My article on BHOF in Penthouse

My article covering last year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame is running in the May issue of Penthouse, which is on stands now.

(Note: this is my original version, not the shorter edit that appeared in the print edition)

It’s the middle of an oppressively hot afternoon in Old Vegas, and the wilted, shabbily dressed tourists seem to be melting right down into Fremont Street Experience. This tarnished and worn section of Sin City is either charmingly retro, or strictly for the buffet & respirator crowd, depending on your view.

As heat-weary vacationers slowly trudge along in seemingly slow motion, suddenly a burst of color flashes through the concrete and neon and rivets everyone’s attention. It’s a trio of women in retro swimsuits and wedge heels, clutching brightly colored parasols that match the twinkling flowers nestled into their pin-curls. They giggle and chatter as they merrily bounce along, looking just like a set of bomber girls who stepped right off a B52 wing – except for the multitude of tattoos, piercings and flaming magenta and orange hair dye.

And this is just the beginning. For the next four days, a virtual army of neo pinups and burlesque performers will flock to the holy Mecca of retro striptease culture, the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas.

Every year, hundreds of performers and fans of the current burlesque revival make a pilgrimage to the holiest of events amongst tassel twirlers, which has grown exponentially since its inception on a dusty goat ranch two decades ago.

A burlesque museum was always the dream Jennie Lee, a stripper from the 1950s who began her modest collection her home, a rundown ranch in Helendale, California, smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. She died in 1990 from breast cancer, and her friend and fellow stripper Dixie Evans (known in her day as the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque) took over the ranch and collection, and christened it The Exotic World Burlesque Museum.

Dixie, ever the savvy business lady, knew she needed press to draw attention to the museum, so in 1990 she founded the first ever Miss Exotic World burlesque competition. The majority of the participants were retired burlesque strippers from the 60s and 70s, with occasional appearances by modern “feature” performers from the current stripclub scene.

For a decade, the Miss Exotic World pageant quietly chugged along as a quaint, desert-side attraction, attended mostly by local bikers and reporters from the local rags.

And then the young women of the burlesque revival began trickling in. Suddenly, it wasn’t just vintage vixens and Hell’s Angels out there in the dust; an entirely new generation of young women began trekking to Exotic World seeking a shot at the crown, and a chance to spend face time with the founding forewomen of burlesque.

Now christened the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2005 in search of a bigger, brighter, splashier homebase for the little show that could, which has now blossomed into the biggest and most prestigious burlesque event in the word. In addition to the Saturday night competition for the title of Miss Exotic World, there are classes, seminars, photo outings, and pool parties.

And on this Thursday afternoon, the fun is just starting, as the biggest and brightest burlesque stars from around the globe land in Sin City and prepare to embark on the world’s most glamorous 4-day binge of pasties, Swarovskis and hard liquor.

At the Golden Nugget, I sit poolside with a bucket of beer and a bunch of showgirls in bikinis with names like Nasty, Gigi, Roxi, Dirty, and Clams. Even in Las Vegas, the burlesque performers still draw a crowd of stares.

Splashing around the pool while balancing beers in our cleavage, we entertain our poolside compatriots by smashing our breasts and asses against the see-through glass walls of the pool, like an aquarium tank full of booze-guzzling Showgirl Fish.

Several hours later, I wake up in my hotel room, face first in a pile of glitter, with a sunburn, and headache, and my bikini draped over the lampshade.

And it’s only Thursday…

But Burlesque Hall of Fame isn’t just one huge glitter-binge set in America’s Playground with the biggest names in burlesque; what sets this weekend apart from the many other burlesque conventions that have sprung up over the years is the intense focus on the living legends of burlesque, the precious few dancers from yesteryear who still are around to entertain us with a story or two.

Friday night is the Legends Showcase, one of the most emotional and thrilling events of the weekend, in which a handful of the legends well into their 60s and 70s dust of their pasties and perform for a packed audience of screaming fans.

Toni Elling, who came out of 40 years of retirement to perform, says that before she discovered the Burlesque Hall of Fame, she was “not in a good place. I was down on myself and feeling quite useless.”

