The fabulous Minnie Tonka shares her European burlesque adventures…
This spring, I embarked on a month-long European tour. I’ve been touring extensively nationally and internationally since 2010, but this was my first time performing in Europe and my first time touring on my own. I was so excited! Germany, Italy, and Finland – let’s ROCK!
My first stop and show was on Tuesday, April 30th at Queen Calavera: The House of Burlesque, in Hamburg, Germany. Sven Petersen, who runs the Queen, and I had been in touch since January and I was really looking forward to meeting my new friend! Those of us who have the pleasure of knowing Sven know that he is such a kind man and also a rock star. Sven and the Queen Calavera family welcomed me with open arms and filled my belly with liquor (e.g. strawberry mojitos, which I slurped down all week long).
After my first successful and fun night at the Queen, I crashed from jetlag and woke up at 6pm the next day! OMG! Luckily, I didn’t have a show that night, and after grabbing dinner with Sven and staying up for a few hours, I fell back asleep for the night. Thursday, May 2nd began my three-night stint at the Queen. On Friday, I was joined by the gorgeous badass Clea Cutthroat. Clea and I had met and worked together in NYC a few months before. Clea is an American who has been whoopin’ it up living in Berlin and performing with her band, Bonaparte, since 2006. Clea is an absolute gem and it was so meaningful to spend time with her that weekend.
Queen Calavera is a very small and smoky venue with the most generous staff and rockin’ audiences. Performing at Queen Calavera, along with the hospitality of Sven, was the absolute best way to kick off my European tour! Thank you Sven and the Queen Calavera crew! You’re the greatest! I love you all!
Ya’ll know Hedoluxe, right? He’s a Hamburg-based costume designer and performance artist who I had the honour of meeting and performing with in NYC in 2012. Hedoluxe was one of the first people I contacted when I decided to organise this tour, and he immediately booked me for Dr. Sketchy’s. That’s how Clea and I spent Sunday, May 5th: an enjoyable evening modelling together at Dr. Sketchy’s Hamburg with the luminous Hedoluxe.
Clea and I bid Hamburg farewell and left bright and early on Monday morning for Berlin. I visited Berlin in 2008 for ten glorious days and fell in love. I was so excited to get back to Berlin. I was also looking forward to reuniting with Champagne Sparkles, founder of Cheesecake Burlesque Revue in Vancouver, who recently relocated to Berlin with her husband. Champers met me at the train station, and with two days off in Berlin, I was psyched to chill with friends!
After two days off, I was ready to get my arse up on stage again and perform at La Fete Fatale, co-produced by the sexy, smart, and savvy production duo Else Edelstahl and Lady Lou, who are an absolute joy to work with! La Fete Fatale is a themed event that happens only a few times a year. The theme of this La Fete Fatale was Burlesque Underwater Voyage, and it was held at the infamous Bassy Club. Else and Lady Lou are phenomenal producers. The venue was decorated with an underwater theme, and the partygoers were all dressed up – from pirates to rubber duckies to mermaids. I loved being a part of this show!
Another thrilling thing about the show was that I was reunited with my dear friend Go-Go Harder, NYC boylesque performer extraordinaire, who was also on tour in Europe. I also had the honour and pleasure of meeting and performing with the adorably sweet Janet Fischietto from Milan, and the vivacious Mama Ulita from Leipzig. Plus, Hedoluxe was performing too! The show started after midnight; The Bassy Club was packed, the audience was spectacular, and needless to say, we whooped it up ‘til the sun came up! We left the venue about an hour before I had to catch my flight to Milan, made a pit stop at Else’s gorgeous flat, ate a little food, and then I hopped in a cab to catch my flight – still a bit tipsy, of course!
It was my first time in Italy! When I arrived in Milan a few hours later on Thursday, May 9th, it was very easy to spot the uber-stylish tattooed couple, Cleo Viper and her American magician boyfriend, Christopher Wonder, at the train station. Even though I had seen Cleo perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame last year in the ‘Best Debut’ category, we had never officially met in person. When I began working on my tour in January, LouLou D’vil suggested I get in touch with Cleo. Thank you, LouLou! After connecting with her, Cleo quickly became my Italian angel. Cleo and I were communicating so frequently over the four months leading up to my tour that a dear friendship had formed. Cleo spent so much time and energy introducing me to and educating me about Italy, Italian culture, and burlesque in Italy through many, many emails. She worked tirelessly to help book me shows and organise teaching opportunities all over Northern Italy. Thank you, dear Cleo! I love you!
That evening, Christopher drove Cleo and I to our gig in a little village an hour and a half outside of Milan called Pastrengo. It was our first time performing together and we were so delighted! Plus, the next time we’d be sharing the stage was in Las Vegas competing for the title of Reigning Queen of Burlesque at Burlesque Hall of Fame!
