Veteran burlesque star Imogen Kelly, who previously discussed her battle with breast cancer on 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, has asked me to publish a letter to the 2015 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend attendees and the wider community. Take it away, Imogen…
Firstly, congratulations to Queen Trixie and to all the other tournament teasers. I am sorry I couldn’t be there with you this time. My breast got in the way of all things fun – it’s such an attention seeker. It is a terrible shock to find myself back in the waiting line for some one-on-one time with a pethidine machine. However, please do not fret. It’s nothing that a scalpel can’t fix. I’m doing fine.
“When I started, I wasn’t remotely interested in pretending to be a lady, wearing gowns or covering my vagina in Swarovkis. In my mind, there is nothing very revolutionary about those things.”
As Queen I was too ill to give a gift to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, as I understand each queen offers a little something to the weekender. At the time my gift was to present my step down number. That was the most I had it in me to do. But I never did get to give my little something to the weekender, so I have it here for you all tonight.
Those of you that know me well enough know that I’m not really a vintage princess. I’m an activist in the world’s sexiest revolution – the burlesque revival. In fact it’s my silver jubilee year this year. When I started, I wasn’t remotely interested in pretending to be a lady, wearing gowns or covering my vagina in Swarovkis. In my mind, there is nothing very revolutionary about those things. In fact, when I started I was in a dyke punk gang called The GOD Girls (The Girls of Disgrace). We would stomp our way in steel capped boots through the red light districts of Darlinghurst and Kings Cross, equipped with knuckle-dusters and baseball bats to protect the ladies of the night and members of the queer community from red necked attacks. I’m a political animal; this revival is a political movement and so my gift is politically driven.
I would like to ask you all to dedicate a minute of your thoughts to Jennie Lee. I am going to ask this because she, as well as Dixie Evans, is at the heart of The Burlesque Hall of Fame. To me Jennie Lee was many things. She was a brilliant stripper. She was a burlesque historian. She was a builder of our community. She was taken from us by breast cancer. Most importantly to me, she was a unionist and an activist. In many ways, she really is a guiding light for all of us if we ever should find ourselves confused by what we are collectively trying to achieve.
“…think of the last time you were treated as being less than your worth as a performer – the last time you were underpaid, the last time you were spoken down to – and make a pinky promise to your soul that you will never let this happen to yourself again…”
We are changing the world one g-string at a time. Whether it is ownership of voyeurism, confronting body norms, creating visibility and acceptance for the female sexual voice – we all have our reasons for coming to this stage. So I think it is right to ask for a Jennie Lee moment.
We burlesquers are not exactly the type of people to have a minute of silence to revere our deceased. Nor would they want that. They were wild girls. So instead I want you all to think now on what it is you most treasure about Jennie Lee’s legacy. Perhaps think of someone suffering from breast cancer, or someone who did not survive. Or think of your favourite legend, or an historical burlesque event. Think of the Legends themselves and the difficulties of their lives as women often judged by society. That they had to fight for their rights on a level that is rarely acknowledged. Or the difficulties they face in their lives now. Think of how lucky you are to have such a generous platform to play on, but think also that it is a platform hard fought for by many nameless women – women such as Jennie Lee.
Finally, if you could think of the last time you were treated as being less than your worth as a performer – the last time you were underpaid, the last time you were spoken down to – and make a pinky promise to your soul that you will never let this happen to yourself again and that you, as a fellow revolutionary, will try to think of ways to stop this happening to others. It does not serve you or the good of burlesque if we treat this mighty horse we are riding as a trotting pony to promenade on. Not that I dislike the promenade – I’m rather good at the promenade – but I also like a thundering charge. We work hard for our art; our pay should not only reflect that but also make burlesque financially viable as a career. We can only get to that point if we pull together. I think Jennie and Dixie would be proud of us if we continued to fight for this art-form to be treated with respect by those who employ us.
On the count of three you are all going to cheer your loudest cheer of thanks to Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans for creating the Burlesque Hall of Fame. May it/ we never be taken for granted. 1. 2. 3…
Imogen Kelly, Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2012