really anything to be concerned about.

As for the information on feathers as part of a burlesque costume, the chapter does say that they aren’t necessary and are just aids to a costume that exaggerate movement, much like fringe would.  Jo goes into how best to adhere and sew feathers onto outfits or headdresses, which does make me sad because although I will not wear them, I must confess adding a feather to a hair ornament  can give authenticity to vintage look or make an outfit suddenly more glam and showgirl.

I often feel sad about how it seems some burlesque performers will just through a feather on an outfit for no other reason that the idea “feathers=showgirl=burlesque.”  This is why there is one section of the book I want to talk about which falls in Chapter 1: Inspiration: Your Internal Theater (one of my favorite chapters in the book). I give you now Jo’s take on why she uses feathers:

“Although I don’t identify myself as living as a Native American, still more bits of information I got from my family inform me of some of my identity and affect some of my passion for burlesque.  I was always inspired by the idea that each feather in a chief’s bonnet represented an act of courage, and I wanted one of those long ceremonial headdresses. When I was told these were reserved for male figures of authority, I wanted one even more! Without yet fully understanding all the meanings of those ceremonial bonnets, I decided I decided I wanted a feather for every time I walked down the street in a tank top, trying only to beat the heat but knowing I would get unwanted attention and catcalls as well.  Part of my interest in cross-dressing came from the idea that I would earn one of those headdresses whether I was a man or not…I sometimes think about this when I am handling my boas.  Feathers represent bravery, power, and charisma to me, and I love wearing them.”

Although I will not wear feathers, I grew to have a deeper respect for Jo when she wrote about what feathers meant to her, that there is a reason and purpose behind her use.  There are many argument against it, but it does give me some good feelings to know that they a reflection of her heritage and upbringing rather than just an add-on to an outfit.

 

The Burlesque Handbook by Jo "Boobs" Weldon

 

I will admit, I finished this book awhile ago, but with all the excitement of the NYBF and then 2 gigs and a photoshoot it took me a little while to get around to writing this review.  If you remember, I did a book review before for The Happy Stripper which I had mixed feelings about.

I’ve mentioned  Jo “Boobs” Weldon, the Headmistress of the School of Burlesque, on this blog before.  In fact, her clicky link thing on the bottom has quite a few entries already. Well, this is her book.  One part memoir, another part history lessons and a whole lot of how-to, this book is quite applicable to whatever one might be looking for in a burlesque book.  It works for the curious, the newbies and those already performing.  I wish I would have had this book when I first started getting into the world of Burlesque for I learned and read a lot about backstage etiquette and creating routines that I had to learn the hard way or have been struggling with.

Another great thing about the book is the way Jo makes you feel like you know all these performers as well.  She frequently discusses their acts, their advice and uses her own personal pictures, making it seem like you are looking through someone’s (fun and scandalous) scrap-book.

 

Photo by Murray Hill of Jo at her book release party (From Jo's facebook)

 

The only parts of the book that weren’t enthralling for me were her step by step instructions on the NYSoB routine and fan dance techniques, but that is only because I took the 4-week essentials burlesque class where I was taught these techniques and moves in person, so reading them, although a good reminder, just couldn’t live up to the real experience.  Really though, I think that says something about the Burlesque Handbook, the only negative was that I was given some of the information from the author herself!

If you want to see more about the book you can check out the table of contents and some excerpts from it on the School of Burlesque website.  The book is available for purchase on most online book vendors or, if you will be at a class or show where Jo might be, try shooting her an email (contact@schoolofburlesque.com) and see if she’ll be selling them at the event, this way you can also score an autograph too!

night out on the town

September 18, 2010

photo by David Monroe

Last Friday I had a whole weekend of not performing, so I took it as a chance to pull out an old prom dress that I probably won’t be able to use for an act (too tight to get off in a graceful manner) and really doll myself up for a night.  I wore this schnazzy little number out to see the Rhinestone Follies at R Bar, an interesting modern bar and I guess night club (I’m not too much of a social butterfly, so I don’t know what differentiates a bar from a night club) that is the main house of operations for this troupe.

photo by David Monroe

The Rhinestone Follies are a classic burlesque trio that consists of Kita St. Cyr, Hazel Honeysuckle and Beelzebabe Agogo.  Their acts are fun and playful, but make me really desperate to find some kind of feather substitute so that I can make the elaborate showgirl costumes that Kita designs.

Another exciting part of the night was getting to see Jo “Boobs” Weldon, the Headmistress of the School of Burlesque, perform and chit chat with her before her act.  That lady has gusto and creativity that impresses me the more I interact with her!

I will be heading back to future Rhinestone Follies shows and hope to one day perform a classic burlesque number as part of their show.  I have been feverishly gluing rhinestones onto a corset (plastic boning) to get the costume part together for now.  I think I want to try my hand at making a feather free headdress.  If I succeed, I’ll make sure to post the pictures here!

group shot at our last class

Today was my last class in the 4 week Classic Moves/Essentials of Burlesque class through the New York School of Burlesque. This final class focused on chair dancing, stocking removal and glove removal.  I don’t know if it was the class topics, my own skills becoming polished or the fact that I had debuted just this past Friday and felt more confident, but the class seemed extra fun this week and I felt like I was on fire!

