Richard Simmons Will Present “The Shirley Simmons Most Classic Award” Saturday Night

Photo source: Richard Simmons Facebook Page

Photo source: Richard Simmons Facebook Page

Richard Simmons is larger than life. He’s an ubiquitous dynamo who has been changing lives for decades. Some of us remember first seeing Richard on “General Hospital” early in his television career. Others remember first seeing his enthusiasm for getting fit on “The Richard Simmons Show.”  His videos and DVDs made their way into into homes worldwide, and many schools used his programs for physical education. His health and fitness empire and charisma have made him a Hollywood Icon.  He is a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word: Richard Simmons loves people.


Shirley Simmons from the pages of  Richard Simmon's Book, Still Hungry After All These Years

Shirley Simmons from the pages of Richard Simmon’s Book, Still Hungry After All These Years


Richard’s mother, Shirley, was a fan dancer in New Orleans when he was a young man, performing under the stage name Nancy Lee. Richard took a moment between his fitness tours and entrepreneurial activities to share with us about his mother.




RICHARD SIMMONS: My mom started out as a dancer in New York and then got married and moved to New Orleans where my mom and dad worked. My mom performed all around the United States. My dad made my mom’s costumes.




RICHARD: The fan dancer got sick and they handed the fans to my mom. [The fans were five feet tall and Shirley was under five feet. She was very petite!]




RICHARD: My mom influenced me in many ways. I learned to be creative, take chances and entertain people.


Richard is creative and entertaining, which you can see in his new YouTube video “Hair Do.” He has a new workout system with the Food Mover in release.  His Sparkle jewelry line is a new and fabulous addition to


You can witness Richard’s burlesque firsthand in his Slimmons Studio in Beverly Hills. Many burlesque dancers have taken his workout class, joining ranks with fitness enthusiasts and first timers alike. His costumes always have pizzazz, and he has been known to strip down to workout wear during the class, eliciting hoots and hollers from the students. You can also see how much he cares about each and every individual student working to reach their personal fitness goals.

Follow Richard at:

Slimmons Studio



We are delighted to have Richard present the Shirley Simmons Most Classic Award at our Festival in December.


Stocking Peel Class at What Katie Did

Lili VonSchtupp & Red Snapper show the ladies how to peel stockings for stage or lovers at What Katie Did Los Angeles

Lili VonSchtupp & Red Snapper show the ladies how to peel stockings for stage or lovers at What Katie Did Los Angeles


When I first learned there was burlesque happening in present day, I devoured everything I could find about the subject. I remember getting early issues of Bachelor Pad Magazine and seeing ads for What Katie Did. The retro-inspired lingerie in the ads was fantastic, and I wanted more. I placed an order or two when there was only the shop across the pond. They opened a Los Angeles store a couple years ago in the very fashionable strip of Melrose. They were less than 30 minutes from my house, but I still found myself ordering my underthings by mail. I’d been on the mailing list for almost as long as I’d been doing burlesque, but I’d never been in the store or tried their stockings.

The stockings workshop, conducted by Hollywood Burlesque Festival, gave me the opportunity to do both. Arranged by Lili VonSchtupp, the evening was filled with three mini-classes of ladies learning about the stocking peel. It was a bit of a dream come true to teach these classes with Lili, nestled in this adorable boutique, surrounded by silky unmentionables. (I had seen many London workshops in their newsletter over the years. I was really excited to be teaching at their Los Angeles shop.) What Katie Did gifted every attendee with a pair of stockings, and I fell in love with mine from the first moment. Just the right amount of stretch for an exciting peel and more durable than the “one size” options I’ve purchased in a pinch. They were considerably sturdy; I peeled my stockings about 30 times and wore them around the shop without shoes, only developing a run in the toe at the end of the night. Most stockings endure about ten peels before the runs begin and quickly spread up the leg.

Ladies learn the art of the peel at What Katie Did Los Angeles

Ladies learn the art of the peel at What Katie Did Los Angeles

What Katie Did also gave attendees an incredible discount. I made a little splurge of my own at the end of the evening to celebrate some great classes. With wine, cupcakes and candies, it was like a fantastically festive hen party. We even collected a few more bras for our Hollywood Burlesque Festival charity, Free The Girls.

