In a new interview series, celebrated burlesque performers answer twenty questions which document their career to date and their thoughts on contemporary burlesque, present and future. Blaze, The Red Rose of Texas is the first to tackle the interview.
Name: Blaze, the Red Rose of Texas
Home location: Dallas, Texas
Years performing: Five
Training: Tap, Jazz and Ballet since childhood, belly dance since 1996. Burlesque training: mostly self-taught with extensive work with Michelle L’Amour as well as many workshops and classes with teachers such as Catherine D’Lish, Pearl Noire, Ginger Valentine, and so many classes at festivals.
1. What was your first awareness or experience of burlesque?
I first heard of Dita Von Teese in the late 90s but never got to see her in person until I moved to Dallas in 2003. I had always loved performing in glittery costumes but this was next level bling! I had a long road to travel before I would finally step on the stage, but that was the day I was hooked.
2. How did you decide on your burlesque name?
I’d been a performer for a long time in many different ways and always had a fondness for fire and flame colours. I think the first time I went by the name of ‘Blaze’ was during my Rocky Horror performance days in Boston, Ma and then again as a belly dance performer. When it came time to decide on a burlesque name the only difficulty I had was trying to decide if it was okay to have the same first name as one of my idols, Blaze Starr.
In the end I decided to honour her as best I could with it. ‘The Red Rose of Texas’ has multiple reasons behind it; red roses have always been my favorite flower, I used them as an identifier for myself in many ways. Having red hair and living in Texas it came to me one day that it would also be a cute play on the familiar ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’ and my tagline was born!
3. Describe your first burlesque costume.
It was definitely inspired by one of Dita’s costumes she wore in one of her duets with Catherine; colour changing blue/teal with black accents. It had a mermaid skirt with corset bra, bolero and gloves. Made my own pasties too… that was the last time I did that lol!
4. Describe your first burlesque act.
When I first started burlesque I had this ‘groundbreaking’ idea (or so thought, being the baby burlesquer I was) to do a classic strip to modern music because I though classic burlesque music was boring. My song was a cover of the Cure’s Lovesong by Snake River Conspiracy. I still do this act occasionally, but it always amuses me how dead set I was against ‘just doing classic burlesque’ and now it’s my favourite!
5. What is your greatest strength, and is there an aspect of yourself you would like to work on?
I think perhaps my greatest strength can sometimes be my greatest weakness and that is focus. When I am focused on something I quite often get blinders on until I accomplish what I set out to do. This includes not worrying about how ‘hard’ something may be to do; I just get it done. This also means that not only do other important things sometimes fall to the wayside, but if something doesn’t go the way I planned it’s harder for me to recover and get back on track. Trying to find the balance is key.
6. What is one thing most people do not know about you?
Hmm, that is a tough one as I am a pretty open book I think! I guess for those that haven’t interacted with me much it would be that I am an Army Military Police Veteran.
7. Why are you still performing burlesque? What drives you and how do you challenge yourself?
I truly enjoy not only performing onstage but the whole process. I love brainstorming new costumes and acts for songs that inspire me, making the vision I have in my head match what the audience will see, and then experiencing the reactions to all the hard work. I always have had the desire to present anything I’m working on in the best possible way I can, but my challenge is sometimes I have TOO many visions and projects at once. Time management is not my strong point!
8. Describe your biggest high and biggest low as a burlesque performer.
Thankfully there have been a LOT of highs and each was for unique reasons. I’ve been sitting here running through all the things I’ve achieved, titles I’ve won, shows I’ve booked, but every time I try to pick one it doesn’t seem right. I think my ‘biggest high’ has happened to me quite a few times; it’s when someone tells me honestly that I inspire them. That makes me feel like I am doing something right.
My biggest low was an event that also showed me that I am stronger than I think when it comes to the saying ‘The Show Must Go On’. Two days into my yearly trip to Chicago with Michelle L’amour for training at Strippers Holiday, my beloved pug, Tank, passed away. This was after a long struggle including expensive back surgery and 24/7 care for over a month, and the first time I had left his side since the surgery.
I stepped away from rehearsals to take a phone call from my now ex-husband who simply said ‘Tank’s dead’. I don’t remember anything until I came back to reality in my now beloved friend Ms. Redd’s arms sobbing hysterically.
The next few days were a haze of tears and pain… but I stuck out the training and not only did my own routine in the show that Saturday night but also the group dance as well. It’s a very painful memory but because of it I have wonderful friendships with people I cherish.
9. Name three burlesque performers whose work is particularly significant to you and the art form.
Michelle L’Amour for pushing the limits of performance in every which way and smiling seductively while doing it.
Catherine D’Lish for her gorgeous classic performances as well as costumes that make me want to sparkle the world.
