Burlesque newcomer Something Blue shares her Dallas Burlesque Festival experience…
My New Year’s resolution this year was to take the next step in my burlesque career. I spent my first year keeping it quiet, working on my acts, watching and learning — generally laying low. But the eve of my one year anniversary has come and gone and that means this year it’s time to say hello to the burlesque community at large and become a real part of this movement.
The first step, in my book, was to try out a few festivals. I’ve been hemming and hawing about festivals for a while because while I love the idea of showing off what I’ve been working on so hard to my community and being able to build a reputation for myself in other markets, I’m a little leery of the idea of competitive pageantry. I’ve never thought of myself as a beauty queen and I really can’t think of a situation where I submitted myself to be publicly judged on purpose. The idea of it is a little nauseating. Possibly even panic attack inducing. Last year I performed in a group act with The Jigglewatts Burlesque Revue at the Texas Burlesque Festival, and although I was only a year younger in this business, it feels like a million years ago. I remember being cripplingly nervous at first (even if it didn’t show on my face), and squeezing the hand of Ruby Joule tight before we parted ways backstage to go to our respective entrances. But then I also remember running out there to meet her for a do-si-do and not being able to hear anything but the music and not feeling anything but the magnificent smile on my face and my body taking the helm to sail through the choreography I had tirelessly practised. I remember clasping hands with my bare-breasted sisters at the end of the act and taking a bow before a crowd that I’m pretty sure was literally losing its mind.
And in that moment, I did not feel judged. It was a moment of love and affection from a crowd of people who were just straight up in love with each other and in love with burlesque. I’m finding that it’s easy to feel competitive in this industry as there are so many of us, with more and more joining in every day, but my brief experience at the Texas Burlesque Festival gave me that first glimpse into the community aspect of burlesque, and the amount of true love there is in it. So I figured what the hell – I’ll pick out some festivals that seem cool, in some places I think I can really fit in and some places I’ve always wanted to visit and see what happens.
I made myself a very in-depth chart of festivals that interested me, their application deadlines blah blah blah (re: my college application process) and realised one of the festivals I was interested in was coming up fast: The Dallas Burlesque Festival. With hardly any time to think about it, I put my application together and pressed ‘send’ before I looked up and realised… oh shit. What have I done? It’s one thing to apply, but what if I get in? Don’t worry, I told myself, you probably won’t. I had heard many things about the band of hotties that is the Ruby Revue, and I figured Dallas was a little beyond my reach at the moment.
A few months went by until one day I was on my way home from my muggle job and got an email. I asked Siri to read it to me while I drove and suddenly, in a monotonous robot voice I heard the words, “You have been selected to perform.” I was headed to Dallas in February to make my solo festival debut.
On Friday the 13th, February 2015, I walked into the House of Blues in Dallas in curlers and pretty out of breath (Dallas traffic) after speed walking from my car in fear that I would miss my first fucking tech time of my whole life. But as I walked into the ballroom I was greeted by familiar faces. I had met Missy Lisa, Angi B. Lovely and Ginger Valentine a handful of times before, but we had never been formally introduced. The Ruby Revue sat cross-legged on the floor stuffing gift bags and greeted me with squeals of excitement. I was relieved to see the beautiful faces of Eva Strangelove and Roxie Moxie from Austin as well, two bombshells with whom I’ve worked several times, rocks of the Austin burlesque scene.
All these chicks were just like me. They were in sweat pants and curlers and just as silly and giddy about burlesque as I was; there was no reason to put on any airs here. I was happy to do my tech to a mostly empty room, a time for me to really centre myself and take a deep breath.
After a successful tech I headed to the very quiet and almost empty dressing room to try and stake out a spot, where I stayed, trying to calm my nerves and look open to conversation as the room slowly filled up. I was surprised to see so many faces I recognised and names I had heard before. Victoria Viking settled in next to me and introduced herself again, although we both knew we had met at a Jigglewatts show recently. Angi B. Lovely sat down next to me and reached across to introduce herself formally, with the firm handshake of a firecracker with a fuse burning. Black Mariah entered in a whirlwind of busy and joined the conversation with quips and fast wit. Donna Denise floated in and filled the room with her magnanimous silence. The dynamic of the dressing room was immense. Although my shyness won out most of the time, I enjoyed standing back and observing the whole thing.
Finally, it was show time. I was covered in glitter, cinched up and tied in. My dragon perched on my head, his body wrapped around my arm. I stood in the hall behind the incredibly glamorous Missy Lisa (on two acts before me) and we caught each other’s eye.
“Are you excited?” she asked.
“Well, I’m ready; that’s for sure,” I replied with a nervous titter.
Ginger Valentine rounded the corner for a high five and a last minute hug, a wide smile across her face.
Here we go.
I stepped onto the stage and after my first strut down the runway I couldn’t really tell you what happened. As I’m sure many dancers can relate, I was so in the moment that I don’t remember anything. I know the room was packed, I know the crowd was hot; I know the lights were bright and I know I felt pretty damn good afterwards. A crazy amount of relief actually. I walked back to the dressing room mostly naked, found a place to sit and reflect for a second. After catching my breath I remembered someone had snuck in before the show and filled the fridge with a few bottles of champagne, so I grabbed one and popped it, a universal sound that incurs instant friendship in this burlesque world, I’m finding. I poured glasses for those who had been drawn to the sound and raised my plastic cup for a toast.
“To us,” I said, and we drank. I missed out on the rest of the first show as I sat backstage and tried to wind down from being so ramped up. I slowly changed my clothes and made my way to the ballroom to watch the late show, The Dallas Burlesque Alliance Showcase.
I posted up by the fireplace to get my fill of a burlesque scene entirely new to me. In my brief time as a burlesque dancer I have taken great pleasure in observing how different burlesque can be depending on where it’s from, and the showcase from the DBA was true to form. From the weird ‘Bawdy Parts’ of Kay Sera, featuring doll-face pasties with tassels protruding from the mouth and baby doll legs puppeted from fishing line, to Blaze’s classic signature red act with that amazing fire engine red stole, the DBA ran the gamut of burlesque variety.
I totally loved the adorable and fun Go-Go Beach Party from the Pistolettes and Buck Wylde, and if I couldn’t get enough of Buck, his half and half act poured a little more on. I was finally filled to the brim while he and May May Graves canoodled in an incredibly sexy Morticia and Gomez Addams act. From a nest of culture and counter-culture, I left the late show feeling fulfilled. I was exhausted from nerving out all night and so opted not to head to the after party, but instead took a slow walk to my car under the watchful eye of the doorman from the House of Blues and sat for a moment of quiet silence before heading back to where I was staying the night.
The next morning I woke up on my best friend’s couch and stared at the ceiling, recalling all the craziness and emotions from the night before. A night I had ramped myself up for that had turned out to be a nice evening surrounded by new friends and colleagues. I turned my mind to the Texas Burlesque Festival a year ago when I had had the same adrenaline hangover and realised the burlesque festival is not about judgement. It’s not about awards or pageantry: who is the prettiest or has the best costume. It’s about watching burlesque in a new place and soaking it all in; learning everything you can from people who are out there doing it differently than yourself and making new friends with innovators from other places.
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.