Born and raised in New Orleans, Bella Blue made her burlesque debut in 2007 and established The New Orleans School of Burlesque in 2008, which hosts weekly burlesque classes. She is also the Artistic Director of The Dirty Dime Peepshow, The NOSB Student Showcase, and the producer of The Blue Book Cabaret at Lucky Pierre’s which runs six nights a week.
Michelle L’amour is a contemporary burlesque megastar, winning the Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque title in 2005, setting an incredible standard with smash hit act after smash hit act, creating fabulous shows and global franchises with husband and co-producer Franky Vivid, and capturing the attention of the mainstream world with appearances on primetime US television and her viral video sensations, ‘Butthoven’ and ‘The Buttcracker’.
Now, Bella Blue and Michelle L’amour are united under production brand ‘Bellamour’, and their first show together, The Joy of Tease, comes to New Orleans this Saturday. 21st Century Burlesque Magazine spoke to them about the partnership and the upcoming production…
Michelle, you are credited with putting Chicago on the map as a leading, influential burlesque city, but you’ve been spending increasing amounts of time in New Orleans. When did your love affair with New Orleans begin, and when did a personal appreciation for the city become a professional interest?
Michelle L’amour: I first went to New Orleans in college for a football game. Yeah. Me. Football. Call it peer pressure. It was NYE and I was not in a place to understand what the city was and I didn’t appreciate it as much as one should.
After my burlesque career began, I travelled a lot but never had time for a vacation. Ya know, that thing you do when you travel and don’t work? So Franky and I decided we were going to head to New Orleans for our first vacation. I will tell you, we HATED IT! We had no idea how to relax. We were eating at the wrong restaurants and everyone was too slow for us. We just did not get it. It was a few days in and we had our first great meal (with a drunken Santa at the bar) and then went on a vampire tour with a guide who is now one of our friends. After that night, we got it. We fell in love with the city. The magic, the mystery and the music. Later I began to work there doing things like the New Orleans Burlesque Festival and Bustout Burlesque. I didn’t really know what else was happening in the city as far as burlesque was concerned. What I did know was that it was becoming harder and harder to leave. Tears were shed every time. Not just me, but Franky too.
In Chicago, we opened the Everleigh Social Club and decided to take our club members on a trip to New Orleans and show them why we loved the city so much. The second year we did this with the club members, Franky was testing out his walking tour idea, Red Light Tours. A tour of places that catered to NOLA underground, a la Storyville and EJ Bellocq. On that tour, we came to a place where Franky was able to arrange for all of us to go inside the building. The place we entered was previously owned by the great Norma Wallace, ‘The Last Madame’, and this was her brothel. It is now an apartment building. As we were leaving the building, I saw a ‘For Rent’ sign and said that we HAD to get in touch with the landlord. By the time the landlord got back with us, we were already in Chicago. We just had to have this place. I mean, an apartment in an old brothel? Yes, please. We signed the lease without actually seeing the apartment. The good news is that it’s BEAUTIFUL and we have been in this place for two years now.
As for my professional interest, I’m always up for contributing to my city. I’ve contributed a lot in Chicago and I felt the need to contribute to New Orleans. I have a deep respect for NOLA and the one thing it doesn’t take kindly to is outsiders trying to prove why people should care about them. Sure, I had notoriety in the burlesque world and the world at large, but NOLA doesn’t really care about that. They are fiercely local and protective of their own. I didn’t want to come in and own the joint, but I wanted to contribute in a way that mattered.
Now, two years later, I’m performing regularly in The Blue Book Cabaret at Lucky Pierre’s on Bourbon Street, The Dirty Dime Peepshow at the Allways Lounge, and I’m producing shows in New Orleans (Naked Girls Reading and Pretty Funny) and now co-producing at the great Joy Theater.
Bella, you are a dedicated and driving contributor to the burlesque scene in New Orleans. How has it developed over the past years and what do you feel are its greatest strengths and biggest challenges?
Bella Blue: When I started performing in 2007, there were only 18 active burlesque performers in New Orleans. There were just three recurring productions that were each doing a monthly show. At the time, burlesque as a career was not an option. Over the years, more and more people started performing and producing, myself included, making it possible to have a career in burlesque. My mantra has always been, ‘If you want gigs, you’ve got to make gigs.’
The greatest strength of the New Orleans burlesque community is the community itself. We are fiercely loyal and hard working, and we support each other in our endeavours. We pride ourselves on our Southern hospitality and embrace the members of our national community, whether they are just visiting or want to make New Orleans their home.
As far as challenges go, just like anything, nothing is guaranteed. Burlesque as entertainment could fade. Mother Nature could decide to throw us another Category 5 hurricane. Who knows? Point being, we take it day by day and we do the best we can, albeit at our own pace with a drink in hand.