On Friday, May 10th, I performed at Maison Milano, which is large fancy restaurant in Milan. The venue was packed and the energy was high. I took turns performing in between sets of a live band and had the pleasure of working with Mitzi von Wolfgang, the fabulous and glamorous host of the show.
Saturday, May 11th was a big day of teaching at Cabinet of Wonders! Now, anyone who has seen the brilliant photos online of Cleo and Christopher’s gorgeous venue, Cabinet of Wonders, has a small glimpse into this magical space. I taught two workshops: Naughty Knee-Slapping Burlesque (co-created by NYC-based burlesque babe, Lil’ Miss Lixx), a bump ‘n’ grind tassel-twirling class, and a private lesson. I love teaching soooo much!
After a full and inspiring day of teaching, I hit the town to see a Voodoo De Luxe burlesque show produced by Virgil DeNice and Milena Bisacco, who welcomed me as a guest at the show. Even though I was exhausted after a day of teaching, it was a treat to enjoy a burlesque show in Milan, which was hosted by the talented and gorgeous, Belgian-based Lady Flo and starred Josephine Shaker and Millicent Binks, both from London.
On Sunday, Cleo and I hopped a train to teach in Turin, or as the Italians say, Torino. Torino is a beautiful town a few hours west of Milan. Cleo has created a nice community of aspiring burlesque performers in Torino. I loved working with these students! The studio she works at is called Honky Tonk (love it!) and the space also offers several classes including ukulele, harmonica, swing dance, etc.
On Monday, May 13th, Cleo and I headed to Vicenza, a small town a few hours east of Milan. Cleo teaches in Vicenza often and has cultivated a lovely group of women who are eager to share, learn, and explore. In all of my Italian classes we encountered a language barrier, which was an interesting challenge and experience. Many of the students did not understand English, but there was always at least one student who was almost fluent in English and helped translate. We all worked together to help make everyone comfortable and understand each other. After four days of non-stop teaching and performing, Cleo and I were thrilled about a day off in Venice! We spent the day roaming the streets and eating delicious food.
After a gorgeous day in Venice, we made our way back to Milan. The following day, I was very sad to say kiss Cleo and Christopher farewell. However, I was consoled by the fact that I would see them in a few short weeks in Vegas at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend! On Wednesday, May 15th, I hopped on the train to Rome! The lovely Grace Hall greeted me at the train station. Grace and I had also been in touch for a few months leading up to my tour and it was so good to finally meet her! We went to Dixie Ramone’s place later that night and it was so fantastic to see my beautiful Roman burlesque friend again! Oh, and I don’t think I mentioned this yet – I had one goal for Rome (and Italy): to drink as much Prosecco as possible! I am happy to report that I achieved this goal!
That night was the most amazing introduction to Rome! Dixie, Grace and a bunch of other fabulous people, including Rome-based burlesque dancer Albadoro Gala and Alessandro Casella, who runs the infamous Micca Club, met up with us and we bar-hopped ’til the wee hours!
I spent Thursday recovering from Wednesday night, so on Friday I was ready to rock the Micca Club! I’d heard about the Micca for years and couldn’t wait to perform there. The show was a blast! One of the marvellous things about Europe is that it’s easy to find a cheap flight and take a short trip to any European city… just like La Viola Vixen did! My dear Viola, who is from Brisbane, Australia and has been living in Berlin for a few years, happened to be in Rome that weekend and came to my show! Another pleasant surprise was seeing Lady Flo and her husband Ben Mouling (they run Radio Modern, rockin’ fifties styled parties, among other things) at the show too. They were on vacation in Rome!
(Very important side note: Viola and I met in NYC in 2010. We performed together at Coney Island and that’s when I told her about my life-long dream to visit Australia. When organising my Australian tour last fall with my dance partner Darlinda Just Darlinda, Viola was integral in helping book our Brisbane shows and teaching gigs. Thank you Viola! You helped make our Australian tour spectacular! Australia Rocks!)
On Saturday, May 18th, I had the pleasure of teaching a bump ‘n’ grind and tassel-twirling class at Grace Hall’s school, Il Tempio del Burlesque. Tassel-twirling is not very common in Italy, and let’s just say I wish I took video of my students tassel-twirling, because these ladies were hilarious! I had a few days off in Rome and I made sure to be a big tourist! Vatican City, St. Peter’s Cathedral, I did it all. St. Peter’s Cathedral was the most breathtaking for me; I could have sat in there for hours! I also had a life-changing meal in Rome and I discovered my new favourite food: Caponata, a traditional Sicilian vegetarian dish made from fried onions, eggplant, tomatoes, pine nuts and more. Delizioso!
