Roxi DLite’s Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend Diary
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene…
Roxi DLite, Miss Exotic World 2010, shares her Burlesque Hall of Fame 2013 experience…
I remember first hearing about this place called Exotic World as far back as nearly a decade. A stripper/friend of mine told me about this place near Las Vegas where icons like the legendary Tempest Storm would gather for the weekend. It was around the same time I was beginning my burlesque career.
I had been a feature dancer in the clubs for a few years before I stumbled upon this ‘style’ we now call burlesque. There wasn’t a lot of information available at the time, but luckily I came into contact with a Detroit performer named Sparkly Devil. She told me who was doing what and where, and even graciously gave me my first burlesque gig. (I opened up for Ron Jeremy in Detroit – on stage that is…) She introduced me to Toronto troupe Skin Tight Outta Sight and encouraged many Detroit performers to visit Exotic World.
Years would go by and I would learn more about burlesque and even meet and perform with talented performers like Catherine D’Lish, Dita Von Teese, Dirty Martini, Michelle L’amour, Julie Atlas Muz, Selene Luna, Tigger!, and a burlesque star by the name of Dixie Evans. I would read anything I could get my hands on that mentioned burlesque and there was always a constant reminder about this place called Exotic World. I remember buying a copy of Michelle Baldwin’s Burlesque and the New Bump and Grind and seeing a photograph of my friend Sparkly Devil standing next to Dirty Martini AT Exotic World! I always wanted to go, but I was afraid. I thought people in the neo-burlesque scene would snub their noses at a girl who came from the strip clubs.
In 2008, I finally built up the courage to go to Las Vegas and meet the people I had only ever talked to through MySpace. I met many people who began the same way as me, and many legends that actually thought all the young girls still worked in clubs. I met legends and modern performers alike and realised that we had a lot in common. More importantly, I had nothing to be afraid of. Six years later, my partner in crime D’Arcy and I returned to the 56th Annual Striptease Reunion.
Day 0 (Wednesday)
We made it to the familiar Orleans and got settled before my nail date with burlesque legend Big Fannie Annie. Fannie Annie is my adopted burlesque mother and I made plans to treat her to mother-daughter manicures. I met Annie on Day 1 back in 2008 when she grabbed D’Arcy by the balls to see what he was packing. Annie became my burlesque momma and we’ve been very close ever since. For those of you who don’t know Annie, she has a heart as big as one of her boas, and a soft-spoken voice that can make a sailor blush. A fellow performer was feeling down, so Annie kindly said, ‘I can finger you under the table if it will make you feel better.’ Or when there was a break in the conversation she said, ‘Oh, just look how dirty my glasses are… I’ve got cum crusted all over them!’ There is no shortage of laughs when Annie is around.
Following our manicures I returned to the hotel to get ready for the evening’s event. Even though the weekender officially begins on the Thursday, each year many performers arrive earlier and earlier. The Wednesday night has become the unofficial start to the weekend. This year the museum hosted the Sublime Soiree in the kitschy Stardust Suite on the top floor of the Orleans. The intimate event was sponsored by Sublime Boudoir and offered the museum’s top supporters the chance to meet and mingle with some of the legends and performers, as well as allow us the chance to thank them for their continued support.
There was a lovely spread of food, lots and lots of cheese and an open bar. It was really great to see familiar faces that I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing in about a year. I got to catch up a tad with our lovely (and a tad bit crazy) queen Imogen Kelly, whom I absolutely adore, and the lovely Lola Martinet (Dolls of Doom) and her husband Matt.
The event was a difficult experience for many people still reeling from the tragic loss of our friend Sparkly Devil, but I couldn’t think of better people to be with than those who knew her best. I spent time chatting with the BHoF Executive Director, Dustin Wax, and the Weekender Executive Producer, Joyce Tang, as well as Mig Ponce and Mynx Demeanor.
