Viva Dallas Burlesque producer and Pincurl Magazine founder Shoshana Portnoy responds to J.D. Oxblood’s Burlesque TOP 50 Breakdown and shares her thoughts on the popular international poll, now in its seventh year.
I agree with J.D. Oxblood’s assessment that society has traditionally measured the success of an artist by the four achievements of monetary gain, critical acclaim, peer respect, and popularity. I would also add that popularity and monetary gain, more often than not, do not go hand in hand in the world of burlesque. I also agree that internet success is important and plays a role in the Burlesque Top 50. However, two major principles of Oxblood’s argument require further discussion:
A. BHoF showings or standings should have an impact on the Burlesque Top 50
B. Internet popularity in the form of viral videos and the like send you to the top of the Burlesque Top 50.
Let’s start with A:
The Burlesque Hall of Fame pageant and the Burlesque Top 50 are both the results of votes from your peers; however, there is a much bigger emphasis on classic burlesque, props, your standing in the community (have you paid your dues/is it your turn), and the actual art of the striptease at BHoF. It makes perfect sense that would be the case when you look at founders Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans. The original competitors at BHoF were essentially re-creating the burlesque of the “golden era” of the 50s. When the entire scene of the 90s was less than 50 performers, this made sense. Now burlesque performers reach the thousands and arguably, BHoF’s selection and competition have not grown as quickly as the art is evolving.
In the past 25 years of the Miss Exotic World/Reigning Queen of Burlesque competition, only three winners have been women of colour, and zero won with a non-classic act. Zero! Even Julie Atlas Muz, Trixie Little, and Midnite Martini, who are often seen as neo performers, won with classic acts – especially for them. The overwhelming school of thought is/was that on top of the obvious, like talent, timing, and choreography, you had to have a giant prop, a super expensive costume, and a classic act to have a shot at the title. This is changing lately, but is it changing fast enough? Will there soon be a day when the Queen competition looks like one part classic, one part the movers and shakers showcase? Will those who are movers and shakers be able to keep it real and still have a shot at the title?
May I propose that the Burlesque Top 50 fills in the void left by BHoF; those that deserve recognition but do not “fit the mold”? The Top 10 in the Burlesque Top 50 are decidedly neo performers (with two, arguably three exceptions).
Let’s look at B:
I’m going to call total b.s. If this were true, Michelle L’amour and her amazing Butthoven video seen around the world would have solidified the #1 spot for her in both four years ago when it was published, and again when it was picked up my mainstream media. Yet, Michelle L’amour has never been #1. As to Franky Vivid’s comment about Michelle’s fall in the poll being more due to a fan base outside of the industry, I am also not buying that argument, because if that were the case, and the majority of her fans were non- industry folks and therefore non-Burlesque Top 50 voters, she wouldn’t have spent so many years in the Top 10 in the first place. The same argument would have negated Oxblood’s statement that Perle Noire was #2 due to her Cosmo write-up. (We’ve already established Cosmo readers aren’t voting in the Top 50.)
So why are the titans falling? My theory is multi-layered, but at the heart of it all if that THE GLOBAL BURLESQUE COMMUNITY HAS EXPANDED EXPONENTIALLY IN THE PAST 10 YEARS. That being the case: To someone who started performing in 2015, what does it matter if you’ve been performing since 2010, 2000, or 1990? You’re all legends and idols to them. Of course these new burlesquers expect greatness out of Dirty Martini, Catherine D’ Lish, Jo Boobs, and the like- it’s a given. Often when greatness is expected, it’s seldom rewarded.
So what is rewarded in the Burlesque Top 50?
1. Balls: Whether it be through speaking out on a controversial subject or taking huge performance risks, over half of the Top 10 took a major risk in 2015. In a world of complacency and being taught not to speak out for fear it’ll effect your bookings/gigs/acceptance in the community, these ladies screamed at the top of their lungs (or toes!) and their peers and fans reacted with support.
2. Connection: Voters reward those they have a personal connection to or relate to. Does this mean voting for your friends? No. But it does mean being inherently drawn to those who share your physical look/performance style/feelings/aspirations. More and more, the Top 10 seem to buck traditional beauty standards and classic burlesque rules.
3. Relevancy: Burlesque Top 50 voters reward those at the front of their minds at the time. Who just wrote something poignant, created an insanely creative act, toured through my town, spoke out, blew my mind with a performance, or shared a dressing room with me? Those are the folks who will be in the front of your mind. You can’t rest on your laurels and expect folks to reward you. You have to continue to be innovative and present to be noticed.
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.