dinner meet up

January 6, 2011

Tonight I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Bettina May (you can read my interview with her here) for vegan dinner and desserts! I’ve admired Bettina May for awhile and actually interviewed her before even meeting her.  Something people not realize is how small the burlesque world is in NY, so it’s not uncommon to run into the same people over and over.  Well, with my partner being out of town, and Bettina May consistently posting about how amazing the vegan baked good are at Champs, we decided it was finally time for me to try the place out.

We met up at Foodswings, a place I’ve talked about before, where I feasted on chicken parm while she got a wing with mac n’ cheese, all vegan of course.  We shared great talk on all kinds of issues which was great to speak with someone who also deals with staying vegan in a very non-vegan profession.  After finishing our dinners we walked the short walk (well, as Bettina pointed out – even short walks seem long in this chilly weather)  to Champs.

I am a huge fan of all vegan bakeries.  There is nothing I find as sad as going into a place that sells baked goods and not finding anything vegan.  vegan baking can be so simple, but I don’t have the time to do it all the time.  Going to an all vegan restaurant then becomes a dream come true.

Champ is an adorable shop located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that doesn’t give off the typical ‘vegan’ vibe. It looks neither like a hippie head shop, a punk venue or fancy modern pastry place.  Champs bills itself as a family bakery, and that is how they seem. The store is a bit retro, but not in a planned sort of way  but rather it just happens to occupy an older space with an old feel to the decor.

The staff was super polite and nice and even let Bettina May hang up posters for her upcoming pin-up classes.  And the baked goods? Delicious.  I got a pumpkin cheesecake muffin and a mixed berry scone which I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow.  Bettina May got a vanilla roll coated in chocolate and some cookies to go.

Bettina May models her chocolate dipped vanilla roll.

It is great to have a friend like Bettina here in New York who I can commiserate and dish with about vegan issues and share tips and advice on vegan costume making.  If you get a chance, see this girl and then buy her a (vegan) drink after the show. She is hard working, and isn’t even fully a green card tax b back wasn’t too long, but  carrying


omg, pinups for pitbulls!

January 3, 2011

Wow, I really slipped and missed that I was allowed to post my Pinups for Pit bulls photo shoot results. Unfortunately I didn’t make it into the calendar, but this organization is doing great things working to promote pro-pit bull awareness and their calendar is awesome to boot!  You can order the calendar here for $20 (plus shipping and handling) where the proceeds go to help the group and their work.  Also, you can now check out the photos from the shoot with Dale Rio and Wilma, a now adopted pit bull rescue that was fostered by my friends Karen and Dan!

At the NY burlesque festival where lots of great vendors.  I already talked about Drag Addict and their wonderfully luscious non-feather boas.  Today I must talk about Dollsville NYC and the wonderful experience I had with them.  Upon arriving at the Thursday night ‘Teaser Party” at Brooklyn Bowl, I was running late and just passed by the vendor stands but got to go back and check them out later.

Upon arriving at the Dollsville NYC stand they had some of their ‘Pin-Up Essentials’ flower clips, but the stand mostly consisted of their ‘Psychobilly Sweetheart Essentials’ line featuring hair ornaments like clips with Lily Munster, The Bride of Frankenstein and Pee-Wee Herman in the center.  I really dig some of their clips, but was extremely saddened to pick them up and find felt as the adherence fabric on the back.  If you remember from a previous post, I found out recently that the felt used to make hats is typically made from rabbit fur, and many felted items are made of wool, both of which are decidedly not vegan.

yay eco-fi felt!

When the woman running the stand and shop, Laura, came over to ask if I needed help I explained the my dilemma of loving some of the clips, but not being able to get them because felt is made from wool or rabbit fur.  By the look of shock on her face, I deduced she was not aware of this.  She pointed out that some of her clips had fabric backings and she could custom make them for me at no additional charge.  I picked out a skill and vinyl combo and then asked to get a skull hand painted blue to match a dress I have.

Saturday morning I sent an email to Laura as a reminder and she was prompt and kind and totally on the ball with working within my vegan limits.  That night when I met up with her at the Bell House for the NYBF Premiere Party, she had my custom pieces, but showed me the information about the felt she uses for her hair ornaments.  Ends up it is not only vegan, it’s totally eco-friendly and made from recycled bottles.  This makes me really really happy because I always felt guilty at my last job when I had to work with felt, but now I realize craft felt isn’t all made from animal products.  Hip Hip Hurray!