What Katie Did is located at 7970 1/2 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Open 11am-7pm Monday through Saturday. What Katie Did is a sponsor of the Hollywood Burlesque Festival.

Free The Girls, Literally

Free The Girls

I started working with Denver based, Free the Girls several months ago. I’m from Colorado and a friend on Facebook posted a link about them that piqued my interest. I had been looking for a new volunteer opportunity that would work with my busy schedule and honor a cause that was important to me.

Free the Girls is a 501 c (3) non profit organization that partners with safe houses and after care facilities to provide work opportunities for survivors of sex slavery and human trafficking selling new and gently used bras. I reached out to the organization and expressed an interest in helping to collect bras by organizing “bra drives”. I gathered a bin, printed some signs, created fliers to help spread the word and started collecting bras at local burlesque shows. I asked if they would accept bras that had been embellished and they encouraged such donations. I find it poetic that, as burlesque performers, we have the freedom to literally take our bras off and give them to another to help her reclaim her freedom.

I had some luck collecting bras at first, but not nearly the bounty for which I was hoping. Then, things became particularly exciting when I was approached to get involved with the Hollywood Burlesque Festival as the Charity Organizer. I knew this would be a great opportunity to promote Free the Girls and collect a significant amount of bras for donation and it was a humble way for me to contribute to the festival. I felt a swelling sense of gratitude to see two of my passions–volunteer work and burlesque–collide. BOOM! BANG! POW! Great things were bound to happen. Between Free the Girls and the HBQF crew we were able to start spreading the word and before long, it became obvious that many performers were delighted to get involved with a cause helping fellow women.

We kicked off our first bra drive at the Hollywood Burlesque Festival Fundraiser–All Star Showcase, presented by Bobbie Burlesque at M Bar. I was blown away by the number of bras we collected. Audience members and performers alike made donations and filled our bin to the brim. Thank you so much to everyone who made a donation.


A bounty of bras we’ve collected, so far.

So what happens to those bras now?

First they will be shipped back to Free The Girls. A program will then be initiated at a safe house with a donation of bras. It will be set up to be sustainable and women can purchase more bras at a discounted wholesale price. Bras are a highly sought after item in many countries and many of the women were sold at young ages and missed out on the opportunity to attend school. By selling bras they are able to reclaim the opportunities they lost after being sold into slavery by attending school, getting the health care they need and caring for their families, all while earning an income.

In July 2012, 32,000 bras were shipped to Mozambique. The women in the program have been able to sell between 100-500 bras each month and depending on the community, some of the women are able to make 3-5 times the minimum wage selling bras. There are other programs being launched in Kenya, Uganda and El Salvador.

Denver Broncos Bra decorated by Spy Kitten

Denver Broncos Bra decorated by Spy Kitten

Free the Girls recently held their first ever fundraising gala for which I decorated and donated a Denver Broncos inspired bra for auction. Go Broncos! 😉 I have gained immense pleasure from getting involved with this organization. The employees of Free the Girls have been fabulous, fun and friendly and I hope to meet up with some of them on a trip to Denver in the near future. I feel lucky to be able to watch the HBQF and Free the Girls grow during their respective inaugural year. I hope you will join me in supporting both the Hollywood Burlesque Festival and Free the Girls. I have no doubt that we will be sending a large amount of braziers back to Colorado in December.

Check your calendars and make sure to come out to the Hollywood Burlesque Festival fundraising events and get your tickets for the festival happening December 6-9th…and remember to bring a new or gently used bra to any HBQF event, we will gladly accept it on behalf of our sisters.

Thank you,
Spy Kitten
Charity Coordinator, Hollywood Burlesque Festival

Education Program Announced

We are offering 11 classes over the two days to help you find your inner burlesque diva. Attend classes both days with a $100 weekend pass or buy individual classes at $15 per class.

Saturday, December 7th:

10-11am – Instructor Caramel Knowledge
Shake Dancing 101: An Introduction to Solo Blues.

Part video presentation, part movement class, Shake Dancing 101 will explore some of the roots to the old bump and grind. Many African American burlesque dancers were also known as shake dancers in the 30’s and 40’s Students will view clips of both vintage and current day solo blues dancers. African American vernacular dance shares similar movement to vintage jazz; Students will learn some of the common dance steps and a short choreography. The objective of this class is to introduce students to a vintage form of dance that is still practiced today and add new moves to their tool box. 60 min.