After almost two weeks in Italy I was bummed to leave, but at the same time I was eager to get to Finland! Last year at the New York Burlesque Festival, I told Bettie Blackheart, The Mother of Helsinki Burlesque, that I was dying to go to Finland. My father’s family is from Finland and it was a dream to visit. Well, that dream came true! And, wow – I experienced culture shock upon immediate arrival in Helsinki! Epe, Bettie Blackheart’s husband, picked me up from the airport in his big American-sized mini van. In Rome, all the cars are tiny! Rome doesn’t have a proper public transport system; everyone has a car, so parking is crazy and all the cars are so small so they can fit on the streets. Not in Finland. It was back to big cars, big streets, and big open sky.
My first night in Finland was so special! Bettie made us a delicious dinner and we finished off a big box of red wine and chatted the night away. The following day, I took a beautiful bus ride to Turku – a few hours west of Helsinki – to teach Naughty Knee-Slapping Burlesque. The bubbly and delightful Kiki Hawaiji, who founded Turku Burlesque, picked me up at the bus station, brought me to her apartment and cooked a yummy dinner before I headed off to teach. Such hospitality, these Finns! After teaching several workshops in Italy, it was interesting teaching the Finnish ladies. They were shy at first, but after a while they opened up, whereas the Italians were ready to rock it from the get-go!
The following day, Thursday, May 23rd, I headed back to Helsinki. I was so lucky to be in town for a special event, organised by Bettie, honouring and interviewing former Finnish showgirls of the ‘Cabaret Punainen Mylly’ in Helsinki.
Friday, May 24th was teaching day! But first, I had the morning off and met up with LouLou D’vil for lunch. I love seeing my burlesque friends on their home turf! It was so nice to spend time with sweet LouLou, chatting about life and talking about how we were both feeling about competing for Reigning Queen of Burlesque in Vegas in a few weeks (And guess what? She won!)
Later that afternoon, I had the honour of FINALLY meeting the incomparable Erochica Bamboo, Miss Exotic World 2003, who was also in town to perform at Helsinki Burlesque’s Sinsational Spring Awakening show. We both taught workshops in Bettie’s studio space, aka Bettie’s Boudoir. I adore Erochica. I loved taking her class and having her take my class too!
Saturday, May 25th was my final show on my Spring 2013 European Tour. What a way to conclude my tour by performing with the talents and charm of the Helsinki burlesque community that Bettie Blackheart and her husband Epe (aka Frank Doggenstein) helped build and grow for so many years.
The day after the big show was family day at the Blackheart house. Bettie and Epe took me on a driving tour of Helsinki, where we saw the one of the two Helsinki synagogues. So cool! That evening we made dinner and watched Tournée, starring Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, and more. Later that night I discovered that my flight back to New York the next day had an overnight layover in Amsterdam!
OMG! How did I miss that?! Bettie to the rescue: she emailed a few Amsterdam-based burlesque performers to see if they could help. The adorable Xarah Von Den Vielenregen and her boyfriend, Herr Dokter, offered to pick me up from the airport and let me stay at their home for the night. These wonderful strangers, who are now my friends, saved me from being homeless in Amsterdam! And that’s what my Spring 2013 European Tour was like: from the moment arrived in Europe to the moment I left, I received endless generosity, hospitality, and community love. It was so real and so deep that tears come to my eyes when I think about it. I am still overwhelmed with gratitude. And with that, I will share my self-portrait from my 21st Century Burlesque Reigning Queen of Burlesque interview…
Thank you so much to everyone I encountered for helping make my Spring 2013 European Tour exceed my dreams. Thank you for your love, kindness, support, and generosity. I am eternally grateful and am sending so much love back out to you all!
International burlesque star Minnie Tonka hails from the Land of 10,000 Lakes - that's Minnesota - but is based in New York City. Known as the One Woman Riot, Minnie’s theatrical, inventive, and flirtatious striptease has been dazzling audiences across the globe since 2004. Minnie is a multiple-time New York Burlesque Festival Golden Pastie Award Winner and was voted #14 in the Top International Burlesque Industry Figures of 2013. She’s the co-founder of Kosher ChiXXX Jewish Burlesque Revue, produces the annual Menorah Horah Hanukkah burlesque show, The Burning Bush VS. The Second Coming, and she produced and starred in Dangerous Curves Ahead: Burlesque on the Go-Go, the USA’s premier national touring burlesque troupe, and more. A solo performer who can be seen every night on stages across New York City, Minnie Tonka also performs as one half of The Schlep Sisters with Darlinda Just Darlinda.