But after attending her first weekend, she was overwhelmed by the love and support she received from women young enough to be her grandchildren. Now, she says she has “renewed energy and look upon myself differently. I feel I have things to do and have found people who really care about me and I am more content than I have been in years. I have renewed confidence and love myself again.”

The young performers also hold a similar reverance for the weekend. Nadine Dubois of Lili’s Burlesque Revue in Minnesota has attended the event with her troupe every year for the past 7 years.

“We feel it is akin to going to the ‘promised land’ for our art form,” Dubois says. “Not only do we grow as performers every time by being inspired by both the legends and modern performers of burlesque, we look forward to spending time with those same performers, as they are like family to us. It is truly a magical gathering.”

Magical indeed, given the epic amount of female nudity you get to enjoy both onstage and off during those four days. Although the event is steeped in female bonding, there’s eye candy a plenty for the numerous menfolk to enjoy.

Jim “Roz” Rosnack, producer of Lunatic Fringe Burlesque Co. from Austin, says “these girls bring something to the table that has been missing for a long time: the art of the tease, glamour, seduction and sometimes even silliness, which to me is very sexy.”

Rosnack says the “something for everyone” appeal of burlesque accounts for why it’s equally popular amongst both men and women (and especially couples).

“Its something to take your lady to for a great romantic and fun date. She can put stockings on, a pretty hat and retro dress, and not hang out in some rock and roll bar all night with loud bands and obnoxious drunks. She can drink martinis and watch shows reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies with all the props and dressing. The men are happy, the women are happy, it’s the best Friday night date available and its it every city in North America.”

Mig Ponce, part of the event’s production team, echoes the appreciation of the major production value that comes with burlesque performances at this level.

“I really love that they put effort into putting on an amazing, dazzling performance,” Ponce says. “This really packs a WOW factor that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Indeed, the production values were through the roof, with the biggest and most elaborate props and sets in the history of the Saturday night competition.

Perhaps most stunning of all is the giant cigar prop, belonging to Roxi Dlite of Windsor, Ontario. The tiny raven haired beauty cast aside her sparkling purple corset dress, and wearing nothing more than a few strategically placed rhinestones, she climbed atop the massive, smoldering Freudian homage and whipped the audience into a heart-palpitating frenzy.

The running joke this year: what CAN’T you rhinestone? The many performances brought forth Swarovski-studded shopping cart, folding chair, and yes, even toilet seats. Trust: if you leave anything sitting still for longer than 5 minutes, some burlesque perfomer will grab her E-6000 and rhinestone the fuck out of it.

As the competition winds to a close, the audience is breathless from the innovation of the acts, from Ms. Tickle‘s breakaway fans that turn into massive, angel-like wings, to Nasty Canasta‘s tribute to the Portrait of Dorian Grey – as she strips out her clothes, they appear on a digital “painting” of her nude body that hangs above the stage.

The final moment arrives: the newest Reigning Queen of Burlesque is Roxi Dlite; overjoyed and slightly tipsy, she bounds onto the stage carrying an entire bottle of vodka with her, and forces the retiring queen, Kalani Kokonuts, to do a shot with her on stage.

In addition to being the first Canadian to win the title, Dlite’s crowning is significant because she works as club stripper for her “day job.”

The stripping vs. burlesque debate has been flogged to death over the years within the community, the resulting discussions a mix of burlesquers who are supportive, and those who mistakenly think they are somehow morally superior to club workers. Roxi Dlite hopes to use her crowning as a way to bridge the gap between the two communities.

“My personal goal is to try and educate the dancers that I work with in the strip clubs,” says Dlite. “I want to show them that there is a history and an art form to what they are doing. I also feel quite strongly that it’s important for the burlesque community to be more supportive of modern striptease because it’s just a modern day version of burlesque, it is still an art form. The modern stripteasers are just as talented and just as passionate about their art form as the burlesque community is.”

Spoken like a true queen, indeed.

–Sparkly Devil
Penthouse Magazine, May 2011

Burlesque Hall of Fame 2011 Lineup

I’m so thrilled and honored to be competing for the title of Reigning Queen of Burlesque at the 2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender!

