Jo Weldon: BurlyCon 2013

Jo Weldon’s BurlyCon 2013 Diary.

A fantastic report from BurlyCon 2013, by BurlyCon Board Member and Vice President Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon.

Prepare for a lot of mushiness, gratitude, and self-congratulation. I had a great BurlyCon 2013 weekend.

BurlyCon was seven years old this year, and it was our first year as a full-fledged 501C-3. It reinforced my passion for the culture of burlesque as one which is constantly eager to question, to learn, and to pursue excellence. The way the burlesque community has accepted and supported BurlyCon has been beyond my wildest dreams. This year our attendance increased by 50% over the previous year, and the attending instructors, students, and special guests were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic by far!

A weekender made up entirely of workshops and socializing is a natural development in our little corner of showbiz. Neo-burlesque got its kickstart in 2001 with Tease-O-Rama, the world’s first neo-burlesque convention, which prominently featured classes and workshops; Indigo Blue’s mission to explore what there is to learn about burlesque began there. Shortly after, she founded Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque, and a year later I began building The New York School of Burlesque, beginning with workshops featuring guest instructors and their specialties. BurlyCon was born of our love teaching and of learning.

As Co-Executive Directors for the Burlesque Hall of Fame, Indigo and I have been able to develop the idea of scheduled classes with Legends of Burlesque at the BHOF weekender. Our community of neo-burlesquers have always learned informally from Legends, but it wasn’t until Paula the Swedish Housewife and Indigo helped Legends form classes at BHOF in Las Vegas that we established a tradition of classes where multiple people could attend. We believe that at BHOF it is best to keep it Legends-only, as that is the rarest opportunity. At BurlyCon our Guest of Honor is always a legend, and this year we were privileged to have New Orlean’s own Wild Cherry.

Special guest instructors included Kitten Deville, Ray Gunn, and Perle Noire. It was an embarrassment of riches of hotness and expertise. I was beside myself with excitement looking forward to the weekender.

The BurlyCon 2013 Guest of Honour was burlesque legend Wild Cherry.  ©Don Spiro
The BurlyCon 2013 Guest of Honour was burlesque legend Wild Cherry. ©Don Spiro

I arrived a couple of days early with Jonny Porkpie. A few early Burlyconners were already in the hotel, and the air was already festive. Hot tubs were filled and steamy conversations were had. Wednesday night before the Con officially kicked in, we all went to the office suite to stuff gift bags, overseen by Lowa de Boom Boom. We had a full team on hand, as there were 600 bags to prepare.  There was  a definite choreography involved in getting the right items into the bags without doubling up on one and skipping another. It took a few hours, but everything went smoothly and we packed the bags into boxes to take down to registration. We had tons of swag from great sponsors, including Jacqueline Hyde, Sin in Linen, and more. I took my bag immediately to my room and poured it out onto the table to gloat over my booty and immediately apply my Atomic Cosmetics lipstick.

Booty, by the way, was one of the hot themes of the weekend. Michelle L’amour, whose Butthoven video had recently gone viral on YouTube, and Peekaboo Pointe, returning with her popular booty class, had students bouncing on their toes, knees, and hands all over the hotel all weekend. Booty and the Geek did a brisk business in the vendors section, selling hot shorts to make the twerking all the more delicious to watch.

Jo 'Boobs' Weldon leads a class at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro
Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon leads a class at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

I led a new workshop during the first class segment of the Con on Thursday, ‘Claiming Beauty’. The class was a discussion on how to claim the privileges of beauty without waiting for permission, and supporting diverse beauty by claiming beauty for other people as well. I was definitely preaching to the converted as well as the perverted, but an open discussion is always heated and exciting at BurlyCon, and it was great to have a large crowd (approximately 100 people) for my first hour of class!

I followed my own class by attending Michelle Baldwin’s presentation of her research on burlesque in the 1970s, which was rich with juicy tidbits and new information about familiar names. I can’t wait to read her next book!

Michelle Baldwin leads a class at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Michelle Baldwin leads a class at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

Next I went to the Hospitality Suite, which is the social hub of Burlycon during the day. There is always a complimentary peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich bar. This year we were able to accommodate some very generous food sponsors, and their spreads were spectacular. Portland’s Burlesque PDX Babes were serving bacon and veggies the first day, and throughout the weekend the food and the room just kept getting wilder. Friday featured Stripped Screw’s Walk of Shame Breakfast and Iva Handfull’s Royal Barbecue Banquet, for which the line was so long the hotel asked us to keep it under control. Our slavering conners managed to do just that, but the sight of those who had been served walking with heaping plates past the folks still in line was a temptation to riot.

