With faith and belief – and a bit of help from my friends

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother – Kahlil Gibran

Last week was such an amazing week with the final week of a my six week dance class block.  The last class tends to challenge my students a little bit with a small tug at their bravery and sauciness.  And these chicks were diggin it.  I was flying high from the great positive feelings that these women emanated from our session.  But then I heard news that a class members was derided by a parent after she had given a gift of a beautiful burlesque inspired photo portrait of herself.  And that totally bummed me out.

Photo by Kate MacPherson

The chances of you being criticised for choosing burlesque as a way-of-life-way-of-thinking at some point, is high.  And quite often the response goes something like ‘but isn’t it against women, against feminism, aren’t you just a stripper’ or things of that nature.  Oh and don’t forget the eye-roll response from the women who ask what is it, and then can’t handle hearing about it.   Now sure, burlesque isnt for everyone, much like zumba’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  And you cant please everyone all of the time.  But you can please yourself. 

About  four years ago I had my very first Pin-Up photo shoot for a charity Calendar, I was honored to be asked and included with a lovely bunch of ladies.  But I also struggled with my own image as it was a tad out of my comfort zone.  The shoot went smoothly, the photographer Kate MacPherson was lovely, my new friends were encouraging, everything looked great and I had a ton of fun (and discovered long term benefits for my self confidence).  It wasn’t till after the shoot I thought about my image as a vintage Hollywood housewife might not wash with my Mum, who is a feminist.  When I presented the calendar to my Mum voicing those thoughts.  She said that it wasn’t against feminism, faminism is having a choice, and I chose my image to be shown in that way.   Much as I choose now, to take my clothes off in public, I do this out of a desire to share my self-belief and inspire other women.   

So, if you are standing strong in your feminity and sensuality – how can that be against women?  And since you chose that path and no one forced you, how can that be against feminism (surely it is a form of feminism via showgirl tactics)?  Right so what about the stripper debate?  Dita von Teese says…

 I don’t really like to say that burlesque and stripping are totally different. I know a lot of burlesque dancers like to make sure you know that they are not strippers, they are burlesque artists, but I don’t really agree with that. I don’t think the term stripper is a bad word. Gypsy Rose Lee called herself a stripper, so if it was good enough for her it is good enough for me.

And well, you’ve seen Dita, she’s gorgeous and a moves beautifully and gracefully, and get’s paid buckets.  Simply put we are taking our clothes off – so yes the action of stripping is there.  For me there is one defining feature, and that is energy/intention.  The very simple difference of enjoying it and giving your performance your all or not.   And it’s fair to say there probably are strippers out there who do that, and burlesque perfomers who do not.  What do you think the difference is?  Leave a comment below. 

While there are folk in this world who won’t ever understand what you do, but as long as YOU do and you have your support club of amazing friend; and what you do matters most to you.  Then stand strong in your truth, have faith in what you do and keep rockin in your pasties.

Looky Links – - >

The Guardian talks to Dita von Teese  Eva Strangelove interview  Pasties  Jo Weldon on Formspring

Slinky Eva Stangelove

So a while ago you may remember finding out more about Rachel Rouge, well here’s more from another slinky sage Wellingtonian, Eva Strangelove.  I’m sure that like me, you have been transfixed by her movements, and here she shares some of her insights.

1. Where do your source your inspirations from for you acts?  Do you have a process around building choreography?

No particular process, per se, and it usually depends on the track. I do not have a rule about what type of music I use, and go fromtraditional to popular to alternative, depending on my mood and what is appropriate for the gig. I have a handful of acts already set that I use regularly, yet I often shake it up by either swapping the track, lengthening or shortening it or mixing and matching the costume pieces. Its important to be able to do this I believe – because when I was starting out, a lot of technical issues and miscommunication between the dancers and the Sound Guy meant that the wrong track would play…but what can ya do but keep dancing? It’s important to be able to “wing it” should the need arise!
I do not have set choreography that I cannot deviate from, but I know which parts of the track I want to accent with particular moves or garment removal, and everything in between I improvise, and then I simply do it over and over again in my living room, very quickly figuring out what works and what doesn’t:)

