A look back at Stripper’s Holiday 2013, by Black Mariah.
I love Stripper’s Holiday. I love to talk about Stripper’s Holiday. The name just begs to be said out loud… STRIPPER’S HOLIDAY! The name makes everyone who hears it want to join in, and I can only speculate about what people must think we do all week. I always laugh a little inside because, as delicious as it sounds, there is A LOT of work during Stripper’s Holiday. In burlesque, growth and development happen as a result of hard work and a desire to learn. THAT is the core of Stripper’s Holiday.
Most of the dancers arrive at the L’amour compound and spend the first evening greeting and meeting each other. Despite some flight cancellations, all of the dancers arrive before the first class. We were greeted with homemade pasta, salad, and glasses of wine. After some chatting, catching up with familiar faces and meeting new ones, we divided up the sleeping arrangements and hit the pillow. Everyone knows the first day of classes tomorrow are going to require all the energy we can get.
Although it is the second day, Day Two is the first day of classes. After a good night’s sleep, we were all coaxed awake by the smell of a delicious breakfast being cooked by the man who wrote the website Cooking for Strippers, Franky Vivid. Hard work and a desire to learn burns a LOT of calories, and Franky makes sure everyone gets a healthy breakfast before a day full of dance with Michelle L’amour.
After breakfast, we quickly pack up our dance gear and head over to Studio L’amour. This year’s Stripper’s Holiday gathered Ginger Valentine, Missy Lisa, Renee Holiday, Ruby Joule, Blaze, Freya West, Ida Clare, Lou Lou Duchess La Derriere, Persephone Illyri and Mona Amour.
We spent a few moments meeting every dancer and then confessed each of our individual goals and what we hoped to accomplish from being at Stripper’s Holiday. Many girls had fallen into a rut with choreography and inspiration, and hoped to find renewal in their dance muse. After a nice warmup, we put on our dance heels and got to work exploring the combination of choreography and interpreting the music in our choreography.
After a quick lunch, we all gathered back in the studio and began learning our group choreography, which we would perform in the Stripper’s Holiday Showcase on Saturday. This year, Michelle chose a beautiful fan dance for us. The dancers’ experience with fan dancing ranged from many years using fans on stage, to a few who had never danced with fans at all. Michelle is one of the best fan dancers around, in my opinion. My opinion is supported by the fact that every dancer held and moved the fans with grace, as if they had been dancing with them for many years. If you have ever tried fan dancing for the first time, it’s not so easy to move gracefully with large extensions of your hands that catch the wind like a sail. It helps to have a highly skilled fan teacher.
After learning part of our fan routine, we broke up into two groups; one group would show the solo acts they had brought, and the other half would show theirs the following day. Both groups attended the critique sessions both days. For many of us, this is the most nerve-racking part of Stripper’s Holiday. Although we all know that Michelle is an incredible teacher and completely professional, we are laying our art out for a professional to judge, critique and polish. Each one of us is donning our costume and putting our art on a stage without the aid of makeup, a supportive audience or a forgiving spotlight, and, to put it bluntly, making ourselves completely vulnerable. For many burlesque artists, this is one of the hardest tasks to accomplish. To put our dance, our bodies and our movement humbly before another professional and allow the professional to find the weaknesses is very scary. I also find that the things we see as weaknesses within ourselves are not what our audience or mentors see in our performance. But we as artists are our own worst critics, aren’t we?
After the act reviews, we packed up and headed back to the L’amour compound. The smells of a delicious dinner greeted us as we ascended the long staircase. A special appetiser, fondly named ‘Soupacabra’, was served along with delicious enchiladas and wine. We ended the day with a movie, Drop Dead Gorgeous, then off to bed to rest up for Day Three.
Franky makes the best scrambled eggs. Period. Did I mention bacon and coffee? OH, and if you are not already convinced that Michelle L’amour is one of the hardest working women in burlesque, did you know she bakes her own bread? True story. As a special treat, Michelle baked cinnamon bread. I felt very spoiled. I know I am talking about the food a lot, but I don’t even eat this well at home! Good food is always worth talking about.
We packed up our dance gear once again and headed out to Studio L’amour for Day Three of Stripper’s Holiday. We began our warm up/workout for the day with Michelle’s Tease and Tone, a unique burlesque inspired cardio workout, which gave everyone a great glistening sweat! You can buy Michelle’s Tease and Tone for yourself here. We moved from the cardio workout into an intense ab workout, which was not for the faint of heart. Surprisingly, if you have ever wondered what Michelle L’amour works out to, we peddled through a song list that included Kanye West, Jay Z, and other hip-hop artists.
We broke for lunch and then came back to the dance floor to learn the rest of our group fan dance. For me, this is the point in Stripper’s Holiday when I begin to question my own strength as a dancer. As my energy wanes, so does my ability to remember new choreography. I suspect that I am not the only one who has this internal dialogue, but it sure can shake my confidence, and it makes for a nervous transition moments later to perform my solo act for Michelle in act review. This is how we grow as dancers. We shake off the negative feelings and you just put that costume on and do it. I may not know the choreography strongly for this new group dance, but I had to move past that fact, promise myself that I would rehearse the fan dance later, and do my solo act without thinking about other things. With a clear head, I performed my act for Michelle and was very happy with the encouraging critique.