Dita Von Teese for showing myself and so many others the way to this wonderfully sparkly world.
10. What inspires you most outside of the burlesque world?
I take inspiration from so many things, I think that shows in all the various interests I have! The internet now provides a constant feed of gorgeousness to the little screens in front of me… movies, fabulous Instagram feeds, Pinterest boards, and then there are all my wonderfully creative friends!
11. What are your burlesque bugbears or pet peeves?
‘Pay to play’, specifically festivals that only exist for the producer’s personal gain. Simply calling it a ‘competition’ in order to have performers get onstage without pay or useful enrichment in hopes of a dime-a-dozen. To add salt to the wound, some producers pocket application fees from performers and can even require them to purchase tickets to shows they aren’t performing in. This is all in addition to the general ticket sales.
Now, I understand that burlesque is a business and people don’t need to host festivals and shows out of the goodness of their heart, but if you are a for profit organisation you need to compensate your performers; be it a stipend or other form of worthwhile enrichment. I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions that sometimes may seem selfish, but just getting onstage as well as seeing my friends is just not enough for me personally.
My other pet peeve, which sort of ties into the above, is accurately describing shows to the general public. If you are hosting a competition or a show where there will be performers who perhaps are not as polished as others, the audience really needs to know ahead of time. Maybe it’s a show where the performances are more to make you think or laugh rather than to tease.
If the audience comes wanting to see a Dita Von Teese or Christina Aguilera and they get performance art like Julie Atlas Muz’s glow stick number (which I specifically chose because I’ve seen it in person and it’s amazing!) they are not happy. I have lost count of how many people have told me they don’t want to go to a show because they went to a mislabeled show and did not enjoy it.
12. What is your response to the saying: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?
“Always be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland
13. What are your views on cultural appropriation?
I believe both ‘appropriation’ and ‘appreciation’ exist and sadly the line is so blurry due to personal opinions and experiences that it’s a topic I steer clear from.
14. What are your feelings surrounding competition, competitive events or awards in burlesque?
I do believe that there can be healthy competition in our community and I think the key to it is transparency both before and after it happens. What does this competition intend to accomplish? How will the performers be compensated? What will performers be judged on? Will they be given feedback on their performance? (Often one of the deciding factors for me on entering a competition is if I will get judges notes on my act; feedback on how to improve is worth its weight in gold!)
15. What is your view on critique, be it peer feedback, reviews or self-evaluation, and its place in burlesque?
I believe it is CRITICAL and sometimes it’s very difficult to find especially if you are a solo performer. While I believe you should be as polite and encouraging as possible (especially AT a show) I also think honesty is extremely important. If someone comes to you and asks for an honest opinion then give it to them! Playing lip service to them helps no one and hurts how the general public views and respects the professionalism of our art form.
16. Who do you feel are the most underrated/overlooked offstage contributors to the burlesque scene?
Hands down professional photographers who shoot live shows. I mean the ones that take the time to not only do their research ahead of time by perhaps getting there early for tech to take notes on the performers’ acts including their costumes, staging and lighting, to have a plan before they even step onstage.
Those that make sure they get as many photos of ALL the performers while making sure they aren’t impeding the audience’s view.
Those that not only cull the snaps that are less than perfect or unflattering but actually EDIT the photos to make the performer look their best before throwing them up for all to see, and doing it all in a reasonable amount of time.
I think too often photographers get nothing but the photos for all their hard work, which is why many are reluctant to put all the time that the job really requires and then no one wins.
17. What would you like to go back and tell yourself when you were starting out?
I don’t think I would go back and tell myself anything that would change the journey that I have had. Sure there has been a lot of pain and heartbreak, but all roads have led to where I am now both professionally and emotionally.
I struggled through a failing marriage, my career, as well as the pain and insecurity that came from it, and the resulting divorce in 2015 which I do partially attribute to burlesque. I’ve lost family members and friends. I’ve been injured, I’ve cried, I’ve lost money, time and more, but all of it was worth it.
I am happy and getting happier. I feel I have made great accomplishments and have plans for more. I have beloved family, friends and memories. Not to mention I now command a metric ton of rhinestones and glitter!
18. What advice would you give to new performers starting out in today’s scene?
Take your time. Don’t rush your performances and expectations. Don’t compare anyone else’s journey to yours.
19. What do you feel is the greatest success or asset of contemporary burlesque?
I think the way burlesque has led so many people to accepting their own bodies and sexuality and other people’s as well. The human body is beautiful in so many forms!
20. What is the biggest threat or obstacle the art form faces?
Oversaturation of sub-par and/or mislabeled performances and productions. People are much quicker to share a bad review than a positive one, and all it takes is one bad show to lose a lot of current and future audience members.
Find out more about Blaze at www.blazeburlesque.com
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.