Here’s the official lineup:

Whatever you want to call it–Miss Exotic World, World’s Best Burlesque, Reigning Queen of Burlesque, “The Superbowl of Striptease” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), “The Grand National–The Oscars–of burlesque striptease” (London Daily Telegraph), “The world’s top showcase of international burlesque entertainers” (Las Vegas Sun), etc. etc.–we’re thrilled to announce the lineup of top-flight performers participating in this year’s BHOF Weekend TOURNAMENT OF TEASE:

BEST DEBUT

Angelique DeVil (Portland, OR)
Charlotte Treuse (Portland, OR)
Ginger Valentine (Dallas, TX)
Imogen Kelly (Sydney, Australia)
Iva Handfull (Seattle, WA)
LouLou D’vil (Tampere, Finland)
Minnie Tonka (Brooklyn, NY)
Miss La Vida (Auckland, New Zealand)
Randi Rascal (Seattle, WA)
Stella LaRocque (Chicago, IL)

BEST BOYLESQUE

Bazuka Joe (Chicago, IL )
Captain Kidd (Brisbane, Australia)
Jett Adore (Chicago, IL)
Mahogany Storm (Toronto, Canada)

BEST GROUP

Brown Girls Burlesque (New York, NY)
The Dolls of Doom (Chicago, IL )
Melody Sweets & The Candy Shop Boys (New York, NY)
Razzle Tassel Tease Show (Vancouver, Canada)
The Schlep Sisters (Brooklyn, NY)
The Stage Door Johnnies (Chicago, IL )

MISS EXOTIC WORLD, REIGNING QUEEN OF BURLESQUE

Anna Fur Laxis (Yorkshire, UK)
Coco Lectric (Austin, TX)
Miss Indigo Blue (Seattle, WA)
Kristina Nekyia (Los Angeles, CA)
Lily Verlaine (Seattle, WA)
Lux LaCroix (Los Angeles, CA)
Melody Mangler (Vancouver, Canada)
Midnite Martini (Denver, Colorado)
MsTickle (New York, New York)
Nasty Canasta (Brooklyn, New York)
Ophelia Flame (Minneapolis, MN)
Sparkly Devil (San Francisco, CA)
Sweetpea (Minneapolis, MN)
Vicky Butterfly (London, England)

Ricci Cortez

I’ve been thinking a lot about legends lately, especially since I’ve been working hard on the 2011 Legends Challenge for Burlesque Hall of Fame. I’m so thrilled with the response to this campaign, with 14 benefits happening all over North America! I love seeing the burlesque community band together to ensure their elders can be honored at this annual event.

Some of the most profound and moving moments I’ve experienced have been watching legends perform at BHOF. I dug up this remembrance of Ricci Cortez that I posted in 2008 when she died:




Ricci Cortez, a living legend of burlesque, has died.

Ricci was a firecracker of a Texas broad, and I was lucky enough to see her perform once. I will never, ever forget witnessing her completely off-the-cuff performance at Exotic World in 2005, the last year it was held in the Helendale, in the middle of the desert.

I was sitting in the very front row of the makeshift foot-high stage, in a beige and pedestrian cramped hotel conference room, filled to the bursting point with neo-burlesque starlets and vintage vixens. It was nine million degrees, we were packed in there like sardines, and I kept popping out of my backless dress, with my bare legs folded up underneath me and my red glitter toes tucked under the lip of the stage. I was crammed in between Nadine Dubois & Sexy Mark Brown when Ricci was convinced to get up there and do a completely impromptu performance.

She was wearing a simple black pantsuit with silver accents — no costume, no pasties, no boa, no rehearsal. She got up there and worked the fuck out of Night Train, and just knocked everyone’s socks off in the entire room, playfully switching back and forth from coquettish faux-shy to flat out freakin’ RAUNCHY. An audience comprised mostly of men & women her grandchildren’s age where literally screaming their voices raw as she worked the stage. I can still see, clear as day, her bright cherry red pout — contrasting against her ultra-bronzed skin — and her hugely expressive eyes, as she leaned over, mere inches from me, and made the most innocent yet totally lascivious gesture towards my friend Mark, who then turned three shades of beet red.