We left the studio to return to the L’amour compound for a dinner of Franky’s famous brisket. Well, it’s famous with me.
After dinner, most of the dancers focused heavily on rehearsing the new fan dance choreography or working on costumes (sewing small changes or embellishing).
Day Four began with Franky and Michelle’s make-your-own-breakfast tacos – a new cuisine for some of the girls. Eye opening isn’t it? Stuffing all of your favourite hot breakfast items into a tortilla and wrapping it up like a tasty package? With hot sauce? Brilliant.
We packed up our gear and headed out for the last day of Stripper’s Holiday at the studio. We began the day with an energetic warm up and crunches for days, then we strapped on our heels to work on some choreography exercises. The exercises focused on developing new personal movement by removing the choreography each of us rely on easily. After our movement workshop, we practiced our group fan routine in its entirety. I chose to work on my costume the night before rather than rehearse the fan dance. I was not confident that my memory of the fan dance would be very strong, but to my surprise, there was very little of the dance that I didn’t remember. I don’t give myself enough credit for remembering choreography. The fan dance looked magical as it came together. Eleven beautiful women, each framed by a rainbow of decadent ostrich feathers, all moving together in breathtaking time with the music. The whole act, even with each girl wearing her own unique leggings and non-uniform dancewear, began to reflect in the studio mirrors like an MGM musical. Remember that some of these women, just three days before, had never even picked up a set of ostrich feather fans!
We ended our studio time with every dancer presenting her solo act once again, with the critiqued changes that Michelle had given. I loved the conversations about how each girl would change the movement, but couldn’t wait to go home and make the costume more beautiful and perfect! Bionic burlesque! Bigger, better, stronger, more rhinestones! We packed up our gear for the last time and headed out to return to the L’amour home. As we left the studio, it began to snow. Snow in Chicago? It’s obvious I am unable to pack for Chicago weather! We came home for a short dinner and freshened up to join the Chicago Starlets, Michelle L’amour and some of Chicago’s funniest comedians for Wiggle Room at the Everleigh Social Club. What a fun show!
After the show, the snow began to come down and accumulate. To make the caravanning easier on our wonderful hosts, Michelle and Franky, a couple of us dancers decided to just pay a cab to take us back. We stepped off the curb and hailed a cab, and on the way back our cabbie kept answering phone calls frantically and asking us questions. We had no idea what he was getting at. ‘Did you call a cab?’ Sure. Turns out, someone at the Wiggle Room show really called for a cab by phone, and we accidently took their cab. To whoever’s cab we took, we are terribly sorry. The cab driver didn’t ask us if we had called for the cab until after he had driven away from the Everleigh.
Day Five is show day. We had the entire day, until call time, to do whatever we liked. Some worked on their routines, some had days of beauty, and I decided to visit Frontera Grill, Chef Rick Bayless’ concept restaurant, with a few of my Chicago friends. I told you l liked good food and it was worth bragging about, didn’t I?
We all caravanned over to Martyr’s for the Stripper’s Holiday Showcase, The Old Time Strip Show. After teching our acts, we welcomed the Chicago Starlets and guest performer Paco Fish and began the nervous countdown until show time. Knowing that these were the final moments we would have with each other, we all snapped lots of pictures and made sure we had exchanged contact information. More often than not, I would hear, ‘Will I see you in Vegas?’ For many of us, that is a yes. We all took one picture together backstage to wish Angi B. Lovely a speedy recovery, as she fell ill and was unable to make it to Stripper’s Holiday this year. She was sorely missed.
The Old Time Strip Show was a hit; the show rocked the Chicago fans and debuted an emcee with a familiar face to all of the Texas girls, Edmund Birch. The performances were surreal and seemed to end in a blink, and then it was over! We all returned to the L’amour compound for the last time, packing up our belongings for the return to our homes the following day.
As each dancer was taken to their departure location, Freya West, Lou Lou la Duchesse DeRierre and I had late departures and set off on foot to explore the city, with brunch at Three Aces and a trip to one of the city’s museums. We sipped delicious adult drinks at noon, and I had a pizza that was served on a slab of wood. No, really, it was served on the lateral cutting of a tree trunk. Plates are overrated, I guess. After brunch, we set off to find a cab to deliver us over to the museum campus. We had no idea how hard it would be to find a cab at 2PM on a Sunday in that area of town, and we retooled our afternoon plans.
After a few suggestions, we decided to spend our last few hours together getting matching tattoos. I’m not kidding. We chose a diamond/rhinestone shape and each paid for our ink, and then we sat down for our permanent souvenirs. I kind of forgot how bad tattoos hurt going in, but sucked it up like a big girl and watched my pretty AB rhinestone diamond come to life on my wrist: my rhinestoning hand! We toasted our colourful mark of sisterhood with a shot of Jameson at a neighbouring bar and headed back to Michelle’s to return to our respective parts of the world.
With a whirlwind of feathers, rhinestones, glitter, laughter, growth, sweat and tears of joy, thus ended Stripper’s Holiday 2013. We all grew as dancers and as performers. I remember thanking Michelle, choking back emotion as I explained something she already knew: the difficulty as a performer to trust another person with your career, your progress, and your art. I am so thankful for the opportunity to take part in Stripper’s Holiday.
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.