I quickly purchased my two custom pieces, as seen above, and even put the blue skeleton clip in that night to help hold my hat on so it didn’t blow away in the wind. I loved the idea that the skull hand was holding the hat to my hand.

If you dig any of the Dollsville NYC works, I highly suggest purchasing them. They aren’t two expensive in the world of handmade hair decorations, and the owner and maker is a super nice woman who is willing to custom make whatever ever color or design combo you are looking for.

I know I had promised this interview awhile ago, but there were some details that needed to be ironed out on my side.  This interview seems long, but Dale is such a complex person and has such a great personality, you finish wishing there was more.  Heads up, there is some cussin’ in this interview, so if you have sensitive sensibilities, you were warned!

a self portrait taken by Dale Rio as part of her "a gallon of gas and a match" series.

Vegan Berlesque: Why what first got you interested in the world of Pin-ups and pin-up photography? 

Dale Rio: i knew some pin-up models through the vintage car scene when i lived in los angeles and photographed some of them for fashion shoots or personal projects.  i didn’t know much of the history of pin-up, though, until i started doing research for the classes that i teach.  don spiro and i got asked to do a pin-up class at one of the big burlesque events a while back, so we put one together.  we taught at tease-o-rama, exotic world, and burlycon, and when i moved back to new york last year, we started teaching through the new york school of burlesque.  it’s interesting, because something as extraneous as pin-up is actually part of an interconnected web of influences that you wouldn’t necessarily relate to each other; the economy, art movements, politics, war, fashion, etc.  the way we teach pin-up puts it into a sociological perspective, so it’s not just a bunch of pretty images of pretty women.

VB: Do you have a favroite pinup model or photographer?

DR: i really like bunny yeager, because she not only was a photographer, but she started her career as a model, so she’s experienced both sides of the lens.  i feel that must give her a better understanding of what her models go through than photographers who’ve never experienced being on the receiving end of a photo shoot.  also, being a female in a male dominated industry will earn my respect every time.

VB: What first introduced you to the world of burlesque?

DR: i was actually introduced to burlesque by sideshow performers who i was photographing.  I got to know them, and when i went to see them perform, it was usually at a 10-in-1 type show that featured burlesque performers as well as the sideshow style acts.

VB: Have you performed/Do you currently perform burlesque?

DR: i have actually performed…  on a semi-regular basis when i lived in l.a. and seattle.  time and money have prevented me from making it a regular habit, but i hope to find enough of both to be able to perform more in the future.

photo of Michelle L'amour at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, copyright Dale Rio

VB: Which burlesque performers inspire you?

DR: there are so many to choose from, but having seen michelle l’amour’s caged cat act at exotic world this year, she’s moved up to the top of my list with a bullet!

VB: Can you tell us a bit about Shimmy Magazine?

DR: shimmy started when a girl i skated with in l.a. and i decided we wanted to become magazine moguls.  actually, we both loved burlesque and sideshow, so we joined forces, (she was good with computers and wanted to delve into design more, and i’m a photographer and writer), and started both shimmy and our roller derby magazine, blood & thunder.  shimmy has been through several incarnations…  it started out styled after a ’50’s men’s magazine, but that was pretty cost-ineffective.  we then did a regular magazine layout, so we could sell it on newsstands.  (blood & thunder was about to hit newsstands then.)  but then my partner’s personal life, well, sort of consumed her, so shimmy was pretty inactive for a couple years.  but you can’t keep a good idea down, and i decided to take the reins on all aspects of shimmy, (i’ve learned a bit of graphic design along the way), and will be launching it as a “burlesque annual” in 2010.  a burlesque yearbook, if you will.

VB: Now, you are also invovled (were invovled?) in the roller derby scene. Do you feel the worlds of pin-up, burlesque and roller derby are similar in any way?

DR: i played derby for about six years, until i was injured.  (i’m taking an indefinite hiatus right now.)  with derby and burlesque there’s a definite sense of empowerment.  it’s expressed in different ways, obviously, and some people don’t really recognize it in either or both, but it’s definitely all about women taking control.  contemporary derby and burlesque are largely women-run, as opposed to their various inceptions in the past, and i think that’s a very important factor in why they’re both so popular.

