Before I was fully awake this morning in London my inbox was filling up with reports from New Orleans about Lucky Pierre’s, which hosts The Blue Book Cabaret, produced by Burlesque TOP 50 ranking performer Bella Blue, who has invited such guest stars as Jo Weldon and Michelle L’amour to the venue.  Ruby Rage, a cast member of Blue Book for the past year, has been banned from performing at the venue by the Lucky Pierre’s management specifically because of her size, which is not appropriate or desirable for the show, in their opinion.

I spoke to Ruby Rage personally to discover what has happened first hand:

“I have been working at Lucky Pierre’s for around a year. About three weeks ago I stopped seeing my name on the schedule, so naturally I asked about this because I thought it was a technical error with my phone/computer on my end.

I finally had the chance to speak with Bella Blue, and she told me that upper management didn’t think that my body type fit in with the burlesque show. Of course I was hurt and pained and Bella really didn’t want to have to tell me, neither does she want to be known as a producer who discriminates because of size or gender, etc. She and another dancer had a meeting with the club two days ago, which turned into a heated discussion between them and management staff. Nothing came from it.

At this point in time the other dancer contacted me and told me that they were not budging on the size thing. As there are others with more meat on their bones still performing there, I asked – but why me? And it basically boiled down to the owner favouring others. They told management what a great performer I am and that I get standing ovations and bring the house down, and then they went right back to the size discrimination – how my body wasn’t right for burlesque.”

Ruby Rage, who performed at Lucky Pierre's until she was dropped by the owner for being too big.  ©Nolapus.com/Andreas Koch
Ruby Rage, who performed at Lucky Pierre’s until she was dropped by the management for being too big. ©Nolapus.com/Andreas Koch

Ruby has decided to take a stand. “I decided that instead of crying in a corner like I usually do, I would take this public and let the wider community know what is actually happening. It’s not just an ‘I didn’t get the gig’ sort of thing, it’s more about hey, this is happening and it’s wrong.”

Comments online have convinced Ruby that this is a widespread issue. “It doesn’t just happen to me but so many more amazing performers down here in New Orleans, and since I made my post public I have had many other full figured women come to me from across the country to tell me that they are body shamed as well. This isn’t right.”

Ruby tells me she is still in contact with Bella and they remain firm friends. “She fully supports what I’m doing. The reason she just didn’t pull the show immediately is because so many other performers use it as a major source of their income. But since this has happened, many of them have refused to perform.”

She added: “I just feel as a performer that it’s important to take back burlesque and make it about being body positive no matter the shape, size, gender, or colour. This used to be my safe place and my happy place, but sexist men and money are taking that away from me and many others. I feel as a community we need to come together and re-evaluate this and make it more about the art.”

 
Ruby Rage, who performed at Lucky Pierre's until she was dropped by the owner for being too big.  ©POC Photo
Ruby Rage, who performed at Lucky Pierre’s until she was dropped by management for being too big. ©POC Photo

Lucky Pierre’s published a response to complaints on their Facebook page, as follows:

“We would like to thank everyone for their opinion on Burlesque. Let’s face the facts, in the long history of the art there is an expected image. Josephine Backer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Bettie Page, Blaze Starr, Dita Von Teese, and Mae West. This image was carried to main stream by movies like Burlesque and Cabaret.

If this leaves any doubt of the worlds expectation of Burlesque let’s take a minute to look at the photos by Stephen Le Marche who says, “I love the old world charm of burlesque” and “Burlesque shows off the dancer’s amazing physique.”

This concept is carried through the many burlesque clubs around the world. The Crazy Horse Paris, X Burlesque, Volupte’, Club Noir, Hubba Hubba Revue, Jumbo Clown room and Moulin Rouge.

The world has a standard for burlesque and our dramatically comical musical show will achieve that standard.

Please also take a moment to help clear any more confusion on what is burlesque and watch the video from the burlesque hall of fame 2014 Miss Exotic World champion LouLou D’Vil. As well as this clip from Carson Daily show.

Thank you for the continued support as we create the greatest show in America.”

The (moronic, badly written) statement received furious condemnation, particularly from those mentioned in the statement. Hubba Hubba Revue co-producer Jim Sweeney commented:

“I don’t know these people at all, and quite clearly they don’t know Hubba Hubba Revue *at all.* Diversity is a major element of our community, our show families and of Hubba itself. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of our show, anyone who’s been to our show even once, would know that. They pulled our name out of a hat, and attached our notoriety to their gross misstatement.