We learned an easy to follow chair dance routine which made me realize how simple it would be to do a whole chair dance for a song.  Man, I tell you with all the booty shaking, squats, kicks, leg lifts and slow dance moves, my thighs have never been more sore in my life!  The part on gloves and stockings seemed to whiz right by and before I knew it, the class had come to an end.  Jo was so nice and sweet saying she was sad to see the class go.  I asked to take a class picture and then everybody started to leave. Although I doubt I will see some of those ladies again, it was a great experience and I learned some great basic moves and what I feel I excel at or may not want to include as part of my burlesque repertoire.

After the Essentials class was Jezebel’s choreography class which I am such a big fan of.  This week we did a lot of fun activities which were to give us insight into our natural burlesque inclinations when it comes to our own moves.  The different activities included strutting to a variety of music styles, a posing game, and learning simple grinds to get us from pose to pose.  During the posing game, Jezebel watched us and then told us any overall moves/poses we gravitate towards. Ends up I really like to move and pop out my booty.  Very appropriate for Anja Keister, don’t ya think?

Sadly I will be in Pennsylvania the next two weekends, so I won’t have any burlesque classes to attend.  I’ll actually only be missing only one class though. The weekend of June 4-6th is the Miss Exotic World weekend in Las Vegas, and since most of the NY school of Burlesque teachers are there and participating, the school is pretty much shut down for the weekend.  I think I’ll use these weekends to relax and focus on coming up and solidifying new routine ideas (although while I am in Philly for the one weekend, I might try to go catch the Peek-A-Boo Revue or some other philly burlesque).

I know I have been slacking blog wise, but I swear I have been busy!  This past week centered around getting my act together and really nothing else.  I was sewing fringe and sequins for most of the week, listening to the song on repeat, and dancing (or dancing in my mind) at work, at home and on the train.  Since I had finished almost all of the costume early on thursday, I even went down to practice with my friend and fellow NY school of burlesque student, Cheeky Lane.

Friday I left work early, but that still only gave me 45 minutes to try and get my hair and makeup done.  My partner and I then ran to the subway  and also had to take a cab so I could get there on time.  A bit winded and nervous I put on my fake eye lashes, finished my hair, and got dressed. The dressing room at the Slipper Room is very small (well for now, who knows what it will be like after the renovations) and Jo Boobs (Weldon), Gal Friday, Fem Appeal, Veronica Varlow, Lefty Lucy, Calamity Chang and Gemini Rising, plus myself, all had to try and use it.  Gemini was the other “debuting student” that night, though she had already performed once before, so I was technically the only virgin performer there.  We chit chatted and wished each other luck on our very special last student showcase before the Slipper Room closed for renovations.

backstage at the Slipper Room (from left to right: Gal Friday, Fem Appeal, Veronica Varlow, Gemini Rising and Calamity Chang)

I did a few mimed run throughs with the curtain closed but soon it was time to start.  Jo had me go first, which was nice because I could then get it out of the way and spend the rest of the evening getting to watch the others.

The performance went well, I think.  While I was performing I was so focused on making sure I got all the clothes off at the right points and trying to make sure my face wasn’t blank from focusing too much.  I had one clothing issue when my sequin belt didn’t come untied.  So what did I do?  I seductively slid it off, then kicked it up in the air, caught it, twirled it, and threw it to the side.  Supposedly, this move was very impressive and got me lots of applause from the other performers backstage.  I would tell you more about my performance, but I really can’t remember, it just went by so fast!

Once the curtain closed I frantically ran around and gathered all my clothes, except for the one glove I accidentally threw off stage, stuffed them in my bag, got changed into my little cherry dress, and watched the rest of the first act from backstage.  The other ladies did great sets, all with a great comedic edge, that had us cheering and laughing backstage. For the second act, I sat out in the audience with my partner and watched.  Fem Appeal had Gemini and I come on stage and dance for part of her  Isaac Hayes act, and soon after, the show was over.  Jo had us all onstage for a curtain call and then it was time to clean up all my supplies from backstage and take a seat for the second show of the night full of all new performers.

Whew, it was a great experience and I am excited for my next chance to perform.  I came home that night already planning out new acts and routines for the future!

After the exciting night of kittening I had two more days of burlesque fun filled activities to go – Saturday choreography class and Sunday Classic Burlesque movement class.

Saturday’s choreography class ended up being only Jezebel, Cheeky Lane and myself, so we took the time to work out choreography issues Cheeky and I were having with our routines.  To sound like a broken record, this class has been super helpful and Jezebel is a great teacher! I always leave that class with a bunch of helpful notes and a renewed confidence in my abilities.