11:15am-12:15pm – Instructor Pearl Lux
Explore the history and choreography of dance styles and their corresponding music genre to enrich the overall aesthetic of your performances.

Class Objectives –
Expand your knowledge of dance styles associated with commonly used burlesque music
Examine how dance styles can affect your musicality, theme, and stage presence.
Learn basic choreography from dance styles ranging from jive to samba and jazz.
Learn how to incorporate these steps into your choreography to enhance your tease
60 min

12:30-1:30pm – Instructor Anastasia Von Teaserhausen
Corsets – a practical guide to finding the best corset for you.
Understanding the difference between corset, corsellet, bustier and other corset like items. Understanding the use of steel, spring steel, and plastic boning. Shaping vs stripping in corsets. Plus, we will discuss how to upgrade and embellish off the rack (ie Fredericks of Hollywood, Leg Ave) type corsets for stage use. (Please note: this is not a class on how to build a corset from scratch) 60 min.

1:30-2:30 pm LUNCH BREAK

2:30-3:30pm – Instructor Hells Belles
Rock n Roll Burlesque Choreography class
Hells Belles Burlesque will help you discover your inner video vixen with their signature Rock n Roll Burlesque! Join LA’s most celebrated rock darlings and step into a whole new world where guitars wail, hair flips dominate, and leather does a body good in this exciting (1 hour / 1.5 hour) workshop! The Belles will take you on a rock and roll burlesque adventure that will include sensual body warm-ups, sassy across the floor combos, and our signature rock and roll flair! The workshop will climax with hard hitting choreography that will unveil your true rock-n-roll sex kitten. 60 min

3:45-4:45 pm – Instructor Hells Belles
Beginner Burlesque Chair
Unleash your inner rock n’ roll showgirl! Every burlesque dancer knows that chair dance is a staple of the trade, but let Hells Belles show you how to take this classic art form to a whole new level! In this workshop, you will learn how to take our sexy staple moves and rocker girl flair to the chair. We will learn to integrate basic burlesque body movement with the burlesque chair to create a sexy dance combo sure to leave you feeling confident, inspired, and ready to rock!

5-6:30 – Instructor Mr Snapper
Find Your Inner McGuyver: Prop Building With Mr. Snapper.
Only YOU can prevent prop disasters from happening, and Mr. Snapper will show you how! Learn how to avoid common prop-building pitfalls and instead create beautiful works of art that will complement your performance, not detract from it. Mr. Snapper will cover: how to design a prop, basic construction techniques, and finishing touches that will make your prop pop and sizzle on stage. And you’ll get a hand-out. People love hand-outs. 90 min.

Sunday, December 8th:

9:30-11am – Instructor – Jewel of Denial
Belly for Burly: Enhance your Burlesque Dance!
Expand your burlesque repertoire with this exciting bellydance burlesque fusion class. Learn ways to mix fluid with percussive movements to create contrast & build tension in your performance. This is a mixed-level class coupling classic signature Fishnet Follies burlesque movement with belly dance basics. No experience necessary! 90 min

11:15am-12:45pm – Instructor Tiffany Carter
Come Learn with a legend, Tiffany Carter

From her experience as burlesque performer to teaching at some of the top festivals, Tiffany has the knowledge and experience to teach the classic style of the art of the striptease.
Topics that will be taught:
* Panels and negligees’, how to wrap them, how to sew them, how to spin with delight and look as elegant as a butterfly.
* Onstage Strut, working to the beat of your music with a boa, scarf, or panels.
* Time permitting, we will have some classic chair work.
Please bring comfy clothes as this class is a workout, stockings high heels gloves, panels or a negligee if you have one, if not bring a scarf, or anything that will flow with ease, also bring a boa if you have one. 90 min

12:45-1:45pm LUNCH BREAK

1:45-3:15pm – Instructor Sheila Starr Siani
Strip Like a Stripper

Lecture/round table, warm ups, stretches, movement exercises, short choreography.
Exotic dancers in the strip clubs embody raw sexuality. Usually working on smaller, intimate stages, or even in private rooms, they tend to draw the audience into them, enticing them with a glimpse of their personal sensuality. Blending these techniques with the theatrical, outbound energy of burlesque can add a super seductive dimension to your performance.
We will learn:
** Strip clubs then and now
** survey and practice strip club-style dance moves
** talk about what makes us feel sexy.
** Movement directed inward versus outward and what the intention are and when to use each
** Undulations, floor work, body pops
** facial expressions and eye contact
**suggestive poses and movement for stage
90 min