2. When you first started performing Burlesque did people treat you differently? Was there any good responses?

A big reaction came from my name change! Strangelove is a stage name of course but when Eva became my first name (ex Sherie), I explained to those who asked that I felt it was an important part of my new found stage persona, and I simply liked it better. Those who thought it was “stupid” were ignored and those who were supportive were awesome.
The burlesque resurgence certainly was in full swing overseas three years ago when we started, so people were very intrigued that myself and my troupe The Sisters of Strange Love were doing it (guess who named us) Courtney L’Amourand Ponie Ryder (costumier Flo Foxworthy)! We had no trouble getting gigs that’s for sure. The public curiosity was peaked and they came in droves:)

It’s important to be able to “wing it” should the need arise!

Naturally we spent a lot of time explaining what burlesque actually is, and the difference between burlesque and modern stripping, Flo was kept busy making our costumes and Courtney is a mother of four (three back then) and were certainly met with resentment as well as encouragement. My partner gave me my first pair of ostrich fans (which I have only recently passed along to another performer) and called me Eva, but one reporter was asking me questions like “so what is it about prancing around half naked that you like so much?” and “but you are not really any different than a stripper, are you? Admit it!” and naturally that article was full of misquotes and excluded the points I was trying to make. But more importantly was the support – The encouraging articles from open-minded reporters, our gigs were often sold out and we were busy with private corporate events. Girls were realising quickly that they too could do this, photographers wanted to shoot us, and we were approached about a reality show based around the three of us building our brand (but we decided against that in the end).

3. What goes through your mind before you step onto the stage?

I am a beautiful confident showgirl dammit, I love me the crowd loves me, remember to project, full the stage somehow with my tiny frame, bugger I need to pee again, I hope the DJ knows I start OFFstage this time, I could use a shot, am I wearing pasties? Breathe! Breathe! And….go!

4. How well are NZ performers received in the US?  Are there any huge differences between the two besides the huge popularity in the US?

US people are intrigued by us, starting with our strange accents! A lot of Americans are completely unfamiliar with NZ, or think its a part of Australia (which is fine by me because I adore Australia). I am often quoted Flight of the Conchord lyrics or asked if I was a Hobbit extra.  I wouldn’t say there are huge differences between the two – as with both nations you get the classic style, you get comedic style, narratives, circus etc.  But of course with the population difference there more variety over there, because there are much more people doing it, more of a range of people in general – black and ethnic girls, curvy girls and much more Boylesque, fantastic and original use of props and of course, better availability of costumes to die for!
The Austin burlesque girls are some of the loveliest human beings I have ever met – so welcoming and supportive!  My first trip to Texas I Myspaced as many as I could find, and they all got back to me with lists of the upcoming events, email address of the event organizers and their own phone numbers in case I wanted to meet up with them (I did), and at the shows they all cheer loudly from the front row! I felt so accepted and had warm fuzzies:) The Dallas girls are initially more stand-offish but lightened up when they got used to me:) Many of the gals I shared the stage with at the Dallas Burlesque Festival I have remained close with:)
My good friend and Wellington local Tanya (the Magenta Diamond) is one of the most incredible performers Ive ever had the pleasure of knowing, and she is tearing it up all over the world at the mo, and has just performed at the Toronto Burlesque Festival with my idol Michelle L’Amour (I made her get me an autograph)! Shes currently in Berlin. When she returns soon, I’m sure she’d make for an interesting interview! I sure as hell will be drilling her :-D
Miss LaVida performed at this years New York Burlesque Festival, and I am looking forward to hearing what that is like!

5.What’s the weirdest and most wonderful thing that has happened to you through burlesque?

