Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Why Files

An anonymous reader wrote and asked "WHY these ladies do burlesque." So The Candy Pitch went right to the bedazzled source for the scoop.

Gina Louise:
1. Because I'm a performer, first and foremost.
2. Because it's been the most delightful, challenging, and exhilarating genre I've explored.
3. Because it's a creative fusion of all the things I love: dance, comedy, costume, sex, and history.
4. Because it's liberating.
5. Because it makes me think.
6. Because, as a 39-year-old suburban mom and housewife, I'm not supposed to.
7. Because I love seeing people naked.

Scarlett Letter:
I enjoy it because it is the ultimate one-person show. It has the potential of using absolutely every aspect of performing, theatre craft and art that I can think of. ... It can be funny, it can be thought provoking, it can be shocking, but it can also be just stunningly beautiful. It is only limited by the performer's imagination and the direction they want to take it.

Paris Green:
I perform burlesque for the sheer joy of it. I love that I can be silly and sensuous, ridiculous and racy all at the same time. I love that we - the audience and I - are sharing a little secret about where my act might take us. There is a connection you have with the audience as a burlesque performer that is unique - I haven't felt it as strongly as a musician or a comedian. It's a fantastic energy. Finally, there is a camaraderie among burlesque performers. It's old school showbiz. We're family.

Princess Farhana:
Burlesque not only spellbinds audiences, by displaying the beauty of the female body, it turns societal notions upside down, usually in a comedic way. Through a theatrical filter, under the stage lights, it parlays universal fantasies and female archetypes into high art, simultaneously empowering both the women who perform it and the women who observe it, while entertaining everybody in the process!

Jo Weldon:
I love the huge range of ways we get to perform, from classic to bizarre, and the community of people who perform. I love that we have historical organizations such as the Burlesque Hall of Fame and Burlesque at the Beach at Coney Island, as well as spaces for radical performers to experiment with performance art and transgressive themes. And I love the passion and heart that people bring to it. There are good, loving, generous, brilliant people in burlesque.

Vixen Violette:
A few years ago I was really struggling to find the feminine, sensual, and even sexual side of myself. A friend asked me on a whim if I would take a burlesque class with her. It was very out of character for me at the time, but it sounded like it might be fun and interesting. Surprisingly I started to touch on all of what I had been looking for there. Now that I've been performing for a few years I feel like Vixen Violette and I are merged into one person. I get her confidence, sparkle, and tiger-like sexuality, and she gets my winning sense of humor and mad rhinestoning skills.

Darlinda Just Darlinda:
I see how it inspires other women to love and respect their bodies. I also hope that with burlesque becoming so mainstream it might mean we will see more realistic bodies in the fashion/advertising world. I am a firm believer that underground arts has a huge effect on the mainstream world, especially in New York. All the big advertisers are going down town to party and watch a burlesque show to be shocked and awed! So I think it will seep in and they will have no choice but to accept real-non-starving bodies! I do burlesque, because I have to perform, I will be performing until the day I die! I love it!

Frankie Boudoir:
Burlesque is a self-expression that says the female form is beautiful, powerful, & alluring! It calls into question what the female role in society is, and also allows women to show the power that we've been given, to revel in it, without apology!


Anonymous said...

So no one is in it for the money. Interesting.
My how things have changed from the old days.

Naughty Natanya said...


If any of us got into burlesque for the money, most of us would be severely disappointed! I'll go out on a limb and say that many (to most) burlesque performers are lucky to recoup the cost of their costumes through performing. When I think about all of the hours I spend rehearsing with my troupe, developing individual numbers, working on the various aspects of the production side of our show and shopping for or making costume pieces, well, let's say we're talking in the range of pennies per hour. And I don't think I'm an exception to the rule.

For every burlesque performer who manages to turn burlesque into a career (the true exceptions, to my mind), there are hundreds who do it simply for the joy of it. I perform burlesque because I love it. When I make money, it's a lovely bonus, and then I buy more feathers and rhinestones.

Anonymous said...

So that would lead me to understand that you are a professional burlesque hobbiest.
I was confused because I heard some of these girls call it their career.

Naughty Natanya said...


