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

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It’s been over a week and I am still basking in the afterglow of the New York Burlesque Festival.  May I just say it was an amazing experience and I highly suggest more people check it out.  I bought the 4-day pass and also took three classes on Sunday which cost a pretty penny, but made the experience all-encompassing and completely wonderfully overwhelming.  It was great to have an entire 4 day weekend devoted to burlesque.

 

myself, Hazel Honeysuckle, Kita St. Cyr and Cheeky lane at the Thursday night Teaser Party

 

Thursday was the teaser party at Brooklyn Bowl. The night was broken into 4 acts, the first 2 hosted by the World Famous *Bob* and the remaining 2 by Albert Cadabra.  there were so many great performers that night, and every night, so I don’t have the stamina to write about all of them.  I will say I was very impressed with the ‘boylesque’  that night including Paco Fish, Go-Go Harder Faster Stronger and Brad Scolbie.  All did fantastic acts and blew me away.  The night was complete by dancing into the wee hours with Hazel Honeysuckle, Kita St. Cyr and Cheeky Lane while ?uestlove DJed.

Friday was the premiere party at the Bell House. This show had no intermissions, which I was not expecting, so the long time without sitting was a little tough in my corseted dress. It was still a great show and the host, Scott the Blue Bunny was hilarious, a great mix of sarcasm and insults that kept the audience alive for the whole show.  The act to note for the night was Little Brooklyn, who is pregnant and showing. One might think that this would deter people from performing, but Little Brooklyn, the NY legend that she is, embraced it and performed an act where she started nude and different well-known NY neo-burlesque performers came one by one and dressed her in a touching and tear producing sort of burlesque baby shower.  By the time Little Brooklyn turned around to show her stomach, I was all emotional and the music box version of  “Missing You” (the Aerosmith song) only made it that much more poignant.

 

Curtain call at the Saturday night Spectacular

 

Saturday was the Saturday Spectacular at B.B. King’s (times square). This night was hosted by Murray Hill and boasted some of the top acts in the burlesque world.  I was lucky enough to sit at a VIP table with Ruby Valentine, Pat (of Pat & Tony) and B. B. Heart (who I commiserated over the lack of vegan food options with) which made the night even more fun.  The acts were great and the fact that I got to see so many acts from around the world in one show was quite exciting and fulfilling.  The part I was really excited about was to experience Murray Hill as a host.  Mr. Showbiz himself, Murray Hill is a fantastic host, walking the line between persona and sincerity that makes you wonder where the quick wit comes from, become jealous of his charm but also want to just sit down and shoot the schtick with him.

 

Mr. Showbiz himself, Murray Hill!

 

Sunday was the Golden Pastie awards. This one was held the Highline Ballroom but since I arrived late most of the tables were already full and I had to join strangers in the VIP section. Different categories are selected each year and the voting was done online.  I was happy to see some of my burlesque acquaintices snag a golden paste and it inspired me to keep working in the burlesque world so maybe one day I’d win one.  The host on Sunday was Lady Astrid, whose overly sarcastic and unenthused German persona was great to watch laugh with as she mocked the audience and peroformers.  This night also held an amazingly poignant moment when Tigger! came on stage to talk about the recent string suicides by LGBT youth due to bullying. A candle light memorial was being held in Washington Square park, so the NYBF had a little moment of silence, which quickly turned into a raucous tribute and message to the youth that it gets better – with Lady Astrid singing “Don’t Stop Believing” as the queer burlesque performers got on stage and danced and the audience all belted out the lyrics.  It was a very burlesque way of telling gay and queer youth that there is at least one coommunity that will accept you,  and it is quite a fabulous community at that!

 

Curtain Call on Sunday night.

 

ps- Sunday morning I took 3 classes at the NY School of Burlesque. The first one, which I sadly arrived late to due to an emergency, was done by Indigo Blue, the head of the Seattle Burlesque school, about how to convey more expression while performing.  If you want to know and see more of Indigo Blue, check out the documentary A Wink and A Smile which shows her as she teaches several ladies in her 8 week burlesque class.  You can stream it instantly on Netflix if you have it.  The second class was by Dirty Martini which was about strutting and walking on stage.  You can see more of Dirty Martini in the french film Tournee which should be coming out in America soon.  The final class was the Ultimate Self  confidence class by the World Famous *Bob*. This class was an introspective look at yourself and is for performers and non-performers a like.  I’d highly suggest any of these classes to others.

 

Headed to the Sunday night after party - Hazel Honeysuckle, me, Cheeky Lane & Kita St. Cyr

 

quick belated update

August 31, 2010

Last wednesday I went to the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan to support and see my friend Cheeky Lane do her debut.  She had come over two night earlier to practice, so I knew it was a solid act, but man was it impressive.  Cheeky’s debut was part of the new York School of Burlesque’s Student Showcase, the same kind of showcase I had debuted in.  Man that feels so long ago…..

But enough about me, checkout Cheeky! Here she is in part of her outfit for her debut act. Flippin sweet, right?  Cheeky makes sets and props by day, so her artistry is pretty solid.  You can check out her blog which she recently started here or her artists blog here.

At the beginning of July my partner and I made a quick pit stop in Atlantic city on our way down to Sea Isle for vacation.  Upon checking into the Showboat Hotel and Casino I passed a large cardboard ad promoting ‘X Burlesque‘ and thought I knew how I’d be spending my night.  I excitedly showed it to my partner who shook their head and told me it wasn’t what I thought it was.  I was a bit confused, but later when I looked up more about it online, I understand what my partner was getting at.

Now, there is a lot of debate about what ‘new burlesque’ is, but I can tell you why I feel X Burlesque really is not…

  1. The names of the performers are not mentioned in any of the advertising.  As much as burlesque is supportive and performers help each other out, every burlesque performer deserves to at least have their name on the billing unless they are a troop (but even troops give the names of their performers on the website)
  2. The new burlesque is accepting of all people and all body types and will accept you for the creativity you bring to it.  This is actually one of the reasons the new burlesque is so popular amongst women, it celebrates ALL body types.  Now this, these lines from the X Burlesque site frustrate me to no end: “As with any show of this nature, it all starts with the quality of the girls. X features eight of the most beautiful and talented girls to ever share a stage. Producer Angela Stabile gives strict attention to details in the hiring of the girls for X. The look and personality of the girls is the most important element of the show. Each girl is hired for her beauty, her personality, her talent, her sensuality; and most of all, her ability to exhibit those traits to a live audience. The X Girls are as international as they are beautiful in an effort to guarantee a type, or “look” for everyone.” Wow, so the focus is not on the performers and their skill, but rather that they fit a certain ‘type’ of woman and that she be ‘beautiful.’
  3. Burlesque has a wonderful DIY feel.  Many performers make their own costumes, come up with their own ideas, and do their own choreography.  Some even do their own singing.  I’m pretty sure X Burlesque is all choreographed by an outside person, basically making the X girls dancers who dance in outfits picked out for them to music they didn’t choose.
  4. Lastly, I have a feeling that the show isn’t very female friendly.  I know a burlesque performer doesn’t get to choose her audience, but I think if you compare the fact that the New York School of Burlesque advertises for bachelorette parties, I question any show currently playing in Reno, Las Vegas and Atlantic city that is advertised as such: “This titillating production is the perfect way to spend your guys night and a great surprise for any bachelor party!”

We ended up not going to see the show for the reasons above, but if anyone has seen the show, please feel free to comment and clarify any of my arguments.

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!