3:30- 5pm – Instructor Ms Red Snapper
Off the Rack to Off the Hook – Learn how to turn ready-made clothing into a costume.
Tricks for
closures and embellishment. Bring any costume piece that needs
embellishment. 90 min

5:15-6:15pm – The burlesque Silhouette: Costume design and camouflage. Get up close and personal with the costumes of award-winning costume designer Penny Starr, Jr. Review the varied burlesque silhouette, contrasting color theory, the art of camouflage (without looking like you are hiding something), the “Three Layer Theory” of striptease, a review of clasps and various options of embellishment that won’t break the bank. 60 min

More information about the instructors can be found at our website:
Classes are brought to you in part by Lili’s School For Wayward Girls.

Official Hotel Announced: The Vagabond Hotel Hollywood

We have an official hotel! The Vagabond is located in the heart of Hollywood right next to our after party venue & Monday night show venue, Three Clubs. Easy metro access and free parking for guests.

1133 Vine St. Hollywood CA, 90038

Hotel rates at the Vagabond Inn are negotiated for Thursday, December 5th thru Tuesday, December 9th. You must call the hotel directly. Online reservations are not accepted.

Call 323-466-7501 use code HBQF13

Rooms rates in effect during the stay dates shall be $89.99 for one bed and $119.99 two beds (all rates are plus 15.5% tax and $3.00 energy surcharge) and these rates shall be effective during the reserved dates. No other charges to apply to attendee guests for hotel services. Smoking and non-smoking rooms are available. There is a one night non refundable fee charged at reservation.

Check in 3pm.
check out 11am.

*** Pet & Smoking Policy: We do not allow pets. There is a $ 250 fee for violation of pet and non smoking rules.


hotel pool

Queen room

Looking for a hotel in Hollywood that is conveniently located and budget-friendly? The Vagabond Inn Executive Hollywood is in the heart of Tinseltown, with some of the most popular attractions and landmarks that Los Angeles has to offer just half a mile from the hotel. Down the street are the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Pantages Theater, Paramount Studios and much more.
Make the most of your Hollywood stay and save with our convenient Universal Studios packages, and you can experience what Hollywood is like behind the camera lens. The hotel is a mere 2.5 miles from the theme park and a short drive from the infamous Sunset Strip and posh Beverly Hills. Indulge your taste buds at The Geisha House for a world-class dining experience or experience Downtown LA and visit the Staples Center and LA Live. When staying at our Hollywood hotel, the possibilities for adventure and entertainment are endless.

The Hollywood Vagabond Inn offers specific amenities for business travelers, featuring rooms with ample workspace, a larger TV with remote and free WiFi.

To make your stay more comfortable, we offer a daily, complimentary breakfast, free weekday newspaper and free parking for your added convenience. After a long day, you can relax and swim a few laps in our pool or unwind in your air-conditioned room with cable TV and HBO.

For hot deals and discounted rates at our hotel in Hollywood, visit our online reservations page. Please note that rates are subject to availabilty, so take advantage of our offers while you can.

Whether you stay with Vagabond Inn for business or pleasure, we’ll serve you our own brand of Western Hospitality. Great Value, Friendly People – It’s how we do things.


• • Accessible Rooms
• • Air Conditioning
• • Free Continental Breakfast
• • Cable T.V.
• • Under 18yrs Stay Free w/ Parents
• • Free Incoming Fax
• • In-Room Hair Dryer
• • Free Weekday Newspaper
• • Free Parking
• • Swimming Pool
• • Refrigerator in all Rooms
• • Free Local Phone Calls
• • Free WiFi Internet Access


• • Baby Cot Upon Request for a small Fee
• • Deposit Direct to Hotel
• • Direct Payment
• • Family Suite & Suites Available
• • Handicapped Accessible Rooms
• • Iron/ Board Available
• • Outgoing Fax Service
• • Rollaway for a small Fee


Ruby Champagne

Ruby Champagne

Ruby Champagne began her Burlesque craft in New York City by attending The New York School of Burlesque and debuted in Dec. ’06 . As a Petite Pinup, she’s been featured in publications such as Bachelor Pad Magazine, Retro Lovely, Milk Cow, ALT, Ol’ Skool Rodz, Car Kulture Deluxe, as well as modeled for specialty clothing designers. Ruby is also featured on Sort This Out Olde Tyme Soda Works’ Cola bottle and Cover Model for Bachelor Pad Magazine’s Nightcap Edition #2!