Being flown overseas to perform and model for a start! It is wonderful that a bogan from the Hutt gets opportunities like that, which of course stem more and more opportunities and it snowballs.  Getting fan mail is always a pleasant surprise, and it still phases me that I work as a model! I guess I could say that it still feels weird to have been successful thus far, having come from my humble beginnings.  I love how gritty burlesque can be sometimes – we dream of our private dressing room at the Crazy Horse when really, before we deserve the royal treatment we have to be able to handle getting ready in a tiny toilet cubicle, an industrial restaurant kitchen or behind a threadbare curtain with our audience inches away, talking about you, and applying our make up in in our tiny compact mirror, and climb down the side of a muddy cliff to get to the location!
Last winter I shot a music video out in the absolute middle of nowhere (three hours west of the Wairarapa or somewhere, with no reception), where I slept and got ready in the back of a van, and then for two hours trekked with the crew into dense, slippery and muddy, wild bush, to get to this stunningly beautiful but very remote natural waterfall, where I was then filmed go-go dancing on an awkward rock in my red sparkly Flo Foxworthy two-piece and knee high PVC platforms. Did I mention it was the middle of winter? None the less I did my thing and collected my cheque. Funnily enough this video is yet to be released!

6. What can each of us do to help build a supportive culture of burlesque in Wellington?

Ah yes! There really are only a handful of us, but it seems that wherever there are a congregation of women, all whose job it is to be as beautiful and talented as possible, drama ensures.  I could be here all night talking about this but it boils down to simply not saying anything all if you dont have something nice to say! Sometimes nothing feels better than to have a good rant to whoever will listen about how so-and-so somehow did you wrong or your opinions of whats-her-name’s acts are not complimentary, when really, we need each other, so should all strive to nip that in the bud before chinese whispers and general cattiness certainly hurt us more than imaginable!  Show up to each others gigs, cheer genuinelly and remember that there are many types of burlesque and there are many types of women. We dont have to all get along but if we’re all doing burlesque for whatever reason, we’re all on the same team. Apologize when necessary, shut your mouth when necessary, and celebrate being women!

7. Finally, any tips for beginners?

Know where burlesque came from and why you want to do it, choose an original and memorable stage name, develop your character (which often takes time), attend many dance courses to become fully aware of yourself and your body, and commit to rehearsals:) You will be discovered!

Looky Links – - >

You can look Eva Strangelove up on Facebook, or Myspace, or check out her interview with The Great NZ Pin Up Blog.  Eva’s also working on a 2011 Calendar check her facebook for more info to buy your rele’s a real treat for Xmas.  Previous posts on Eva.

Foxy Rachel Rouge

So I thought y’all may be bored with just me blabbing on about my stuff so I took some time to chat or email or just generally harass some folk I thought y’all might be interested in reading about.  So to start off I took the opportunity to chat with Rachel Rouge and find out more about this all-round swell mysterious rouge-lipped vixen.

All glamour is held together with safety pins and double sided tape. – Rachel Rouge

Firstly it is no surprise that Rachel is a burlesque performer (and if you have missed her fabulous magic act, where have you been?).  Rachel started working at a Burlesque club in Glasgow called Club Noir almost 10 years ago.  She and Missy Malone were the only two gals that lived in Edinburgh so essentially car pooled together forming a great friendship on and off the stage.

Rachel runs Dr. Sketchy Wellington (cabaret-burlesque-life-drawing event) every second Saturday of the month from 4pm-7pm at Mighty Mighty.

Rachel also had a dramatic ending to her Burlesque years in the UK, with performing a huge weekend of opening for the Dresden Dolls at the Spiegeltent and then to Italy to perfom at 2006 Rockabilly Festival in front of 6000 people.  Then cutting off her hair and jumping on a plane headed for Greece.  Wow what an exit.  She then spent two years travelling Egypt, Africa, Ethiopia, back to UK, Turkey, Iran and then to Wellywood.  Makes me tired just writing it.  But Rachel has that sort of passion and drive that has her up to all sorts of things.

To Rachel’s horror she found that Wellington didn’t have a Dr Sketchy and thus brought it on over.  Which is also a start of how she met a lot  (she seems to know everybody) of great talent in performing/burlesque arts. 

Eva Strangelove helped her out with connecting with local talent and shows such as Ready for Take off and El Jaguar.  Rachel says she has huge admiration for Eva, as Eva has had to do it all by herself (no dance troupes or burlesque clubs here then). 