For that matter, they drag Burlesque Hall of Fame into their nonsense, and, after listing all these supposedly important shows as justification for their own, misguided policy. go on to say that their show is (or will be) the “greatest in America.”

Really? THEN WHY DID YOU FEEL THE NEED TO DRAG MY SHOW’S NAME INTO YOUR BULLSHIT?”

Photographer Stephen LaMarche comments: “It’s really sad I have been involved in this… but to correct my opinion which has been so badly butchered… I photograph all and any type of person. I think all bodies are beautiful and enjoy photographing every type or ‘physic’. I have actually done full editorials with ‘plus size’ models.”

The Burlesque Hall of Fame was also quick to respond, and in a Facebook statement their comments included: “To claim that there is a single “image” of beauty in burlesque is wrong, both historically and especially in the burlesque scene today. While a producer certainly has the right to decide what kind of performers s/he wants in their show, they should not be surprised to find that excluding performers on the basis of their size (or race, or height, or any other physical factor) finds little support among today’s burlesque performers and fans.”

BHoF Executive Director Dustin Wax pointed out that Dirty Martini – an iconic ‘plus size’ performer worshipped globally – also won the Miss Exotic World title in 2004.

LouLou D’vil, mentioned in the Lucky Pierre’s statement as an example, commented on their post, saying:If a performer is able to entertain the audience, nothing else matters. And that’s my opinion.

BHoF Executive Director Dustin Wax pointed out that Dirty Martini - an iconic 'plus size' performer worshipped globally - also won the Miss Exotic World title in 2004. ©Kaylin Idora.
BHoF Executive Director Dustin Wax pointed out that Dirty Martini – an iconic ‘plus size’ performer worshipped globally – also won the Miss Exotic World title in 2004. ©Kaylin Idora.

Long serving photographer, designer and LA burlesque producer Chris Beyond, whose comment on the Lucky Pierre’s post was initially deleted along with several others, sent the following statement to 21st Century Burlesque Magazine:

“I am really embarrassed for all of the great performers who have performed at Lucky Pierre’s who now have their faces associated with an establishment that truly does not understand what burlesque is or was. Apart from all of the historical inaccuracies, they also cited the Hubba Hubba Revue and Jumbo’s Clown Room as the epitome of what classic burlesque is. While wildly incorrect about Hubba Hubba, who have all manner of shapes and sizes and styles in their excellent show, I pondered if Mae West would have worn band-aids on her nipples like they often do at Jumbo’s, which is not known as a burlesque establishment, but rather a local fun strip club here in Los Angeles.

For as long as I have been involved in burlesque (now in my 14th year), I have only known it to be an amazing inclusive folk art that accepts anyone with talent on stage no matter what size, shape, colour, or gender they are. It’s how I run my own show and frankly the art form is better for it.

One of the things I love about Burlesque is that it’s not about what people think they want to see, but rather what they DIDN’T know they wanted to see. I really hope Lucky Pierre’s posts a retraction and apology as they really owe it to the people they work with and the communities that without whom, they wouldn’t have any shows.”

I also reached out to performer and producer Sydni Deveraux, who responded to a similar issue on 21st Century Burlesque Magazine in 2012. She had this to say:

“I want to say that I’m disappointed in the statements coming from Lucky Pierre’s but I am not surprised. This is not the first venue to ever pull this on a producer or a performer and it certainly won’t be the last. What I do see is more and more performers waking up to the incredibly charged nature of what we do in our bodies. The sizeism, racism, sexism and ableism are all at the forefronts of our movement right now. We must stand up against all of them, equally. We have an incredible opportunity presently in our history to make things better, to improve conditions for everyone, and not just for white, cis-gendered, thin able-bodied people. That despite burlesque being created by and perhaps even for the patriarchy, we have a unique position to continue to take it out of their hands. We do this every day by standing up for our peers, by doing what we want and need with our bodies, our aesthetics and being utterly entertaining onstage.
As a producer we are given the power to choose what’s in our shows, and we certainly have to deal with our own individual tastes and talent pools, but there’s never room for blatant discrimination based solely on subjective ideas of beauty. Our culture is dictating a lot to us about what is beautiful – and truly, while some of that is true, it is too narrow for us to confine ourselves to.”