Sparkly’s BHOF Survival Guide v2.0

Image

Rule #1 of BHOF: Be prepared for anything. Including pool monsters. 

It’s almost here! Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend countdown has begun, as glitterati from across the globe test the limits of their suitcases and prepare to descend on Las Vegas for four (or more) days of jam-packed glamour, showcases, classes and parties.

Last year I wrote my first-ever BHOF Survival Guide; there have been some exciting new additions to the Weekender, so I’ve put together an amended and improved version for 2013. So, without further ado:

The BHOF Survival Guide v2.0

In just a few days, hundreds of performers and fans from across the globe will descend upon Las Vegas for the largest and oldest burlesque competition — which is also the primary fundraiser for the world’s ONLY non-profit museum dedicated to preserving the history of  burlesque as an art form.

In addition to a reunion and four nights of jaw-dropping performances, there are daytime activities, group outings, pre-parties, after-parties, and hob-nobbing galore. This is one big crazy weekend overflowing with glitz, glam, glitter and sensory overload.

And although BHOF is a delight for the soul, it can also wreak havoc on your body. I’ve been going since 2003; and I still haven’t learned how to pack properly or bring the right shoes. (Edit: this will be the year I conquer the fucking shoe issue, I swear) However, here are a few bits of wisdom that I’ve accumulated over the years, which will hopefully guide you through the next few days, whether you’re a BHOF virgin or a veteran of Helendale.

 

DRINK WATER

No, seriously. Drink WAY more water than you think you need, all day, all night. Do not skimp on the water. Pretend you’re at Burning Man. Pee clear at all times.

Dehydration is the #1 cause of BHOF crankiness and exhaustion. It’s hot as hell in Vegas in June, you’re in the desert, and going from the pavement-melting indoors to the brisk chill of the A/C in the casino is going to affect you. Bling a water bottle, and carry it with you all day. If you’re drinking alcohol, have a glass of water in between each drink. Even if you’re not drinking alcohol, hit that H2O hard.

BRING COMFY SHOES

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ONE ENOUGH! Last year I was publicly busted for flagrantly ignoring my own advice, and wound up paying the price dearly: I had to fill the tub in my room with ice and shove my feet in while howling in pain, for a few days in a row. I vow to not repeat this in 2013!

Here’s the thing: you’re either a foot sweller, or you’re not. If you’re a sweller, you probably already have an inclination: if you have trouble removing your rings after a tough workout or when you’re dehydrated, you’re a sweller. Add to that the combination of air travel + desert & dehydration + impractical heels, and you will wind up with the curse of Las Vegas Blimp Foot (or, as my husband lovingly calls them, Eggplant Feet.)

If you’re a sweller: bring kitten heels, open-toed shoes, strappy sandals made of stretchy material – anything that will accommodate for swelling. If you can stand it, give your feet daily ice baths (or just soak them in the Orleans pool first thing in the morning, which will be pretty much the same temperature.)

If you’re not a sweller: you’re still not scott-free! Don’t wind up with crippling foot pain or searing blisters; make sure you have moleskin and Dr. Scholl’s inserts on hand. And for cripes sake, don’t break in a new pair of shoes in Vegas!

 

MEET THE LEGENDS

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough! Seek out the legends and strike up a conversation. Offer to buy them a drink, a cup of coffee, or a meal. Some of them may be a little shy, just like you – so just introduce yourself with a big smile, tell them where you’re from, and ask them a question or two. This is your chance to hear the stories of how it used to be firsthand from the ladies who lived it. And you can learn a trick or two from them at the BHOF Finishing School classes.

SEE THE MUSEUM

New this year: The Shimmy Shuttle will bring you to the The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum and back for a mere $10. The shuttle runs on Friday and Saturday only, and you must buy advance tickets, which you can do at the link above. If there is a one must not miss off-site event of the weekend, it’s this. Remember the entire Weekender is the primary fundraiser for the museum, so this is why we’re all here, folks!

The museum is located inside the Emergency Arts building, in historic downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street. This area is commonly known as “Old Vegas” and is a lot of fun to wander around. Each shuttle will give you a 90-minute window between arrival and departure, so you’ll have plenty of time to hit the museum and do a little exploring of the area, too.  Here’s a description of the current exhibition, from Executive Director Dustin Wax:

“Not-So-Hidden Histories: Performers of Color in Burlesque”

“The history of burlesque is full of women (and some men) of color. Black, Asian, Latina, South Pacific Islander, and Native American dancers were very much a part of burlesque history, and not just as chorus girls for white headliners. They were integral players in the history of burlesque. Among the first to shamelessly bump and grind, performers of color left an indelible mark on burlesque history. Many achieved enough fame to work on the Minsky circuit, earn $1000 or more a week, insure their bodies, tour the US and Europe, and work with (and date) prominent entertainers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., and Little Richard. These performers not only existed but, in many cases, they thrived.”