On tips: Rachel rates videoing your routines as she found it really helps to not only hone in your techniques but also is a personal record for you to jog your memory at a later stage.  Which also prompted me to ask how she writes down her choreography as she is coming up with it.  She said it’s something like this… ‘trumpets begin – shimmy bump bump’.

So what makes a good performance brilliant?  According to Rachel, a performer should have the conviction that they are there for the pleasure and entertainment of the audience. Your part is to earn the applause. 

Which also is ties into her tips on mistakes on stage. "The audience doesn’t know what you are going to do, therefore they don’t know if you have stuffed-up. But you can lose them with one small look" (she demonstrated the look to me, it was a small raise of an eyebrow and a look of fear ).  "There will always be a wardrobe malfunction".  Oh dont we know it.

Now I regard Rachel as a woman about town – she seems to know everything that’s going on.  Quizzing her on Wellington’s secrets she quickly shared 

  • Hawthorne Lounge.  (I too love Hawthorne they play loads of Billie Holiday and  other great vintage Jazz and do an amazing Twistless twist.  Not to mention the marshmallows – but now I’m getting off track oops).
  • Glow Worms in the Botanical Gardens  – yes it’s true you can even get tours!   
  • Jim Stanton – she’s a comedienne you know (check out her entry in the Something I prepared earlier competition as part of Wellington on a Plate).  Jim performs frequently at Fringe Bar. 
  • Being of comedic ilk Rachel also highly recommends ‘Raw meat Mondays’ at the Fringe Bar.

 Looky Links——>

To find out more about Wellington Dr Sketchy – here’s the facebook link and here’s the Webpage link. Check out Jim from the Miss la Belle Cake and Bake competition.  She won the Best Decorated cake. 
Missy Malones website it’s ultra cool – check it out.

There will be more interviews coming….

Critical Mass

My lovely web mistress sent me the link to this piece by Dan Savage .  In Dan’s article he critiques 4 shows he attended over 3 days.  He gives quite an intense review where he chastises the boring bits and applauds the clever bits.  He warns that with too much burlesque happening out there risks flooding the market leaving audiences saturated and bored.  Love or hate his article – he challenges me to think about my performance in a different way. 

Showing my character with Pretty Pictures

Coming up with choreography/building/creating an interesting performance can be quite a lengthy process for me.  For me burlesque is about transformation – but it also needs to be interesting and grab an audience.  I’m a harsh critic, if movies don’t grab me in 5 minutes I switch them off.  I apply this same rule to dance/performance.  Not only that I like to ‘say something’ probably to justify my existence as a burlesque dancer but also to show depth of character that may not be viewed simply through my nude body.  As burlesque performers we are sharing ourselves with the audience, viewers see more than our flesh.

So what does Dan challenge me to think about?
Besides the multiple layers of considerations he’s pushing me to keep it interesting, keep it different.  I agree with his point that any women could get up on the stage and remove her clothes, and that does get a bit overdone.  He issues the challenge:

“If your entire act consists of parading around in an outfit, and then removing that outfit, that outfit had better be spectacular and the removal of it had better be (a) seamless and (b) compelling.”

  Here here I agree.  Eva Strangelovesaid in the Dom Post that what she didn’t like about strip-clubs was that they 

“ignored the girl and her character and made it just about her body”.

For me when a performer doesnt project, doesn’t think about what she is ‘saying’ in her performance it’s then it is just about her body.  And that’s not empowering anyone and it certainly doesn’t endear burlesque audiences either.  Let’s take up Dan’s challenge and be clever, witty and most of all  ‘compelling’ with ‘character’.

Dans article     Eva Strangelove’s  interview with Dom Post

About Miss La Belle

Hi. I'm a Wellington burlesque dancer and dance teacher. I enjoy having a great giggle in class whilst I teach lovely lasses to dance and to enjoy feminity. Vintage dresses and lingerie are my passion. I love chocolate but dislike pumpkin. I love coffee but loathe licorice. In 2010 I won Miss Burlesque New Zealand with a housewife turns pirate act. You can follow me on Facebook.
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