Burlesque legends Tiffany Carter, Kitten Natividad, Gina Bon Bon and Toni Elling all looked fantastic and it was great to receive hugs from all of them. It was great catching up with Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon, Jonny Porkpie, Kay Sera and her husband Richard. Tigger! creeped in and was, as usual, the biggest attraction at the party. Then, the devastatingly amazing fashionista Billie Madley arrived, wearing what resembled a shopping bag, which of course looked chic. Billie, unlike any other, can pull off any outfit with effortless ease and sophistication. I had just a couple of drinks – I think so anyway – before the party was over and they were pulling the cheese try away. We stocked up on cheese and commenced downstairs to find some trouble.
To no surprise, trouble was indeed waiting. Bazuka Joe and Ray Gunn of the Stage Door Johnnies were enjoying drinks at the Mardi Gras Bar. Across the room, I noticed the Reigning King of Boylesque, Russell Bruner, whom I have a bit of a crush on. I’m sure he breaks hearts around the world with his talents and charm.
More cocktails were ordered and emptied before the bartender decided to card me! This has become a running joke between D’Arcy and me. I’m still at the stage where being carded is a nuisance. However, Mr. D’Lite loves to be carded and is always sure to puff up his chest and smile when handing over his ID. We retired for the evening, as there was a long weekend to be had.
Day 1 (Movers, Shakers and Innovators)
D’Arcy and I began our day with breakfast in the Courtyard Cafe for the first of many times in the week; next year I think we will invest in a fridge rental. After breakfast, D’Arcy worked on his fitness while I decided to work on my tan. Poolside I see some of my favourite Canadian hotties from Vancouver: Lola Frost, Cherry on Top and Rita Star. To their side was a fellow Burlesque Assassin Kellita and her lover boy, Jordan, whom she met on the Burlesque Assassins set, I might add. After some mojitos and catch-up chats I retired inside to meet with Burlesque Assassins director Jonathan Joffe. Jon, Kellita and I had arranged to record audio commentary for its release on DVD. Then it was time to get ready for what I knew would be a difficult night. The BHoF executive committee planned Thursday’s show to be a tribute to Sparkly Devil.
The show kicked off with an amazing step down number from the Peek-A-Boo Revue and the Burlesque Mayor of New York, Jonny Porkpie. I am always interested in the Thursday night showcase because both the performers and audience are bursting with energy. After all, our appetites and anticipation have been building for an entire year, and for that reason I feel the Thursday show displays some of the most memorable acts of the year.
A special note of praise goes out to Jonny Porkpie who showed professionalism and composure when the time came to honour his friend and ours, Sparkly. Hubba Hubba Revue members Kingfish, Mig Ponce and Joyce Tang also shared a few fond memories of Sparkly Devil. She was scheduled to perform that night, and in her place was her friend and Detroiter Twinkletoes McGee. He performed her black and white Pleasantville act and added his own artistic flare en pointe. I couldn’t hold back the tears and was a crying mess of mascara. Sparkly meant a lot to me. Despite the difficult task of dealing with a loss, the show was a wonderful and uplifting tribute. People often toss around the term ‘burlesque community’, but what I saw on Thursday was more like a burlesque family. Performers from around the world came together and supported each other in a time of need.
All of the acts were noteworthy, but a few of my personal favourites included Nicky Ninedoors and Brother Keys, and Jett Adore. Jett’s butterfly act is a beautiful spectacle. He was accompanied by a few Chicago Starlets and, as Porkpie explained, ‘an up-and-comer named Michelle L’amour.’ Crystal Precious and Sweet Soul Burlesque performed a live version of the song No Pie For You. Wow, proper words fail me. All I can say is Crystal dropped serious sassbomb and her live mic skills are mad sick, yo, fo realz!
Russell Bruner capped off the night by driving on stage in a clown car. The door opened and the Evil Hate Monkey jumped out to roll out a red carpet. Russell performed a variation of his winning act, with a cameo by Kitten Natividad, and brought the crowd to its feet. The days are long in the desert and this was only the beginning. We decided to end things early and shut down for the night.
Day 2 (BHoF Bowl Off and Titans of Tease)
I am a pool junkie. Having a few cocktails by the pool is one of my favourite things to do. While others were heading to the bowling tournament, I busted out my yellow bikini and fabulous sky blue floral kimono adorned with spikes, and headed to the pool with my adopted burlesque dad – Fannie Annie’s husband Tony, and D’Arcy. We joined Paco Fish and a few of Seattle’s Atomic Bombshells before bumping into Melody Mangler and her husband Norm, and we were all matching in yellow. The temperature topped 100 degrees, so we decided to head inside and check out the bowling tournament.
