21st Century Burlesque Magazine reached out to iconic burlesque superstar Dirty Martini for her reaction to Lucky Pierre’s decision to drop burlesque performer Ruby Rage because of her size, and their public statement explaining this decision. Here is what she had to say.

Dirty Martini (©Dominic Kieler)
Dirty Martini (©Dominic Kieler)

My name is Dirty Martini. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. If you have I guarantee that it’s because I’ve managed to slip through the cracks of our modern media culture and not because I had the good fortune to be cast in a TV show or went to an audition and got a part to propel my career. This is where burlesque comes in. For me, in the early 90s burlesque was a form of rebellion and social commentary. The forum that burlesque created was to function in making a new system to show new ideas.

The rebirth of burlesque was not just about fun and drinking and definitely did not resemble a Mad Men type relapse in misogynist thinking. It was an opportunity to excite and offer insight into a new world order where women call the shots and convey dangerous ideas in a candy coated package. Sweet on the outside, a little spiky in the middle but all digestible, the New Burlesque’s aim is first to entertain and then bring the audience on a journey, the ending to which is never expected.  This is the hallmark of the New Burlesque. The key to its resurgence is not just the glorification of retro womanhood but the dismantling of the male dominated conversation of women’s sexuality. After the glitter is rubbed from the audiences’ eyes they open them to see the true conversation from a woman’s perspective.  This is the importance of the burlesque revival in the world and this is also why mainstream culture continues to miss the point.

“The key to [burlesque’s] resurgence is not just the glorification of retro womanhood but the dismantling of the male dominated conversation of women’s sexuality.”

I was asked to spend my two cents on the statement from the owner of Lucky Pierre’s in New Orleans in regard to Ruby Rage’s exclusion from their show due to her not fitting their idea of what a burlesque dancer looks like. Without raising the question of whether she’s a talented entertainer with good costumes and a following, their objection lies in their expectations of what burlesque should be.  I read the statement and was interested to find that they justify their argument using some sort of burlesque time machine with examples handpicked from the past to prove their point. To this sort of logic, there is no argument. It’s like using Hitler, Mussolini and Saddam Hussein as examples of why power corrupts in politics.

While it’s fine to enjoy and be inspired by successful shows featuring some naked ladies such as Crazy Horse or the movie Cabaret, there is no basis to use them as examples of what burlesque is today. Guess what my fantasy burlesque world looks like? It stars Selene Luna, Sophie Tucker, Siegfried and Roy, Jennie Lee, Carrie Finnel, Vicky Lynn, Etta James. Let’s have a speech by Susan B. Anthony leading into a Bob Mackie fashion show with a lyric ballet wrestling match between Cyd Charisse and Mitzie Gaynor. It’s hosted by Joan Rivers and the headliner is me!  Wow, this is fun!

“While it’s fine to enjoy and be inspired by successful shows featuring some naked ladies such as Crazy Horse or the movie Cabaret, there is no basis to use them as examples of what burlesque is today.”

I have never had the pleasure of seeing Miss Ruby Rage perform, but I have been to Lucky Pierre’s for one of their regular burlesque shows upon the invite of Bella Blue. I made the outing while I was performing with Dita Von Teese’s show Strip Strip Hooray! at House of Blues and had a lovely time attending with SSH’s cast and Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon in attendance too.  I didn’t find the show remarkable in any way aside from the notion that it happened so regularly there and there were no cocktail waiters. Was it the “best burlesque show in America”? I couldn’t say that it was, but it also wasn’t the worst.

Although I enjoyed Bella and the lovely Charlotte Truese’s performances, the person that I remembered the most was the drag performer in the show – a big brassy showstopper of a gal who really gave her all. In fact, when I read the statement from the management I had to rub the glitter out of my eyes a little and remember if this was the same place I saw that show. I went to the internet to see their site and then had to rub my eyes a little more! Lucky Pierre’s boasts a cast of drag queens that looks like Josephine Baker’s rainbow tribe all grown up and in drag. Fat, thin, black, white and all dressed up, their faces beat for doom (that’s drag for a lot of makeup), there they sit on the main page with listings of shows every day for them to prance around in. Then there’s the two pictures of the bio women looking like a naked Nike commercial.

“Has burlesque come full circle only to be slurped up into the mainstream … or has it always lived through producers who view women as silent butt shakers to be commented about instead of learned from or, more pertinently, to be afraid of?”

I started thinking of what burlesque has become. Are there audience expectations that a producer must fulfil aside from solid entertaining acts? Has burlesque come full circle only to be slurped up into the mainstream like a naked Lambada or has it always lived through producers who view women as silent butt shakers to be commented about instead of learned from or, more pertinently, to be afraid of? Is there a fear that attendance will drop if there’s something unusual or even a little challenging in the show such as body norms or in some cases skin colour? Maybe the audience can’t handle gender issues or feels uncomfortable with a host that has a physical disability?  Watching that clip of the Carson Daly show really clarified this point of view. The dancer, clearly accomplished and beautiful, was used as the butt (if you’ll indulge) of a very male-centred joke. It could be funny if you ignore the cultural implication that women are to be ignored and that her expression is for their amusement alone.

Dirty Martini at Theatre Bizarre 2014. ©Neil Kendall
Dirty Martini at Theatre Bizarre 2014. ©Neil Kendall

Honestly, I’m exhausted from hearing about what an audience wants to see from a burlesque show. Since when does that become the criteria for creating “the best show in America”? It seems to me that if you limit a show to “standard” acts, it becomes a “standard” show. Boring, predictable and perhaps palatable to some, but certainly not the best show in America.

By the way, I was in that show – the best burlesque show in the world – and guess what? I cast myself in it. I’m in it all the time: it’s called New Burlesque and it happens when you least expect it! It’s hosted by Murray Hill or World Famous *BOB* or Kate Valentine or Mat Fraser and it stars all kinds of goddamned performers like Dita Von Teese, Alotta Boutte, Satan’s Angel, Rose Wood, Bunny Love, Julie Atlas Muz, and Waxie Moon. There’s one only one thing that you can’t be to get into that show and that’s “standard”. So good luck with that, Lucky Pierre’s!

As for you, Ruby Rage, you got a good name (appropriate considering the huge internet furore you started) and you’re a pretty girl. You go make your own show and they can suck it!

Dirty Martini
(Miss Exotic World 2004)

Read the full report: New Orleans Venue Drops Burlesque Performer Due to Her Size. Burlesque Community Erupts.

Exclusive: A Statement from Bella Blue, Lucky Pierre’s Burlesque Producer