Burlesque Dancer Banned from Burlesque to Keep Custody of Her Children

Disclaimer: This article was not requested or commissioned by the burlesque performer concerned and care has been taken to highlight this issue in a way that does not go against her wishes or jeopardise her legal battle.

I was disturbed to read an announcement from Bourgeois Betty concerning her friend and fellow performer Ida Claire, who has been banned by a judge in Alabama, USA  from participating in burlesque in any way if she wishes to maintain joint custody of her children:

“I’m writing this post on behalf of my friend Ida Claire who is no longer allowed to discuss or participate in the burlesque art form as directed by the judicial system of the state of Alabama. In order to maintain joint custody of her two children the judge declared that she was no longer able to participate online, perform in any capacity, or publish videos/photographs using either her legal name or stage name … Somehow burlesque, the satirical comedy it portrays on stage and the sensual exploration of sexuality that does occur in some performers’ numbers, is somehow horribly disgusting and therefore nullifies a mother’s right to her children…”  

According to Betty, the alledgedly bad conduct of the father of the children has not been challenged or penalised by the judge.

Burlesque Dancer Banned from Burlesque to Keep Custody of Her Children
Burlesque Dancer Banned from Burlesque to Keep Custody of Her Children

To those in the USA, particularly in the South, who are aware of or have encountered similar judgements, reactions and restrictions, this may come as no surprise. But it highlights the fact that burlesque is an art form that is still not widely understood or accepted, and reminds us that not all members of the global burlesque community are as free to honour, participate in and contribute to the art form as others are.   Many of us have followed recent news stories regarding battles with venues and local councils who have formed negative, uninformed views of burlesque and discriminated accordingly, but depriving a mother of her children is something altogether more chilling.  Betty explained to me that other people have described similar experiences to her since she published the above statement, and it troubles me that the distressing and concerning actions of this judge could be used as a precedent elsewhere, in the USA or further afield.

I welcome the views of the community below. Should participation in burlesque and cabaret – or, while we are at it, pole dancing, nude or semi-nude modelling, hard or soft pornography, or any form of sex work – be used to discriminate against a capable, responsible and loving parent, or any other decent human being for that matter (and I mean genuinely decent, rather than the way a judge in a case like this might define the word)?  Do you believe that burlesque is still widely misinterpreted and discriminated against? Please feel free to share your views and experiences and build a discussion in the comments section.

UPDATE: I want to add the following message from Betty that was added to her original statement, for those who have left comments about taking action:

“…it needs be said that do not fight for the previously mentioned individual’s civil liberties. Any actions that can be attributed to her could end her custody battle. What can be addressed is the insanity and stupidity that is consistently displayed by state and federal government. This discrimination is not the only issue that happens as I’m sure we’re all aware of. The purpose of all of this was to raise awareness and I think that has indeed happened!”

21st Century Burlesque
21st Century Burlesque

Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.

31 Comments
  1. Wow! How utterly disgusting to make her feel like that is a bad or immoral career! I think it’s a fascinating and beautiful art form! Hopefully this hasn’t made her feel less of herself.

  2. This breaks my heart.

    I know a petition isn’t the right thing here. So, what else can we do to help? Can we open a fund for Ida to help her with legal costs or living expenses? I am sure there are people from the community who would like to show her some support in a practical way.

    Can someone find out what she needs and whether there is a safe way to do that without jeopordising her case?

    Heidi

  3. This is so sad, and unfortunately not unique. I’m aware of a custody situation on the West Coast where a devoted mother is also being dragged through the mud for being a burlesque performer.

  4. I think this is in the wheelhouse of the ACLU. Given the nature of the judges over-reaching decision I think there is considerable leverage here to go to court. The Southern Poverty Law Center really isn’t appropriate for a case like this, but they are totally worth reaching out to for advice. Given the gender specific quality to this SPLC may take the case upon those merits. I suggest catalyzing every available resource to contest this. Women are in danger of being even more culturally marginalized and this may just be an appropriate case to push back against that trend.

  5. I’m appalled that this could happen in the USA in the 21st century. These actions are what cause the rest of the country to view Alabama as cripplingly ultra-conservative, uneducated, and a place that we choose to avoid. Luckily, in my 65 years, I have known several fine individuals who have hailed from that state, including Camille 2000, a burlesquer slightly older than myself, whose mother is a minister there. I quit performing burlesque to work a job with benefits, in addition to wages, and retired with a pension and a health plan after 22 years at the newspaper, 8 years as a union representative. I married a single father, helped raise his son (since age 13), and am grandmother to 3 granddaughters. I attend church regularly and I am proud to still perform burlesque whenever the limitations of life allow. I regret declining to perform at the Alabama Burlesque Festival, but as the sole caregiver for my nearly 78 year old husband who has dementia and my 19 1/2 year old blind, handicapped dog, I had no one to share the responsibilities. That is the only reason I missed it; not due to fear of “Deliverance” redneck mentality or the small-mindedness of outdated, inept judges who obviously make decisions based on erroneous impressions. This judge should be mandated to attend a burlesque show to understand the fallacy of her reasoning.