 

TWEET IT UP

Use the official hashtag of #BHOF when Tweeting & Instagramming your adventures – this helps drive awareness for the museum, and your enthusiasm will be infectious! We’re trying to achieve critical mass and get #BHOF trending on Twitter during the Weekender, so the more you Tweet, the better!

 

BE KIND TO YOUR BODY

Take multi-vitamins daily, drink that water, and try to get a minimum of 5 hours of sleep a night.

If you’re a vegetarian, on a budget, a fussy eater or just not a fan of the buffet, you can rent a fridge from the Orleans for $15 a day and hit up the local grocery store for supplies. Alternately, you can grab a big styrofoam cooler from the liquor store around the corner and keep it filled with ice, for both your carrot sticks and your booze.

If you’re looking to exercise something other than the fortitude of your liver: there’s the Orleans gym, a 24-Hour Fitness down the road, and there will be a room set aside for group fitness every morning from 9-10:30am, in Big Al’s Comedy Club. More details TBA!

BHOF is notorious for the all-day-into-late-night parties; it’s tempting to go balls-out for the first day or two, but you don’t want to crash-and-burn by Saturday afternoon. It’s a mini-marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, you’re in it for the long haul!

But if you don’t drink or recently stopped, don’t fret – you’re not alone! Plenty of people who don’t drink go to BHOF and have an amazing time. If you’d like to meet up with some of them, there will be some on-site meetings for those in recovery who are attending BHOF. Follow @bhofbill on Twitter for more information.

BOOK DATE TIME

If you’re traveling with your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse, make sure your S.O. is attended to and has what s/he needs to stay entertained and happy. Try to book something alone time for just the two of you, whether it’s watching the fountains at the Bellagio or enjoying a nice meal together away from the hustle & bustle of festival.

 

HIT THE STRIP

The Orleans offers a free shuttle to the main drag of Las Vegas, known as “the Strip.” Here’s where you’ll find clusters of big casinos, tourist traps, mile-high plastic cups in silly shapes, and all of the other delightfully tacky glitz that Vegas is known for. Check out these free attractions for more great stuff to do and see that won’t cost you a dime.

 

GO SHOPPING

Don’t forget to hit the BHOF Bazaar! Beyond that, if you’ve got the bling bug and you’re looking to get your shop on, here are a couple of great spots: 

Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet – Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 6pm. This isn’t a swap meet, but a huge indoor flea market that’s like heaven for drag queens and burlesque chicks. You’ll find $1 lashes, cheap hair flowers, wigs, sparkly heels, costume jewelry, dresses, knives, churros, and god knows what else. This is also where you can find the customized rhinestone name necklaces that now serve as the defacto BHOF nametag – you can get them in the DuBarry’s booth. Get a group to share a cab over; be warned that it’s easy to catch a cab there, but pickup will take a lot longer, so keep that in mind if you need to be back at a specific time.

DuBarry’s – DuBarry’s has a huge booth at Fantastik, but if you still want even more rhinestoned bling, check out their brick & mortar store. It’s packed to the bursting point with costume jewelry, accessories and fabulousness.  There’s also free music and champagne on Sundays.

William’s Costume Company. Outstanding collection of unique trims, chainette fringe, and a large selection of rhinestones, plus lots of assorted costumes, props and ridiculousness.  Ask for Glenda the Rhinestone Lady, and tell her you want to see her collection of rhinestone handiwork.

 

REMEMBER TO PACK

-Your ID! You need it to pick up your tickets!

-Lotion, moisturizer, chapstick, and baby powder if you’re prone to chafing. You will feel like a lizard come Sunday.

-Sunscreen, parasols and floppy hats; shade is limited at the Orleans pool.

-Waterproof mascara & Kleenex for the Friday night Legends showcase. You will cry.

-Your business cards & flyers.

-Light cardigans and shawls to cover up in the cold casino.

JUST BREATHE

If you’re performing during the weekend, you might be a little stressed. Or freaked out. Or you might be in full-blown meltdown mode….so just take a minute to breathe. It’s natural to be a little stressed out, so set aside some just-you time to unwind and relax before your performance: take a quiet bubble bath in your room, find a secluded part of the pool to get in some reading, or book some time at the spa. Remember, you’re here to have FUN, right? Just go with the flow, don’t sweat the little shit, slap on another layer of sparkle, and be fucking fabulous!

I’ll see all of you in VEGAS, BABY! And if you catch me in uncomfortable shoes, you have my permission to document it and publicly shame me via social media. Game on.

Advertisements

The BHOF Survival Guide

OMFGBHOF!

As I frantically type this, an army of burlesque starlets across the country are frantically packing, rhinestoning and trying to cram one last vintage gown into a bursting suitcase…. which means it’s almost time for Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend!