Sweet treats on offer at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Sweet treats on offer at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

Thursday night closed with a cocktail party hosted by Atomic Cosmetics and Red Light Vintage. Everyone put on their vintage finery (I wore my favorite Frederick’s of Hollywood leopard jumpsuit) and paraded around with fancy cocktails made at the BurlyCon bar, then met in the Ballroom for Peer Reviews.

Peer Reviews are a distinct highlight of BurlyCon. Performers present numbers and receive critique from an audience of, well, peers. It can be difficult to get quality feedback in burlesque, where so few of us are in troupes or companies, and where we all want to be supportive. It’s a common complaint among performers and producers seeking excellence onstage that there can be too much “OMG that is GENIUS” backstage, and not enough qualified input for improvement. Peer reviews are a fantastic opportunity for feedback that doesn’t mince and doesn’t snark. They are also the only “performance opportunities” during the weekend, as there are no shows at BurlyCon.

A panel discussion at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
A panel discussion at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

In fact, if you ever hear anyone claim that there is some elephant in the room about burlesque that isn’t being discussed, you can bet it’s being discussed at BurlyCon. The conversations at the panels are a virtual parade of elephants thought to not be acknowledged by people who haven’t really done much research about what is and isn’t discussed in burlesque. There are no sacred cows, though there is a lot of love and compassion, at BurlyCon.

And then there were hot tubs and hotel room crawls until the wee hours. I would say that what  happens at BurlyCon, stays at BurlyCon, but that’s not true. But you won’t hear afterhours gossip from me!

Jeez Loueez leading a class at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Jeez Loueez leading a class at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

On Friday I woke up early with best intentions of making it to one of the five scheduled movement classes, but ended up lingering over Stripped Screw’s Walk of Shame breakfast. And to be fair, as a staff member, I’m one of the least likely to make a class, anyway.

I did, however, make it to the keynote address. This is where everyone meets to hear from the BurlyCon team and special guests.

Indigo gave a funny, inspiring, informative speech about BurlyCon happenings and events, along with the usual admonishment to wear some kind of clothing when out of the hotel rooms, and then introduced me as the Vice-President of BurlyCon. I reiterated a point I had addressed in an article earlier in the year: Burlesque performance and marketing has enormous opportunities for both feminism and anti-feminism, so be the burlesque you want to see in the world. After my very short nagging session, I had the thrill of introducing Kitten DeVille as the performer who had most clearly demonstrated to me how modern and relevant classic burlesque can be. She and Ray Gunn and Perle Noire all made brief, passionate, charming speeches, and then New Orleans’ Own Legend Wild Cherry got up and broke our hearts with her gratitude for the appreciation she’d been shown, and her affection for new burlesque.

Lola Frost leading a class at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Lola Frost leading a class at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

The entire team was acknowledged and honored and given flowers. While this may all sound a bit sentimental (and I confess we do love to woo-woo at BurlyCon), keep in mind that it was all peppered by dirty jokes, bad puns, and pastie-flashing, in the spirit of burlesque.

I then had a heaping plate of Iva Handfull’s Royal BBQ banquet. After that, I needed a nap.

After my nap I got to attend Blanche Debris’ amazing ‘Master That Ceremony’ class. She delivered a highly structured, densely informative, funny and moving presentation that renewed my faith in, among other things, the community of burlesque that is there for those who want it.

I socialized and flirted for bit, then got ready for the class photo and the BurlyProm.

The class photo at the first BurlyCon in November 2008.  ©Ed Barnas
The class photo at the first BurlyCon in November 2008. ©Ed Barnas
The BurlyCon class photo in 2013.  ©Don Spiro
The BurlyCon class photo in 2013. ©Don Spiro

I love the class photo so much. Last year we did it immediately after completing our successful Guiness Book of World Records bid for The World’s Biggest Fan Dance, posing with fans. This year due to our 50% increase we could barely fit into a bigger room. Every year I get the class photo and hang it on my wall. 600 strippers all in one place? I don’t think I had ever seen that, except maybe at that one Motley Crue concert in 1987. But even then, they were scattered throughout the crowd. This was a potent, concentrated dose of stripteasers, all in some eccentric variation of prom gear, piled on top of each other and prepared for a hearty evening of dancing, stripper soup (read: hot tub), and enthusiastic makeout sessions. Way more fun than Motley Crue. No offense Vince, if I ever see you again.

In the interests of a bearable word count, I’ll keep my description of the next two days brief.