  6. There is a book called “C*nt” (replace the * with a u) by a woman named Inga Muscio. I read it when I was 21 years old, and my life changed. It was the most liberating read I’ve ever accomplished, and I believe that not only all women, but all MEN need to read this book, to understand how women NEED the freedom and the EQUITY that so many people state we already have. Not equality. Women and men are not equal. “Equal” suggests “Sameness”… women and men are entirely different creatures… we need equity. Fairness, Justice, that is applied with equity, across the board. That men who are low-lives in many ways are granted custody over a woman that is sexually comfortable with herself, is … ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. It angers and abhors.

  7. Fred Kahl and his wife Laure Leber have two wonderful, intelligent, sensitive, loving children who were raised at Coney Island and around burlesque. They are two of the most well adjusted and loving kids I know. This is ignorance at the highest government levels, based on nothing but backwards religious superstition. I realize that it wasn’t mentioned, but I know Alabama, and I’m sure that’s what’s at the root of it.

  8. first off I am so sorry this is happening to her and her family. sad that one persons obviously bias opinion has such sway on one persons future and the wellbeing of her children. burlesque is an art form, nothing more and nothing less. I am a proud and devoted wife and mother who is also a burlesque performer. It is one of the things that keeps me balanced, allows me to have greater confidence and self esteem as a women and empower others to do so. all that helps me to be a better mommy and wife. I hope that Alabama can evolve quickly enough for a judgment as lame as this one to be over ridded. good luck IDA CLARE

  9. I am a parent who is a Proud Stage Kitten along with being a full time cross dresser, also as a person that prefers female pronouns. (I know it is a lot there but that is me). Went through a very costly year long court proceeding here in Madison WI. With my ex wife (mind you divorce in 2001) and the State of WI who yanked the custody of my two boys (ages 14 and 17) Stating that I was a sexual deviant. Due to my attire choices and the activities that I am apart of. Due to my life choices, that were done for Me to finally break free of the Fear that ran a destructive course inside of me for years… Also I am an avid Club Dancer, for me Dancing is my way of expressing myself in a healthy manor :). Well….after 12k and a lot of tears. A tough attorney who adorned sweaters and rode a Harley, with pride. A lot of writings from my Friends in the Madison community. I won! I am still doing performances in town, including but not limited to Books in the Buff, yes we read naked. So to anyone who stands in the way of another they are a very Bad person. Get out of the way. Let me make my own choices. To the “judge” who placed their um…wrath of judgment on someone else may they have a bed of nails to lay on that are in appropriately spaced.

    Names I use
    Eartha Kitty
    Kate S (Sister of Kurt Shlongnnegut)
    Dark Dancer 14

    -David

  10. Im a single mother of two. If forced to give up burlesque for my children I absolutely would but would be appalled as I am appalled by reading this. I agree something has to be done to reverse this. Theres gotta be some slick talking hot shot lawyers among our midst. This sucks. It just plain sucks.

  11. Thank you so much for covering this story and reminding us that performing Burlesque is still a subversive act in many places. Much love to Ida and her children, and hopes that the legal system can become enlightened enough to see Burlesque as a joyful, empowering expression, and focus on the real issue of who is a caring, responsible and present parent.

  12. I am stunned and sorry to hear this. I met Ida at BHOF. We hit it off and I was hoping to see her again this year. She is beautiful inside and out. I send her my love.

  13. I want to add the following message from Betty that was added to her original statement, for those who have left comments about taking action of some kind:

    “…it needs be said that do not fight for the previously mentioned individual’s civil liberties. Any actions that can be attributed to her could end her custody battle. What can be addressed is the insanity and stupidity that is consistently displayed by state and federal government. This discrimination is not the only issue that happens as I’m sure we’re all aware of. The purpose of all of this was to raise awareness and I think that has indeed happened!”

    This post was approved, but further action beyond highlighting the issue should not be taken on Ida’s behalf.