It’s definitely stands out as one of the most striking and poignant performances I’ve ever witnessed, since it just goes to show: you can stick $2,000 worth of rhinestones to your costume, you can hire a professional choreographer and scads of backup dancers, you can spend thousands of dollars on big flashy props, you can plan and plot and obsess over every last minutiae of your routine, but when it comes right fucking down to it…

…a real professional can just get up there, on the fly, at 80 years old in her pantsuit, and knock everyone’s fucking jaws down to the floor, armed only with her humor, style and panache.



Ricci’s performance in Helendale, 2005





Miss Indigo Blue’s amazing tribute to Ricci, performed at BHOF 2010:

In Memory of Eddie Dane

Last Thursday, Eddie Dane — producer, comedian, MC, pioneer, son, and friend — died at the age of 42.

For the past couple of days, I’ve struggled to articulate my thoughts on his passing; something a little more eloquent than “man, this fucking sucks.”

But, seriously?

This totally fucking sucks.

I can’t quite remember exactly when I met Eddie; but I think it was at Tease-o-rama in 2002, when he was ripping on a makeup-free Marilyn Manson, who was standing in front of Bimbo’s in a very staid brown suit while Dita performed inside. At the time, I thought he was kind of a jerk — Eddie, I mean; not Manson.

Anyway, In 2005 we sat next to each other on a panel called “How to Be a Burlesque Star for Fun & Profit” — when we both made the same joke at the same time, I laughed and put my hand on his knee….and he told me to knock it off or he’d get wood in front of everyone. The entire room laughed and I turned bright red in shock and embarrassment.

We’ve been pals ever since.

Eddie was a true pioneer of the burlesque revival; he founded Dane’s Dames, one of the very first neo-burlesque troupes in the country, which he brought to the very first burlesque convention ever, Tease-o-rama in New Orleans in 2001. He went on to co-produce Hubba Hubba Revue with cohort MC Kingfish — and the show was recently named one of the top 10 burlesque shows in the world by the Travel Channel.

It was Eddie who first introduced me to the Hubba crew, booking me for their second show under the Hubba moniker — just weeks after I had moved to San Francisco. I remember checking my email via a hotel lobby computer somewhere half way through my cross-country journey; thrilled to find an invite to perform from Eddie. I vividly remember rushing back to the room to tell my driving buddy – who just so happened to be Gorilla X, another core member of Eddie’s crew. His response was: “Good. Those are the people you need to be with.”

And he was so right. Hubba Hubba truly became my family, in every sense of the word. I remember feeling at home the moment I set foot on the DNA stage and the “Hooray!” sign went up. We all have the tendency to reflect on the past with rose-colored glasses; but truly, my first show with Hubba Hubba was a pivotal point for me — one of those simple moments that seems so profound, but at the time you just can’t figure out just why. I had the same moment of clarity when I met my husband the first time; and as with him, when I met Hubba — I just knew it was meant to be.

Over the past few days, as we’ve all shared moments and memories, a lot of folks have said they’ve always liked Eddie, but felt they didn’t really know him well. It’s an understandable sentiment; for all of his boisterous behavior on stage, Eddie was actually a soft-spoken guy when the spotlights weren’t on. And it was that reserved part of Eddie’s personality that fueled such great comedic timing; Heaven forfend the fool who mistook him for shy. Eddie was sort of an insult ninja; waiting in the wings, deceptively quiet, until he swooped in to deliver a viciously hilarious one-liner that would leave the recipient boggled, laughing until the ribcage rattled. That was one of Eddie’s true gifts; the man could ruthlessly mock you to your face, and not only would you not feel offended or hurt, you’d be gasping for breath as the tears of laughter streamed down your face.

One of my favorite past times was heading right to the front of the Uptown stage on Monday nights, and letting loose with the heckling. Eddie would burn me so fucking hard, I swear, I almost peed myself a couple of times. I’d hurl off a crack about his saggy balls; and he’d marvel that I managed to pull the whiskey-tinged sailor’s dick out of my mouth long enough to string together a sentence. I’m sure, to some outsiders, it looked like a vulgar, crass volley of insults — but in reality, it was a delightfully deft tango of wit; one that he danced time and time again with any friend who was brave enough to taunt him. And it was a dance that both parties enjoyed to the fullest.