VB: In these three worlds, do you find vegans are more common in any of them?

DR: vegans are still the minority in the gen pop, so unless you’re in a community that’s sort of geared towards that mentality, it’s hard to find fellow vegans, period.  i wouldn’t say that we’re more common in any of the three worlds, but i’ve found my vegan cohorts in each, and we look out for each other.

portrait of Darlinda Just Darlinda from Dale Rio's "Night & Day: Burlesque in the Workplace" series

VB: What made you decide to be vegan?

DR: i’d been vegetarian for eighteen years, and about a year or so before i went vegan, i’d started minimizing my dairy and egg intake.  it wasn’t a big conscious decision, really.  just like when i stopped eating meat, it was more of a natural action.  but, like many people, i thought it would be prohibitively difficult to be vegan, so i never realistically thought about doing it.  but then i went on a photo shoot upstate and met a bunch of boys who were vegan.  they were really awesome cooks and would get together on sundays and do big, vegan mash-ups.  i thought, “wait a minute, if these DUDES can do it, then i should be able to, too!”  it just made me realize how easy it must be.  and it is.  especially nowadays.  if anyone claims to not be vegan because it’s too hard, they’re full of shit and are most likely apologists who are trying to cover up a lack of willpower or legitimate desire to be vegan.

VB: What’s your favorite thing about veganism?

DR: THE FOOD!!!  and imagining vegan hells for people.  i’m actually a pretty mellow vegan in the way that i relate with others.  i don’t try to preach or whine about having to search out food if i’m somewhere that’s not vegan-friendly.  that said, i have very strong and definite opinions.  but i realize that foisting your unsolicited opinions onto others isn’t always the best way to effect change.  and i also realize that each person does what he or she is capable of, for their own reasons.  my favorite example is one of my uncles…  he’s vain and eats mainly a vegetarian diet because it’s more healthy, and he wants to look good for as long as he can.  regardless of his reasoning, his decision furthers a cause i believe in, so kudos to him.  i know  he’ll never go vegan, but he’s doing his part in the way that he’s able. and i also respect his honesty.  i can’t stand apologists who feel the need to explain how much they want to go vegan, but can’t, because (fill in the blank).  if it’s a moral decision, then there’s simply no choice.  you just do it and never look back.  the taste of cheese or whatever isn’t enough to overlook all the wrongs in the system, if you feel they’re there.  touching on that issue, i believe that vegans generally are more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies, and the far-reaching implications of things like factory farming and whatnot.  people always get on your case about how you’re going to get all your nutrients, but if you ask a meat-eater where all their nutrients are coming from, most of them have no clue.  they think that the standard american diet is, by definition, healthy, where nothing could be further from the truth.

portrait of Bella Beretta, copyright Dale Rio

VB: Favorite vegan food/drink?

DR: good lord.  how can there be one answer?  one idiotic person once said to me, “you’re vegan?  you must hate food.”  are you fucking kidding me?  i actually love really good food.  and i love to cook, although until i recently forced myself to not be quite as much of a workaholic, i rarely found time to do so.  anything i make in good company is an automatic favorite.  i think vegans have a greater appreciation of food and get together more often than others to cook.  but, let’s see…  i do have a sweet tooth, and vegan desserts are still relatively hard to come by, so i’d say an overall favorite is vegan baked goods.  and…  red bamboo’s chicken parmigiana, dim sum at the vegetarian dim sum house in chinatown, just about anything at lula’s sweet apothecary, mighty o donuts in seattle, ronalds’ donuts in vegas, (they get bonus points for the exceptionally sweet owners and for being an oasis in vegas and because you’d never know they were vegan by looking at the joint…)…  the list could go on.

VB: Where can we see more of you?

DR: my new site is up www.dalerio.com.  i’m trying to get established in philly, so i’m hoping to open a studio there within a month or so and offer pin-up and photography classes there, in addition to shooting, of course.  i’ll be shooting at the toronto burlesque festival, vending for blood & thunder at the east coast extravaganza, and printing my ass off! Blood Thunder Magazine & Shimmy Magazine

Today I received my photo disk of Dale Rio’s photo from the shoot and wow, there are so many great ones.  I am pouring over them trying to figure out which ones to use for my business cards (maybe I’ll do a vote on this site), but here are two as sneak peeks of what is to come….

some of my props that I brought with me to the shoot

This past Saturday I woke up early (well early for a Saturday morning) and headed over towards Bushwick for a pin-up workshop with Dale Rio.  This workshop, which was set up through the New York School of Burlesque, used to be a three day class, but for this special workshop we went from 10am-6pm and went over the history of pin-ups, talked about how to do retro hair, makeup, and ended with photo shoots for each student.