  14. I would like to see burlesque performers return to something like a Union or organization that would protect them from situations like this and so much more. This is a very difficult situation, though it was an easier decision to choose one’s children over one’s rights. The point is absolutely that nobody should have to choose, which is why she was okay with her stage name being used. That helps to put a real face that many people know with this rape of one woman’s rights. And, let’s be clear on three accounts: (1). This was a violation of one’s unalienable rights, which are supposed to be protected by the American Constitutional; (2). If this can happen to one person, it and things like it can happen to others; and (3). We all have to do something to keep this from happening again or we are just as bad as the (female) judge. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I know that Ida Claire is overwhelmed by the support of her, and she wants to make sure it never happens again. Consider contacting her to be a part of a documentary she is making on the subject of burlesque and motherhood. If you ask around, you can get the email address. She has taken the last few weeks just to spend time with the one child who is once again in her physical custody and to try to help him cope with the brainwashing of hatred against her, all because she was a burlesque performer. She appreciates all the support and those who took down videos, but she doesn’t want Ida Claire to die, just to transform into a symbol for ensuring that others won’t suffer the same fate. I know her quite well and am sure that if she could legally tell you anything, this is what she would tell you. XO

  15. I founded and host an all-moms burlesque show in NYC called Hot Mama Burlesque, so as a mother a burlesque performer, I find this horrifying. I am with Bella Sin: I wish there were some kind of crowdfunding campaign or nonprofit or *someplace* where we could donate money to this woman’s cause. If anyone starts something like that please let me know at raven at ravensnook dot com. I am sickened by this. \

  16. This is horrible. Sadly, it’s that good ol’ boy status in the South that prevails. All my love to Ida and her family as they endure this HELL. Your smiling face will be missed.

  17. I have known this woman since she came on the Burlesque scene, and I have spent time with both as a performer and a “civilian.” in fact, we were in the same troupe. Let me tell you, there are very few humans in this world that are as nice and down to earth. She would give you the shirt off her back, if you needed it. She is a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to laugh with, and a friend to go through life with. I think it is a shame that she has to be banned for something that, in this day and age, most people don’t bat an eye at. I shed a tear for this travesty, and for my good friend. I love you, sweetie, and I am always here for you.

  18. I’ve worked for lingerie stores and have had fellow employees have struggles in custody battles due to the nature of the store… Yes underwear is just so shameful… While the ex partners some of which are drug addicts, drug dealers, alcoholics, or just plain dead beats get the upper hand of the judicial system that is already (especially in the south) run by men and very ignorant to the world of performing, especially Burlesque. As a community to try and help as much as we can without effecting the decision of this (female) judge until she may appeal or get better council is to try and EDUCATE! There’s more power and fight within knowledge. I know I speak for my burlesque community her in Austin when I say we stand behind Ida and if there is ANYTHING we can do, we will.

  19. As stated in the disclaimer, care has been taken to ensure that the content here is approved and safe to publish.

  20. This disgusts me. Not for its implications that burlesque is not yet widely accepted, but rather that legislating the morality of women is still happening. EVERY FUCKING DAY.

    On MLK Jr day, I read an article that said his real accomplishment was making the country (esp The Deep South) safe for black people. After reading that article and therefore getting a tertiary understanding of what life was like BEFORE MLK Jr took to preaching and marching, I could not dispute the argument.

    My question is this: Where is the MLK Jr of the womens movement? When is it going to be safe to have a sexuality and be a woman/girl/mother?

  21. This is rubbing salt on a cut that is not going to get any better soon, I love her very much and she was at my festival- It was out of respect we removed her images and video in fear that we could hurt her and her case further. There is nothing we can do even do this is know filled as her legal alias (Her burlesque name) At much as this upsets me we have our hands tied in this issue- It’s a danger either way to use her name in any way this was a decision from a judge in the system, this case can still be taken to court to contest this by the father… There is not a day that goes by where i don’t want to call her and reassure her we have her back and we will fix this but sadly our hands are tied and we just now need to prepare for the next issue at hand how to prevent this and raise awareness for future woman to have the articles that matter to their case and provide legal help to them. In burlesque there is all walks of life and i know we have some burly lawyers that could give free advise on a case depending on state, It will take time to organize and raise funds for us to make it happen – Maybe creating a 501c3 that will help performers from all walks of life nationally or globally, Personally if i had to pay a fee a year to a charity that will help my fellow dancers when in pain, hardship and legal battles i would see it as a fee well spend to know we have some kind of security for our future! No one should every question our human purpose our human love … We are people and that it self it’s important to remember this is a job to some of us and a passion. We provide a priceless service and that is a smile on your face to lift your bad day as performers this is our life in the lime light*

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