In 2010, Ruby successfully earned her the title, “Miss Viva Las Vegas 2010” in the Viva Las Vegas Burlesque Competition. In 2012, she won “Best Soloist” in the ABurlyQ Burlesque & Sideshow Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has performed in New York Burlesque Festival, TeaseORama, ABurlyQ! Showcase, St. Louis Burlesque Festival, Southwest Burlesque Showcase, Colorado Burlesque Festival, and will be a headliner at the Hollywood Burlesque Festival!

Yadi Hurtado: How did you get started in burlesque?

Ruby Champagne: I started in New York at the New York School of Burlesque and accepted any opportunity for stage time in Burlesque shows, which included being a back-up dancer for Jo Boobs in the Cheese Festival at Coney Island and being in a BurlyQ Fashion Show at The Slipper Room. Fun times!

Yadi: How would you describe your burlesque style?

Ruby: My Burlesque style is known to be representative of Classic Burlesque, and I am so grateful that I’m known for that! I also love to incorporate Latin moves whenever I can.

Yadi: What made you get into burlesque?

Ruby: It felt like a great way to be able to be artistic and express my passion of beauty, glamour, dance, and sparkles!

Yadi: When did you first come to the LA/Hollywood area to perform?

Ruby: After my NYC debut in 2006, I moved back to CA. Thanks to Myspace, I found Bobbie Burlesque. In February 2007, Bobbie gave me the opportunity to debut in LA at the Whiskey A Go-Go.

Yadi: What are some of your favorite places to perform in the LA/Hollywood area?

Ruby: I love to perform anywhere that will have me! But some of my favorite venues include Three Clubs, El Cid, and House of Blues.

Yadi: Who are some of your favorite performers of all time and why?

Ruby: Tempest Storm is one fierce lady I highly admire. Satans Angel is a great inspiration I love dearly. One of the first NYC performers I loved and admired and loved to learn from is Dirty Martini. I could watch these ladies perform forever.

Yadi: Who are some of your favorite LA based performers?

Ruby: That’s a tough question because I love them all for their own specialty they bring. But to narrow down to a couple favorites, I’d include Charlotte La Belle Araignee, Lulu Lunaris, and Violet Valentine.

Yadi: You have traveled all over the country for shows. What do you think makes Hollywood a special place to perform in?

Ruby: Hollywood is where stars are born, que no? haha! But really, there is a certain vibe and energy in this crazy city that certainly makes it a special place to perform.

Yadi: Where are some places you love to visit when you are in Hollywood?

Ruby: There are a couple shops along Hollywood Blvd. that have vintage clothing. After some window shopping, a cocktail at The Frolic Room or Boardners is quite nice.

Yadi: What is your greatest burlesque moment and why?

Ruby: A recent great Burlesque moment was in Sept. 2013, performing my Mexicana act in the San Antonio Burlesque Festival. Being Mexican-American and having family from Texas, it was a joyous opportunity for me to represent my heritage and love of my Culture with that audience. It was fantastic! And of course, when I won the title, “Miss Viva Las Vegas” in 2010 at Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender, that was one of the greatest, happiest, exciting and rewarding moments ever! I’ll never forget people telling me they lost their voice as result of cheering so loud for me. I’m forever and ever grateful to them!

Yadi: What is your favorite thing about Burlesque?

Ruby: Today, Burlesque is interpreted in many different ways from classic to Neo, and I think that’s a great platform for Performers to be able to express their art. It can be beautiful to see what other Performers do to express what’s going on in their creative brain. I love classic glamour and Latin music ie. Mambo, Afro-Cuban, Disco, etc. Burlesque allows me to show my love of these things.

Yadi: What advice do you have for performers applying to festivals?

Ruby: Provide clear information as requested. Make it as easy as possible for the people reviewing your application to be able to know who you are and what type of performer you are.