I remember seeing the bowling tournament in 2009. It was kinda tame, like a normal bowling tournament but with better uniforms. The bowl-off went away for a couple of years before its crazy return last year.
But this year…? Chaos! Absolute mayhem.
The drinks were getting slammed quicker than the pins. Girls were sliding face first down the lanes, and guys were wearing thongs and leg warmers. The bewildered bowling staff couldn’t grasp how to handle the half-dressed, mostly drunk burleskers tossing around 15lb balls! The pro bowling leagues could learn a thing or two from this rowdy bunch. A few awards were given out, but let’s face it, everybody was a winner – except for the Orleans cleaning staff.
I was super excited for Legends night. The Titans of Tease showcase has always been my favourite night. Watching these veterans of the stage, these renegades of their day, is a reminder that they are the reason this weekender exists. Tiffany Carter dazzled; Kitten Natividad showed equal parts grace and raunchiness; and the great Haji and her beautiful piercing eyes reminded everyone why she was Russ Meyer’s favourite.
This night belongs to the legends and I was happy to see that many of them were given costume pieces and accessories to help shine even brighter. Grant Philipo’s Showgirl Museum provided outfits for Gina Bon Bon, Gypsy Louise and April March, while Big Fannie Annie provided her vegan-friendly boas to Kitten Natividad, Judith Stein and Toni Elling. Annie herself wore a pink sequined gown she sewed herself and a matching 15-foot boa she gifted to me after the show. It’s larger than me and I’ll cherish it forever.
Everyone made their way to the after party at Big Gay Al’s, where there was plenty of shots and fondling. I woke up hours later in my bed to find Mr. D’Lite removing my eye lashes for me. Good burlusband… bad tequila.
Day 3 (Tournament of Tease)
More than two decades ago, Dixie created the Miss Exotic World Pageant to draw attention to the museum. The pageant was what drew so many others and me to the desert. And now, 23 years after Dixie’s cockamamie scheme to draw publicity, the Tournament of Tease has grown into the biggest burlesque event in the world.
We took our seats in the theatre and I found myself next to fellow judge and one of my burlesque heroes, Selene Luna.
Many people have often wondered about the judging system. As a person who has now judged and been judged, I can tell you the BHoF team takes the judging very seriously. We only have a few seconds to score each act in a number of different areas. The scores are then entered into a computer spreadsheet so there is no room for error. I can also tell you it’s very difficult to judge acts when so many are near perfect.
Each year, the Best Debut performers get better and better. Laurie Hagen’s innovative reverse strip left the crowd standing, Elektra Cute was stunning, Jessabelle Thunder’s energy and confidence were amazing, but it was Lada Redstar who won the judges over. The lights dimmed, Lada took her place, and before her music began she yelled, ‘I’m just so happy to be here!’ Then she showed everyone exactly that. Her joy was infectious and her personality owned the stage.
The duo and group categories were more difficult to judge because there are fewer acts in each category and they are all worthy of winning.
Lola Frost and Melody Mangler performed the act I fell in love with two years ago at the Vancouver Burlesque Festival. They displayed a smouldering, taboo, girl-on-girl love affair and teased us with a hot brilliance that included everything but scissoring.
This night belonged to Russell Bruner and his multiple dance partners. He and Sandria Dore dazzled us in the duets, and then he teamed with Swingtime PDX partners Pink Lady and Edie en Garde in the group category.
The boylesque category was by far the toughest to pick a winner. Paris Original, Waxie Moon, Mr. Gorgeous and Ray Gunn each brought a different style and they were all 10s, but it was Ray Gunn’s sexy, slithering, snake-inspired number that earned the crown. I’m so proud of Ray Gunn and excited for his style to represent boylesque.
The Queen category was refreshed this year with nearly half of the competitors vying for the crown for the first time. I was happy to see many fresh faces because I have always felt the BHoF Queen category is the premier showcase for solo acts. Regardless of the outcome, the eleven girls selected are at the top of their game, and being chosen to compete is a victory in itself, so good job ladies!