Saturday I made it to a few classes, including Michelle L’amour’s ‘Stripping Behind the Fans’ and Ray Gunn’s ‘The Elements’. Ray Gunn did a fantastic job of discussing various varieties of burlesque, codifying them and assigning each a particular method of presenting the ‘tease’. As someone who has to codify these things constantly, I found it incredibly useful and extremely entertaining. Plus Ray got out there and demonstrated a few hot moves himself, leading us all to some extremely inappropriate and disrespectful sexual harassment of the teacher. Shame, shame on the eager students of BurlyCon.

Stopping off for some vital nail maintenance at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro
Stopping off for some vital nail maintenance at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

I also taught ‘Tassels, Assels, and Anarchy’, a punk rock tassel-twirling class (at which, unfortunately, my birthday twirly girl pasties went missing), led a roundtable on discussing cash flow in burlesque, and participated in a panel about teaching burlesque, where we addressed the challenges of providing relevant burlesque classes and being honest instructors as the art form itself moves beyond the intermediate.

There was incredible shopping in our two-room vending area and vintage boutique. I wasn’t buying a lot, as I was preparing to move when I got back to New York, but in the blur of glamour I remember seeing The Beauty Butler, Haute Under the Collar, Christal Blue Creations, and Amber Ray’s gorgeous hair flowers.

Then there were lots of naked shower photos. I’m sorry you missed it.

Sunday was the last day of the weekender. House of Gorejess sponsored my favorite thing, a morning yogurt bar, and it was off to the races.

Amber Ray selling her beautiful hair flowers at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Amber Ray selling her beautiful hair flowers at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

I got to take classes with a favorite instructor of mine, Willy Barrett, who I first experienced at the Boston Burlesque Expo. He is a Delsarte master (google “delsarte oratory”). He did a class on ‘Gloves, Arms, and Hands’ that left every attendee of the class gasping and throbbing with the desire to know more about Delsarte.

In the final hour of classes, I took part in a panel on The Business of Burlesque. While working with beginners is the bulk of my work as an instructor, it is extremely exciting for me to talk about excellence in performing, efficiency in marketing, and generally taking careers to the next level. I have a degree in business administration and I was raised to be a self-made business person and an entrepreneur; plus I did my graduate work in journalism, so I’m also a bit of a marketing nerd. We ended up talking more than I expected about how to get into shows and less about how to run a business, but the audience was an exciting mix of performers and entrepreneurs. It is spectacular to see Burlesque flourish like this. When I think back to how difficult it was to fill a season of Burlesque at the Beach ten years ago, it blows my mind that so much gorgeous production and performance is happening now.

Perle Noire speaking at BurlyCon 2013.  ©Don Spiro
Perle Noire speaking at BurlyCon 2013. ©Don Spiro

We then had a closing ceremony in which Perle Noire spoke passionately about always improving by continuing to study movement and performance, and about learning from Burlesque Legends in particular. We did our annual circle of sharing our hopes and plans for our next year in burlesque, wept a little, and loadout began.

Loadout probably wouldn’t be interesting for you, but I confess it was really interesting for me, as a Board Member of BurlyCon, to learn that we store a refrigerator specifically for use at BurlyCon in our storage space. We’re an operation to be reckoned with, folks. Our weekender has ITS OWN FULLSIZE FRIDGE.

BurlyCon’s structure allows every attendee to personalize their experience and prioritize their time, whether they’re there for the dance, the business classes, the peer reviews, or the parties. If all of our 600 attendees from 2013 wrote their diaries, they could fill this site with 600 different stories. I hope you’ll come join us and make BurlyCon yours!

Jo Weldon

If you are interested in knowing more about BurlyCon, visit BurlyCon.org.

You can register now at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/burlycon-2014-tickets-5290094816

If you are interested in producing a BurlyPod in your region, contacts us at burlypod@burlycon.org

Burlycon donates a portion of its proceeds to The Burlesque Hall of Fame and Coney Island USA.

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Jo Weldon
Jo Weldon, commonly known as Jo Boobs or Jo Boobs Weldon, is a performer, photographer, author, activist, educator, and essayist based in New York City. Weldon’s body of work centers around stripping and striptease. She established and runs the New York School of Burlesque and wrote The Burlesque Handbook, the first manual ever published on how to create classical and neo-burlesque routines. Weldon is active in the burlesque community, contributing her knowledge and experience to projects and collaborations. Though she now works in the theatrical world of burlesque Weldon has never lost the influence of, and inspiration from lap dancing and strip clubs. She continues to work as an advocate for sex worker rights and freedom of sexual expression.

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