You understand correctly as far as I'm concerned, certainly. I make enough doing burlesque that I have to declare it on my taxes, but not enough that I can retire to Cabo on my earnings (or even pay the rent on a modest two bedroom). And as I said in my initial comment, I suspect that the vast majority of burlesque performers are in the same boat. However, there are certainly burlesque performers who make a living performing and touring and some of them also teach. These are the exceptions I mentioned and they absolutely exist.

It's not really confusing, is it? Most actors, artists, dancers, writers and other creative folks work harder in the service of their craft than the money they make would indicate that they should. Some of them are admitted hobbyists (in the least pejorative sense of the word, which may or may not have been how you used it), some of them are working toward a career in their chosen field and some are somewhere in between.

Naughty Natanya said...

Also (and then I'll let this drop, I promise), remember that the question asked of these performers by our esteemed hostess was, "Why do you do burlesque?" Whether they make their livings performing burlesque or not, I would have been stunned if any of them had replied as their first reason, "I do burlesque for the money."

Corporate lawyers do it for the money. Lobbyists do it for the money. Even some plumbers do it for the money. Burlesque performers? Mostly don't do it for the money, whether they make their living at it or not.

Brett said...

Natanya definitely answered this question well, but I think it's worth adding that it depends on how you define "career" and a little local context is helpful; Here in New York City there are a growing number fo venues, professional performing opportunities and recurring shows that offer performers (also growing in number) chances to perform and produce, and make money at it. In the same way there are more places/shows for comedians, actors, musicians, poets, performance artists, you get the idea...performers in a lot of towns don't have as many options! That's just part of the interesting regional differences. Personally, many of the performers I work with and know take this art form seriously enough that they consider it their career, whether or not we consider that by the definition of "I make my entire living doing it."

Anonymous said...

I just find it interesting that until the burlesque "revival" the dancers got paid for performing and paid well from the biographies I have read. It was really their career and they really made a living at it. It seems the "revival" has produced a new school of thought- or rules of the game, if you will, where dancers don't get tipped, and get paid very little if at all. This is a fantastic deal for the bars these women are performing in.
When an actor, comedian, or band plays a club it helps them to realize their goal- a licensing deal or a TV show. What is the burlesque dancers goal- other than art?
Because people are making all kinds of money off of these girls, yet the girls seem to get paid near to none on average.

Jack Midnight said...


You're laboring under some serious misconceptions. First off, most of the burlesque shows (the vast majority, btw) are produced by the women who are in them. A lot of the venues that put these shows up do so for a cut of the door or for free. Other times, the troupes themselves rent the spaces out. So no one is taking advantage of the "girls." It's simply that the competition for the entertainment dollar is so much greater than the heyday of burlesque, before the days of television and myriad other forms of entertainment.

Also, you seem to draw some weirdly distinct lines between the performers of today and the performers of the past. Your analogies are somewhat misguided. The most analogous comparison between the burlesque performers of the past (at least the majority) and now would be strippers, not burlesque performers. The direct transition of the clubs from burlesque to straight on strip clubs happened in the 60's. I'm sure Jo Weldon can speak to this with more clarity.

The new movement is a recreation of something that was changed by commerce (and the mob) into the strip-clubs of today.

Also, on another note... almost every facet of the performing arts have people in it that consider themselves professionals pursuing a career that frankly can't pay the rent from their craft alone. I live in Chicago, the greatest theater city in the country. Most of the actors I know make less than a third of their living from acting. Same goes for singers, dancers and comedians. It is the plight of the artist IN GENERAL, and not one specific to burlesque.

For the record, I plow more money back into our show than I ever take out, but I still consider myself the best burlesque emcee in the country. Because I'm a PRO.

Paris Green said...

Anonymous -

Three things:

Thing the First:

You seem to make an assumption that we all perform in bars.

My ensemble, which puts on a revue, performs in a theater. Not to say we haven't had gigs in bars, but we view ourselves as a stage show first and foremost.

And not that there's anything wrong with performing in bars, either. It's fun and there's booze not but a few feet away from you when you get off stage. Delicious.

But we prefer a theater space and so that's where we live and work.

Thing the Second.