Yadi: What is the ONE thing everyone must do when coming to the
Hollywood Burlesque Festival?

Ruby: Let’s show the world how spectacular we are and dress to the nines and then some! Then have cocktails 🙂
Oh! And eat a street hot dog! Yum!

Performers Announced

We are delighted to announce our performer line up.

Finalizing the performers for the festival was a long, yet wonderful process for our selection comettie. We were overwhelmed by the amount, and quality, of the performers who submitted to be in the fesival. Congratulations to those who are performing, and huge thank you to everyone who submitted.

Roxi D’Lite, Detroit, MI
Russell Bruner, Portland, OR
Stephanie Blake, Hollywood, CA
Francesca “Kitten” Natividad, Hollywood, CA
Evie Lovelle, Hollywood, CA
Swingtime PDX, Portland, Or
Lux La Croix, Los Angeles, CA
Dizzy Von Damn!, Seattle, WA
Ruby Champagne, Los Angeles, CA


Bobbie Baltimore, Los Angeles, CA.
Cici Stiletto, Los Angeles, CA.
Iza la Vamp, Los Angeles, CA.
Jessabelle Thunder, Long Beach, CA.
Mercury Troy, Los Angeles, CA.
Nikita Bitch Project, Los Angeles, CA.
Pearl Lux, Los Angeles, CA.
Quinn T. Sensual, Los Angeles, CA.
Sheila Starr Siani, Long Beach, CA.
Venus DeMille, Los Angeles, CA.

Aya Fontaine, Las Vegas, NV.
Bethany Summersizzle, Austin, TX.
Cha Cha Velour, Las Vegas, NV.
Martini Bombshell, San Diego, CA.
Maxi Millions, Phoenix, AZ.
Miyuki Divine, Calgary, Alberta.
Poison Ivory, Brooklyn, NY.
Sizzle Dizzle, Brooklyn, NY.

Bobbie Burlesque, Los Angeles, CA.
Doctor Lust, Los Angeles, CA.
Tito Bonito, Hollywood, CA.

Jay C., Buxerolles, Poitou-Charentes, France.
Matt Finish, Tucson, AZ.
Justin F Credible, Austin, TX.

Burgundy Bells – Anna Bells and Vanessa Burgundy, Los Angeles, CA.
Honey Lawless and Gigi d’Flower, San Francisco, CA.
The Pecking Order – Eva Strangelove and Justin F Credible, Austin, TX.

Chocolate Box Burlesque – Caramel Knowledge, Sheila Starr Siani, and VV Trippple, Los Angeles, CA.
Drop Dead Dames Burlesque Revue – Ginger N. Whiskey, Bibi Bordeaux, Eva Mae Garnet, Valentina On the Rocks, Dottie DeVille, Stella Foxtrot, Donna DeMuerte, San Diego, CA.
Joy Coy & The CoyBots – Joy Coy, Brian Botkiller, Rex Starchild, Albuquerque, NM.
The Dirty Little Secrets Burlesque – Alice Wonder, Harlow Rose and Venus Mantrap, Los Angeles, CA.
Victory Variety Hour – Penny Starr, Jr., Panama Red, Iza La Vamp, Lord Londonbridge, Sioux Du Jour, Vyper SynVille, Greta Grenade, Muffy La Mynx, Los Angeles, CA.

Bizzaro, Las Vegas, NV.
Chad Allen, Los Angeles, CA.
El Ropo, Los Angeles, CA.
Pony Death Ride, San Diego, CA.
Scott Land, Hollywood, CA.
Tuba, Los Angeles, CA.

April Showers, Los Angeles, CA.
Blanche DeBris, Las Vegas, NV.
Bo Toxique, Los Angeles, CA.
Dizzy Swank, Brooklyn, NY.
Lucille Highball, Los Angeles, CA.
Mercy Beaucoup, San Francisco, CA.
Miss May, Los Angeles, CA.
Pandora Von Kit, Raleigh, NC.

Gender And Creative Agency In Burlesque


    Cherry, VV Trippple’s mother in a costume from a show in the 80s.