How did your partnership with each other begin, and what key strengths and qualities do you respect and appreciate in each other?
ML: Naked Girls Reading was my first venture in New Orleans and it was slow going. I remembered meeting Bella once at a Bustout show and asked her to be a reader. I didn’t really know her and she didn’t really know me. But there we were in Santa hats, naked, reading A Christmas Carol.
Later I discussed with Bella that I was interested in teaching but did not want to step on her toes as I appreciated the work she has done in the city. She appreciated my candour and willingness to work and earn a place in the city.
BB and ML: We sort of felt each other out with Naked Girls Reading. We became friends through this and realised that we have a lot in common. Dancers who do burlesque. This is a rare breed and we have to deal with certain stigmas like ‘Oh, of course you’re good at this. You trained in daaaaaance.’ Well honey, they don’t teach you how to take off a bra in ballet, so let’s just level the playing field shall we?
As for us dancing together on stage at the same time? Well, that started when Michelle and Franky were producing a show in New Orleans called Pretty Funny at One Eyed Jack’s. It’s their brand of stand up comedy and burlesque. Michelle had choreographed an opening number with her, Bella and Charlotte Treuse. Later, when we figured out what acts were were all doing, Michelle realised that Charlotte had a major quick change and her involvement in the opening number wasn’t going to work. The act was re-choreographed to a duet. It was really fun and silly. We kept doing the duet at The Blue Book and then Michelle said, ‘I have other dances. Wanna do some?’ She shot some ideas over and that’s how it all started. The duet we’re premiering on November 15th is an act that we choreographed together with the beginning inspiration coming from a dance Michelle choreographed a very long time ago for her first troupe, The Sugarbabies.
BB: I respect and appreciate Michelle’s tenacity and her unshakeable high standards. She does not waiver in what she believes in (personally and professionally) and it has influenced me in many positive ways.
ML: I respect and appreciate Bella’s open heart and willingness to trust. She truly does want the best for everybody and I am happy that she has accepted me into the New Orleans burlesque community.
You have united under the brand ‘Bellamour’ – what do you want this brand to achieve and represent?
We would love for it to stand for quality. This is what we both strive for when our names are attached to projects, and we would like that trend to continue no matter what city we are producing in. The show we’re doing at the JOY Theater is our first venture together and so far, things are going great. We want people in New Orleans to know that we can deliver a quality show that is undeniably sexy, professional and polished.
You have an upcoming show, The Joy of Tease, which is described as ‘The Most Daring Burlesque Revue Ever Presented at the Joy Theater in New Orleans’. What makes this show so daring?
BB: This particular show is daring in a few different ways. Personally, this is the largest show I have ever produced. It’s a milestone in my career and there is a lot on the line for me. I have built the trust of the locals and I strive to maintain that trust through producing quality shows. Over the years, my network has expanded and I have been able to bring in and feature burlesque stars from all over the world. My intent with this show is to raise the bar for my audience. I want to present a high-end production, which incorporates local talent and national burlesque headliners who share a love and passion for New Orleans.
It’s also daring because the Joy Theater has traditionally been a music venue. Having a burlesque show in such an iconic New Orleans landmark is big deal. When the Joy first approached me about producing this show, I was excited and a little overwhelmed at the task ahead of me. I knew that I wanted Michelle to perform in this show, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt she should play a larger role. I was aware of her desire to contribute to New Orleans burlesque and I wanted to help support her in that. Which is another reason this show is daring; this is Michelle’s and my first co-production. We’ve always worked solo, and we are putting a tremendous amount of trust in each other in this business venture.
How did you decide on and assemble such a fantastic burlesque cast – why these burlesque performers in particular?
Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon is also a recent transplant to New Orleans (or more accurately, splits her time). Darlinda Just Darlinda is a great friend to the city too. Ben Wisdom is a great host and we’re very excited to put him up on this stage. We also wanted to bring some drag and some boylesque, so Madonnathan and Jett Adore were our top picks! The show is a perfect blend of NOLA misfits, locals and guests who love the city.
You are offering classes with all the burlesque performers in the show – what are the workshops on offer?
We’re got Darlinda with a centering workshops, Jett Adore with stage presence, Jo Boobs with tassel twirling, Bella with floor work and Michelle with Booty Lab: The Next Level.
What can we look forward to in the future from Bellamour?
Hopefully the city embraces us with open hearts and we can continue to bring more quality sexy entertainment to a city that is like no other.
The Joy of Tease on Saturday 15th November, Joy Theater, New Orleans. Starring Michelle L’amour, Bella Blue, Jo Weldon, Darlinda Just Darlinda and Jett Adore. Burlesque workshops with the cast are also available.
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.