You seem to have a really narrow view of how many of these burlesque performances work. We're not operating out of Minsky's anymore, dude. We don't travel the Orpheum circuit. That would be pretty nifty if it still existed, but it doesn't. Performers don't get paid like that anymore. Actors don't get signed by film studios to work under contract anymore, either.

For example, I'm the producer of the Belmont Burlesque Revue, not some bar or promoter. Most of the burlesque that happens here in Chicago is the result of actual factual burlesque folks that produce it themselves. As I understand it, burlesque performers produce a great deal of the shows in New York, too.

Thing the Third.

Do you honestly believe that comics and actors and musicians are out there making money where burlesque performers aren't? Most artists - regardless of their artform - are slugging away at things just the same way we are. There may be more outlets for them, more venues, but those guys in the band aren't getting rich off gigs from the take at the door, those actors making indie films are thankful to get a copy for their reel, those comics are happy to get some drinks after their set. It is a rare thing that someone breaks out and makes money from what they love doing and when they do, more power to them.

Success in the entertainment world is only in part measured by money. It's the easiest way to measure, sure, but it's only one way. If we were *only* concerned with the dollar, we wouldn't be concerned with the art.

Brett said...

Hey y'all; I hope I'm not getting lumped in with anonymous's responses, I just wanted to add something to Natanya's excellent response to the original posts. I completely agree with all of you, I think I made it sound too much like money's the whole measure here. My point about comics, actors, etc. was just about having more opportunities to perform in some places than in others, not about how much money anybody's making. And of course you're absolutely right, Paris, in New York as in Chicago and just about all places it's the performers producing the shows, not the venues--and the venues here range from bars to black box spaces, to art galleries to off-broadway theaters! And of course, just to reiterate nobody gets into burlesque without it being about the passion and love for performing and supporting each others' shows. So, that's it--basically I agree with all of ya!

Anonymous said...

When you perform in bar you are a professional alcohol salesperson. That is why they have people perform in bars and the only reason- for alcohol sales.
I wish people would be more honest about why they perform burlesque. I know why I do- because I am the world's biggest show off. The first time I did it? Because someone offered me money. I cut my own deals with the bar owners- not the promoters who rarely even cut good deals for themselves (A good deal is 100% of the door). I know there is a slim to none chance that I will ever get anything out of this other the the immediate pay (and bad knees) so I demand it from the people with the money and if they do not meet my price then I stay home and my boyfriend will get a spectacular fan dance with a happy ending. Therefore I am still practicing my art without being exploited to sell PBR's.

I don't know why so many artists don't think they can't support themselves with their art. You shouldn't have to work 10 hours a day to feed your art. I think you are underselling yourselves and the art of burlesque.

As to Jack Midnights response. Darling you just happily and willfully and gleefully revised the history of burlesque.
"Also, you seem to draw some weirdly distinct lines between the performers of today and the performers of the past. Your analogies are somewhat misguided. The most analogous comparison between the burlesque performers of the past (at least the majority) and now would be strippers, not burlesque performers. The direct transition of the clubs from burlesque to straight on strip clubs happened in the 60's. I'm sure Jo Weldon can speak to this with more clarity."

This is one of the mst ignorat statements about burlesque I have ever had the displeasure to see in print. You should be ashamed of yourself...and read a book, pro.

Anonymous said...

Ha foiled by a shitty keyboard again.

Jack Midnight said...

Oh, I have read books and studied the history of burlesque. Maybe you should. Read about Jack Ruby and Candy Barr and the whole transition of burlesque clubs to strip-clubs. It's out there.


Anonymous said...

Do any of the ladies here perform burlesque to turn people on?

Frankie said...

I was surprised to come back to such a heated discussion!

I have to agree with the anonymous person that said you CAN support yourself with the art form you have chosen. I teach dance when I can't get the right paid gigs. Often! I've been done performing for too little or free for some time. I've seen too much underpayment and bad offers during my visit to California this time. It's a crime!

Stop performing for free ladies!If you don't think you're worth it, no one else will!

Even in restaurant service people make minimum wage plus tips,and dammit we've got talent!

There is no life but a performer for me. Eroticism is always in play in Tease and Burlesque Dance. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Representing the sensuality of a woman is a pleasure for me. Let the conservatives burn!

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