Eddie also understood the extremely delicate line of insult comedy; he knew the difference between a good-natured razor-sharp jab, and just being an asshole. I’ll never forget the time a fellow “comedian” – who was actually just an asshole — threw a punch at me that was way below the belt. It wasn’t funny, it was petty and mean — and Eddie immediately phoned him up and called him out. I didn’t need someone to come to my rescue — Eddie later told me he knew I was perfectly equipped to deliver my own comeback. But Eddie said something anyway, because it wasn’t right, because it wasn’t cool, and because that’s just the kind of guy he was.

Like so many of you, my life was immeasurably brightened by Eddie Dane. I’ll never forget the shit he would get into, with his impish little grin — whether it was stuffing a blowup doll into an unattended meter maid vehicle in North Beach, lumbering around the stage in his big pink bunny costume, or sacrificing his last shred of dignity solely for the sake of a laugh. Despite the fact that he wouldn’t want any of us to be sad, the sense of loss is profound — and the glitter seems just a bit more dull and drab now that he’s gone.

Farewell, my friend. I look forward to the day when our paths cross again, and we dance the insult tango one more time.


Illustration by Fritz Striker

Tura Satana gets snubbed by the Oscars

I have been wanting to write about Tura Satana’s passing, and have not been able to find the right words. And then I got royally pissed last night when she was left out of the “In Memorium” package during the Oscars. It was an insulting oversight, and it didn’t go unnoticed by the blogosphere.

True, Tura and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill! were never even remotely considered Oscar material. But both the actress and the film (which are nearly inseparable, since Tura is Faster Pussycat) have done far more to shape pop culture than the handful of play-by-the-rules ass-kissing Hollywood insiders who were deemed worthy of mention.

Fuck them all – you’re a goddess, Tura, and you always will be.

Like most of you, I was shocked when I heard of her passing, particularly because she has always seemed so lively and full of energy.

I was not close to Tura; I made a point to chat with her every year at Exotic World, but I’m not sure she could tell me apart from the sundry other platinum-haired crimson-lipped tattooed girls who would swarm her at such events.

But even if she didn’t remember your name, Tura never showed it. She would greet you with the same warm, engaging smile that you would expect to be reserved for an old, dear friend.

Tura always struck me as someone who truly valued and appreciated her fans; she always made time for them, and was always

Upon hearing the news of her death, I immediately burst into tears. This one hit hard, mostly because Tura was young (72) and seemed so vibrant.

It served as a sharp and painful reminder that the precious few living legends of burlesque that are still living will not be around forever.

I have many more thoughts on the new generation of burlesque forming lasting bonds and relationships with living legends – complex thoughts that I have yet to organize.

But in the meantime, I wanted to say to Tura:

Thank you for all you’ve shared in your time with us. Even if the Oscars forgot you, us burlesque broads sure as hell never will.

Curvicious Cabaret: Burlesque That Bites Back!

After years of threatening, plotting, and chickening out, it’s finally happening…

I’m launching my own monthly burlesque show! Ladies & gentlemen, get ready for:

Curvicious Cabaret: Burlesque That Bites Back!

Mark your calendars for the debut show on Thursday, March 10th at The Blue Macaw in San Francisco (the venue formerly known as 12 Galaxies)

After our debut, the show will happen on the first Thursday of every month at the Blue Macaw, starting with April 7th!

Website & more details coming SOON!

But in the meantime:

Stalk Curvicious on Facebook

Tweet at Curvicious on Twitter

Burlesquer Homes & Gardens

I’ve been slugging through the dreadful process of purging & re-organizing my costume room, which has got me thinking about burlesque-centric tips & tricks for organization, costume maintenance, etc.

I’d love to pull together a Martha Stewart burlesque post – with advice & tips from burlesque performers on how they cope with the day-to-day maintenance of their costumes, storage area, etc.

Do you store your pasties in plastic jewelry organizers? How do you launder your most delicate Swarovksi-encrusted gloves when they get stained with lipstick or smudges? How do you transport your costumes? What’s your secret to keeping your wigs shiny and bouncy? How do you get spilled liquid latex out of a costume?

Stuff like that!

If you’d like to share your Martha Stewart burlesque tips, please email them to me at sparkly.devil@gmail.com along with your stage name and website, so I can link back to you. I will compile all of the tips and post them here, and hopefully we’ll have a handy little resource guide for future use!