Burgundy Brixx opened the category with a beautiful, sun-inspired routine, with a unique set of fans she later told me she crafted herself. I enjoyed Sweetpea’s shimmies and shakes to Belafonte’s Jump in the Line, and Cleo Viper’s crow act displayed her incredible and unique aesthetic.
Lola Frost’s dark and sultry show was like watching a steamy sex scene I didn’t want to end; her floor work was drool worthy and her Misty Greer costume was incredibly unique and stylish. Sydni Deveraux brought the house down with her incomparable stage presence. Her infectious smile lit up the 900-seat theatre and her fully beaded costume had a life of its own, which, I might add, not one bead fell off! But it was Lou Lou D’vil who emerged as Queen with her classic bumps and grinds and beautiful costume. The judges do not confer, so I don’t know how each performer was scored, but I can only imagine the final tally was as close as it has been in many years.
Everyone carried the celebrations to Big Gay Al’s and I found myself pulling D’Arcy by the arm to go to bed. Usually I am the one who wants to stay and party, but this time I was playing mom and telling D’Arcy it was past our bed time. The Icons and All-Stars show was quickly approaching and I wanted to be well rested.
Day 4 (Icons and All-Stars)
I woke up excited to get in my wheel and headed directly to the theatre following breakfast. Every year I try to be the first person at the theatre so I can start rehearsing, and every year I arrive at the same time as the Stage Door Johnnies. Everybody has witnessed their brilliance on stage, but something is to be said for their dedication off stage. They were in there every day rehearsing; Bazuka Joe did a great job putting that spectacle together.
There was an amazing energy in the air that night that can be best described as magical. I shared a change room with Catherine D’Lish, Kitten DeVille and Hot Toddy. The jokes were flying and I was reminded how naughty Catherine can be. Seriously, she makes me blush. In the background I can hear Dirty Martini’s boisterous laugh and I can see Michelle L’amour asking her husband Franky Vivid if her merkin is on straight. It felt really good to be backstage with everyone I admire and enjoy spending time with, even if it’s only a few times a year.
I was super excited to be intro’d by Foxy Tann and her voice that needs no microphone. The curtains opened and instantly I felt an intense energy and excitement. There is nothing like performing on that stage for that audience, so many I love and admire all in one room. I could see Selene sitting in the front row and Fannie Annie not far away, and many of my idols watching from the wings. Then it was time for business. I could barely wait to get in my wheel. Training for this act has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wanted to push myself and the possibilities of what an act can be for this moment, to bring something unique to Vegas and to share the fruits of my labour with this loving audience.
The biggest surprise of the weekend came when I exited the stage and Foxy Tann announced Dita Von Teese. Dita made her first ever appearance at BHoF to present the Sassy Lassy award to her best friend Catherine D’Lish. As Dita delivered her heart-felt speech, I stood in the wings beside a teary-eyed Catherine, who couldn’t help but provide us all with hilarious commentary. Catherine graciously accepted her award, another in a long list of stripper accolades, but joked, ‘This is the first time I won an award that rhymes.’
Everybody backstage, both performers and crew, gathered to watch. I thought back to when I first started, the people I admired and this place called the Burlesque Hall of Fame. I looked around the wings to see Dirty, Michelle and so many others taking it all in as Catherine and Dita, two best friends and legendary performers, shared a moment for the ages.
Following the show, I met up with Kalani Kokonuts, whom I absolutely love. Kalani’s beautiful looks can be deceiving; she is actually a huge nerd and one of the funniest, caring people I know. With a crew of a dozen people, we organised a late night field trip to Frankie’s Tiki Room – a 24 hour, Tiki-themed dive bar full of lounge lizards from a Hunter Thompson novel. We fit right in.
What a vision it must have been to see such an eclectic cast of characters roll out to the street at 8 am. Vegas looks different at that time of day, especially after a sleepless night. Thankfully, the morning came right on schedule because it was time for me to check out and catch a flight to Australia for the three week Australian Burlesque Festival tour. Some of us headed back to the hotel, while others drove off into the sunrise. Another BHoF reunion was in the books as I flew away to the Land of Oz.
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.