Sunday’s class was a different kind of set up but still helpful.  This class is a 4 week intensive on the essentials of burlesque and is taught by the school headmistress herself, Jo Boobs.  Only 10 students could register for the class and I was the last one to get in.  The class is two hours long each sunday and covers two different skills in the burlesque world. 

Weekend #1 was classic burlesque movement and tassel twirling.  The movement part was very similar to other classes I took at the Jim Thorpe Burlesque festival and the one Flirting with Burlesque class.  Jo taught us all a routine which she has taught over the years and incorporates classic moves she learned from some of the original 1930’s burlesque performers.   

For this part of class we did do boa work, so I brought in my own vegan ‘boa’ which was actually a tube scarf I had knitted with fun fur yarn.  Although it definitely looked different from the feather boas, I had no problem working it like the other girls in the class while not having to compromise my beliefs.  Eventually we will do fan dancing, so I will have to start work on creating a fabric fan like I talked about in a previous post.

The second hour of group was about tassel twirling.  Now, for those of you new to the world of burlesque, a typical performance will end with the performer close to nude, but typically they will be covered by small decorated pasties.  Some of them are plain, some super decorated, some are comedic and some are tasselled like the ones on the right created (and for sale) by the Cheesecake Burlesque Review etsy shop.  Pasties prevent the performer from being nude, which means they can perform in bars and clubs without any laws being broken.  At some point in the world of burlesque, tassels became a part of pasties which resulted in the stage burlesque act of tassel twirling.

In the class each student got a pair of practice tasselled pasties which we put on and practiced several different ways of twirling them.  As Jo instructed, she pointed out that different techniques work better, or are easier, for different people and we should practice at home to be able to do them all.  I think people would be surprised at how natural some of the moves are and how fun it can be.  If you ever wanted to try you can always buy premade pasties or make them yourself following directions that can be found online.

fans

April 30, 2010

For a week I had struggled with whether or not to sign up for a 4 week Essential Burlesque Movement class through the New York  School of Burlesque.  I waited to try and get in (there were only 10 spots available) as a way of procrastinating so when I eventually did sign up, it was full.  I emailed Jo Boobs about letting me know if a spot cleared up.  I almost instantly got a reply that there was one spot left and I could paypal her the money.  Taking this as a sign, I signed up and read mroe about the class.

There are two parts that had me a bit concerned – boa work and fan dance.  Both of these rely heavily on feathers, which as a vegan, I can’t get behind.  I emailed Jo back and asked if it would be okay for me to bring vegan substitutes and she said that it would be fine.

Awesome! I have a scarf I knitted with fun fur I could use no problem, but what about feather fans? In case you don’t know what I mean, imagine Las Vegas showgirls with those really fluffy looking head dresses.  Well, it’s that but the plumes are stuck on a fan.  Fan dances are beautiful to watch, but I can’t help but feel saddened by it in the end.

So, what to do in exchange for feather fans?  I have been struggling enough with finding fake feathers for head decorations, I don’t think I’d be able to find large fake plumes on top of that.  I also don’t think fake fur would do the trick like it did for the boa.

As I sat and pondered this, I remembered an act I saw at the Jim Thorpe Burlesque festival where a woman had fabric fans that looked like fire when she moved them.  I contacted her and she sent me a link to them. Ugh, silk.  ALSO NOT VEGAN!  But this got me thinking about the fans and their construction.  The fan is merely a piece of silk attached to a fan frame. No reason I couldn’t use satin or another kind of fabric.  This will become a new project, but in the meantime if anyone comes across a vegan one, please let me know.

sewing stars on a bra

April 22, 2010

Today I took off from work so I could table for Farm Sanctuary at an Earth Day event. In addition to the tabling for Earth Day, I participated in Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale.  Oh yeah, and I sewed some stars on a bra.

So let me explain that last one some more.

Now that I realize I am making some good progress towards becoming an actual performer, I realized it might be time to start working on costumes.  Since I don’t have a complete act planned, or my sewing machine set up, I thought this might be a good time to take the basics I have and start to jazz them up.  Taking some quilting string and needles I had, along with some star sequins, I began the wonderfully tedious task of sewing these shiny stars onto a plain black bra I had.  I only got on eight (four per side) before it was time for class, but it is already starting to look sharp.  I’ll take some pictures when there is a bit more done, hopefully by this weekend.

Did you catch that part where I said “before it was time for class?”  That’s right, with my day off, I had the time to stop in at the New York School of Burlesque for another class.  This one was titled “Flirting With Burlesque” and covered simple burlesque dance moves.  The class was taught by Jo Weldon (stage name Jo Boobs), who is actually the founder and headmistress of the school and pictured in the photo below.

Jo is a wonderful lady who has helped train so many people so I was glad to finally get to meet her and have a class with her.  If you would like to learn more about her, she runs a blog called Daily Burlesque where she answers all kinds of questions about burlesque, the scene, and herself.

It was pretty busy day in all, and since tomorrow will be a big day chock full of burlesque I should start getting ready for  bed and lay out my dress, heels, and flower clip for tomorrow night!