When I was a little girl my mother performed burlesque in vaudeville theater in our tiny Northern Californian town. Every weekend she sang and stripped. Though the shows were scripted, she created her own costumes and choreography for them. My mother’s wit combined with sensuality in her performances was something that I did not quite understand but recognized immediately was powerful. Her ability to capture and hold everyone’s attention with that perfect balance of laugher and lust fascinated me. Burlesque is unique in the sense it is one of the few performance based art forms that allows, in most cases, for full creative control of the product produced. The performer controls all aspects of their art – content, costuming, music, choreography, lighting, etc. I believe that this is the true reason people are drawn to burlesque. While without a doubt it is empowering to captivate an audience with your wit and sensuality, it is so much more so when that piece is of your own making in its entirety. An actor in a full length play, a ballet dancer, or a woman dancing in a strip club can all experience the power to capture and hold an audience’s attention, but a burlesque performer knows that that power is entirely theirs. Perhaps that is why you will find so many of the previous performers mentioned ending up in burlesque. I know that’s why I did.

VV Tripple  ©S.H.Photo

VV Trippple

Fast forward many years from my mother’s performances and I am now a performer myself as well as an academic at UCLA studying Anthropology and I was given the opportunity this year to conduct research on burlesque. In my paper, “Burlesque: The Creative Journey to Agency though Gender Expression & Exploration” I show how performers are using the creative space that burlesque allows to explore and express issues of gender. Over the course of the last year, I have interned at Monday Night Tease! produced by Lili VonSchtupp and done performance analysis of dozens and dozens of shows. I conducted informal interviews with many performers, and collected a survey of twenty questions from 46 performers who responded internationally, including new performers, seasoned performers, professional performers, performers/producers, and even a few Legends.

Of the 46 respondents, 35 identified as female, five as male, and six as genderqueer or some other more neutral or ambiguous gender identity. Initially I had been interested in what drew performers from the variety of backgrounds they seem to come from, often risking more conservative professional careers in order to perform. Some even changed their lives dramatically to be present in the burlesque space full time. For years I have heard performers site how “empowering” burlesque is as the draw and the reason they risk so much personally and at times professionally. In the social sciences we often use “agency” in place of “empower”. In several discourses in academia “agency” means being ones own agent, to be able to act in the world with intent. In particular there is a lot of talk about political agency – how one goes from being a passive watcher to active participant in the political arena. I am very interested in this sort of agency, political but also creative. I wanted to see how performers used gender in a creative space, and how it engaged agency, and the results were more than I could have ever hoped for.

The female, male, and genderqueer performers were all using the creative space of burlesque to explore gender – they were just all doing it in different ways and for different reasons. Women really own this space, and it is one of the few spaces they do feel they own, in many cases unapologetically and for some territorially. It seemed for women that almost nothing was taboo in terms of gender. The only consistently reported taboo among performers was issues of cultural appropriation in acts, but never how gender was portrayed (by women). Women could portray any aspect if gender, be hyper feminine, gender bend between male and female, or portray men, all in a very fluid way and without any concerns. There was critique and concern of male performers potentially invading what some felt has become a sacred female space. Others were very inclusive of other genders and even celebrated the moniker “boylesque” as a legitimization of male performers having their own space within burlesque. However, some preferred the term not to be inclusive, but because they felt it should be separate from female owned space of burlesque. Because it seemed females had an “anything goes” as far as their own gender exploration, they were often less concerned or aware of gender bending and gender play in acts. Their concern was more on appropriate execution of a concept and including and exploring other issues such as body image, aging, concepts of beauty, sexual orientation, intelligence, etc. into their acts.
Meanwhile, the male performers were hyper aware they were entering into a female owned space but very much wanted to be there, respect it, and not to invade, but to explore issues of masculinity and male identity in the same creative ways the women had already mastered. Genderqueer performers were also very aware of their gender performance and used the space as a creative and safe space to explore and express identity. The burlesque space did not create their gender identity, but it was a safe space for them to explore and share what it meant. “Safe space” was a term that was often repeated by all three genders. How interesting that the act of striptease is not only reported as being empowering by its participants, but also safe. Imagine, peeling off layers of clothing hoping to illicit laughter and or desire as a form of safety. Based on all my data, I believe it is this idea of creative agency that feels safe to these performers. They have complete control of the product they produce, so they also control its outcome. In other words, they feel safe or empowered because they have agency.

VV Trippple is a Los Angeles based performer and academic at UCLA. She will be presenting her research on burlesque and gender at BurlyCon 2013 this November.