The night before the class I went for a manicure and then packed my large suitcase full of props, outfits, makeup, curling irons and shoes in preparation for the class.  The suitcase ended up being pretty heavy which only made it that much worse when I got lost, several times on the way to Studio Noir where the class was being held.  Saturday was a pretty steamy day in New York City, so I was a sweaty mess by the time I showed up! The studio was a couple of floors up so I lugged my suitcase up the steps, collapsed into a chair and  prepared for an amazing day.

There were four students in the class, including myself, so we ended up getting very personalized treatment and attention.  Cheeky Lane was also in the class as well as another burlesque lady, Tess Truehart, and another girl who was just interested in pin-up and burlesque. After learning about the history of pinup (from geishas to modern day ladies like Dita Von Teese) we took a lunch break. The photographer led us to a local coffee shop where we stocked up on drinks, to stay hydrated in the heat, and a quick bite to keep up our energy till the end of the class. It was during this time that I heard Dale, the photographer, get really excited about the coffee shop selling vegan brownies.  “Are you vegan?” I excitedly asked. When she said yes, I gave a ‘team vegan’ high five and we gushed about vegan baked goods and food in the city.

A look into the studio before the shooting started.

When we got back to the studio we went over hair and makeup techniques and each of us started getting camera ready.  Once everybody got into their first outfit for shooting, we closed the studio door and turned on the professional lighting.  Holy falafel did it get hot!  Despite the fans going in the room, all of us were sweating like nobody’s business.  In between outfits, I quick ran to the bathroom which was cooler so I could mop off the sweat, touch up my makeup, switch outfits and adjust hairstyles.

During the shooting part of the class I ended up getting to do three different styles: my retro polka dot swim suit, a long black mermaid style dress and black pillbox hat, and a crazy punk/sci fi mish mash full of comics and ridiculous styling. (For the record, that long black dress was actually my senior prom dress, so it was pretty fun to put it on 8 years later and totally rock it- again)  Originally Dale said we would get them out to us in a few weeks, but a few days later she said that they were so fun and came out so well, she made them top priority and we should get them by the end of the week. Hopefully, that post will come sometime this weekend!

There is no better way to end a photo shoot than a gyro and creamsicle "milk" shake from Foodswings!

As we were packing up after the shoot, I talked about wanting to go to Foodswings while in that area of Brooklyn and Dale was totally down.  I invited everybody from the class but in the end it ended up just being Cheeky, Dale and me.  I got a gyro, Dale got mac and cheese and Cheeky got some cheese fries, and it was all glorious.  We talked about the local burlesque scene, photography, roller derby and how good the food tasted.

Before long it was time to head out and we all headed back to the subway where we later went our separate ways. Although I was saddened the day was over, I have since been an email contact with Dale, helping her find people to do shoots with in Philly (where she has moved) and have secured an interview with her that will show up tomorrow on this blog!

While researching for this blog, I copied down a bunch of info about burlesque performers and people who create vegan burlesque goods.  One of the product lines I had found was Coquette Faux Furriers, but little did I know that the creator was also a vegan burlesque star! Below is an online interview I did with the ever so wonderful and fierce Bettina May.  Make sure to check out her website, which is linked at the bottom of the interview, to see and read more about her.

VEGAN BURLESQUE (VB): How long have you been doing burlesque?
BETTINA MAY (BM): I have been performing burlesque since 2003, when I started a burlesque scene in my sleepy little town of Victoria BC, Canada with my dance partner Lulumae, calling ourselves the BettiLu Bombshells.

VB: What first got you interested in burlesque?
BM: I started off as a vintage pin-up model, doing shoots for fun with my friends, both as a model and photographer, and as a longtime collector of vintage outfits, I already had a healthy costume supply.  I started creating cruelty-free costume pieces for burlesque dancers in Vancouver, a nearby city with a burlesque scene for my company CoquetteFauxFurriers.com, and in the process became enamored with the art of burlesque.  When a local club owner in Victoria approached me about starting a local troupe, I jumped at the chance, and started choreographing an act right away!

VB: Which burlesque performers inspire you?
BM: I’m inspired by ladies who really push the boundaries of glamour, elegance and humour.  Trixie Minx from New Orleans’ Fleur de Tease is amazing, gorgeous and SO funny in her acts.  Dita Von Teese, of course, is vintage perfection and a marketing genius, which I admire.  My favourite legendary performer is Sherry Britton, so beautiful and amazing costumes.


"My all-time favourite venue to perform at is Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, NJ, and it IS vegan friendly!" - Bettina May

VB: Do you have a favorite venue you perform at? Is it vegan-friendly (food/drinks/etc)?
BM: My all-time favourite venue to perform at is Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, NJ, and it IS vegan friendly!  It’s an old 1950s bowling alley, completely restored with the original equipment,  and the centre bowling lanes have been converted into a stage, but you can still bowl on the side lanes during shows.  The concession serves the best tofu bbq sandwich, and the curly fries are to die for!

VB: Do you have a favorite routine you’ve done?
BM: Oh gosh, I love all my routines, otherwise I wouldn’t do them!  I guess the two crowd favourites are my Weekend In Canada act, which is my tribute to my homeland, an ice-skating shimmy act, and the other one is to Josephine Baker’s “Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes” and it’s more Carmen Miranda inspired, with a big faux-feather showgirl headdress and faux feather skirt.

VB: How long have you been vegan?
BM: I have been vegan for about 3 years, and was vegetarian for about 10 years before that.

VB: What made you decide to be vegan?
BM: I was introduced to the idea of veganism in high school when I started going to punk and hardcore shows, and started listening to bands that advocated a vegan and straightedge lifestyle, both for reasons of personal health and compassion for animals.  I became vegetarian when I moved out on my own, and while I always strove to be fully vegan, didn’t fully make the commitment until 2007, when I went on my first European tour – great timing, right?  I was touring with another performer who was vegan, so in solidarity I decided to only eat vegan to be fair, and after realizing I could be vegan in Paris, the land of croissants and fois gras, I had no excuse to be a lazy vegetarian in my little west coast hippie community where vegan options abound!  I’ve been vegan ever since, and appreciate the challenge of finding vegan options on the road, in unlikely places like the Deep South and Midwest.  I’ve started a blog about how I cope on tour and the excitement of finding vegan oases on the road at http://glamorousvegabond.blogspot.com/

VB: Favorite vegan drink/food?
BM: I think my favourite vegan drink is vegan Thai iced tea, so delightfully sweet and creamy, but so full of caffeine that it makes me a bit wild!  My favourite food is deep fried mushrooms, particularly this dish I get at my hometown Buddhist veg place, Lotus Pond, called Shiitake Mushroom Delight, covered in black bean sauce and so amazing!


"The only cruelty that should be onstage is the suffering I inflict on my poor feet from high heels and my back from tight-lacing my corsets!" -Bettina May

VB: How do you deal with the non-vegan aspects of burlesque (such as boas/feather fans)?
BM: It really makes me sad to see how many animals have to die for my profession, from fur stoles to feather boas to leather shoes, when it is so needless!  I enjoy the challenge of coming up with inventive ways of making glamorous costumes that are true to the style of classic vintage burlesque, but without the cruelty.  The only cruelty that should be onstage is the suffering I inflict on my poor feet from high heels and my back from tight-lacing my corsets!  I’ve made a few different fans dances using fabric fans instead of feathers, and shred satin to mimic the fluff of ostrich feathers, and of course I use a lot of faux fur in my costumes, since that is what got me started on this path in the first place.  I have even created custom pieces for Dita Von Teese, who is trying to incorporate more cruelty-free items into her collection.  Fortunately, cute pin-up shoes are easier to come by these days with the resurgence in popularity of vintage styles, so it’s fairly easy to find non-leather heels for stage.

VB: If you could change one thing about burlesque, what would it be?
BM: I would love to see more people using alternatives to animal products in their costumes!

VB: Where can we see more of you?
BM: Right now I’m on tour for 3 months with the Pretty Things Peepshow – http://prettythingsproductions.com, and you can find my full tour schedule and pin-up gallery at http://bettina.ca