In just a few days, hundreds of performers and fans from across the globe will descend upon Las Vegas for the largest and oldest burlesque competition — which is also the primary fundraiser for the world’s ONLY non-profit museum dedicated to preserving the history of  burlesque as an art form.

In addition to a reunion and four nights of jaw-dropping performances, there are daytime activities, group outings, pre-parties, after-parties, and hob-nobbing galore. This is one big crazy weekend overflowing with glitz, glam, glitter and sensory overload.

And although BHOF is a delight for the soul, it can also wreak havoc on your body. I’ve been going since 2003; and I still haven’t learned how to pack properly or bring the right shoes. However, here are a few bits of wisdom that I’ve accumulated over the years, which will hopefully guide you through the next few days, whether you’re a BHOF virgin or a veteran of Helendale.

DRINK WATER

No, seriously. Drink WAY more water than you think you need, all day, all night. Do not skimp on the water. Pretend you’re at Burning Man.

Dehydration is the #1 cause of BHOF crankiness and exhaustion. It’s hot as hell in Vegas in June, you’re in the desert, and going from the pavement-melting indoors to the brisk chill of the A/C in the casino is going to affect you. Bling a water bottle, and carry it with you all day. If you’re drinking alcohol, have a glass of water in between each drink. Even if you’re not drinking alcohol, hit that H2O hard.

BRING COMFY SHOES

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ONE ENOUGH! I still have yet to learn this lesson properly myself, and every year I wind up limping around in flip-flops by the third day. Something about flying + the desert/dehydration combo will most likely make your feet swell up like balloons – add on to that a couple of hours a day in fabulously impractical skyscraper heels, and your dogs will be barking like they never have before. Bring at least one pair of heels that are comfortable and will accommodate for swollen tootsies.

MEET THE LEGENDS

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough! Seek out the legends and strike up a conversation. Offer to buy them a drink, a cup of coffee, or a meal. Some of them may be a little shy, just like you – so just introduce yourself with a big smile, tell them where you’re from, and ask them a question or two. This is your chance to hear the stories of how it used to be firsthand from the ladies who lived it. And you can learn a trick or two from them at the BHOF Finishing School classes.

BE A HIPPY

Take multi-vitamins daily; try to eat well and sleep lots in the days before you hit Vegas; because once you land you likely won’t be doing much of either.

TWEET IT UP

Use the #BHOF tag when Tweeting about your adventures – this helps drive awareness for the museum, and your enthusiasm will be infectious!

SEE THE MUSEUM

The Burlesque Hall of Fame is located at 520 Fremont Street inside the Emergency Arts building, in historic downtown Las Vegas. It’s about a $20 cab ride from the Orleans, or you can take public transit.  This area is commonly known as “Old Vegas” and is a lot of fun to wander around. Gather up a group, hit the museum, get a fried Twinkie and check out the Fremont Experience.

Edited to add: Here’s a teaser from BHOF Executive Director Dustin Wax about the museum’s current exhibits:

 The current permanent exhibition is a timeline of American burlesque from 1865-present and features one of Blaze Starr’s dresses, a chorine’s dress from the Minsky era, Tempest Storm’s beaded g-string, magazine covers, records, sheet music, shoes, and of course plenty of photos and posters. The new exhibit, “Las Vegas Stripped”, explores burlesque in Las Vegas and includes one of Liz Renay’s dresses and a cat costume from Tiffany Carter.

SHOPPING

Don’t forget to hit the BHOF Bazaar! Beyond that, if you’ve got the bling bug and you’re looking to get your shop on, here are a couple of great spots:

Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet – Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 6pm. This isn’t a swap meet, but a huge indoor flea market geared towards drag queens and burlesque chicks. You’ll find $1 lashes, cheap hair flowers, wigs, sparkly heels, costume jewelry, dresses, knives, churros, and god knows what else. This is also where you can find the customized rhinestone name necklaces that were all the rage last year, which are in the DuBarry’s booth. Get a group to share the cab over; be warned that it’s easy to catch a cab over there, but pickup will take a lot longer, so keep that in mind if you need to be back at a specific time.

DuBarry’s – DuBarry’s has a huge booth at Fantastik, but if you still want even more rhinestoned bling, check out their brick & mortar store. It’s packed to the bursting point with costume jewelry, accessories and fabulousness.  There’s also free music and champagne on Sundays.

William’s Costume Company. Outstanding collection of unique trims, chainette fringe, and a large selection of rhinestones, plus lots of assorted costumes, props and ridiculousness.  Ask for Glenda the Rhinestone Lady, and tell her you want to see her collection of rhinestone handiwork.

EATS

The Orleans has a 24/7 café, a food court, and a buffet. But if you’re a vegetarian, on a budget, a fussy eater or just not a fan of the buffet, consider hitting up a nearby grocery store to stock up on some essentials for your room. The Orleans rooms do not have mini-fridges, so stick to non perishable items like fruit, granola bars, snack packs, etc.

REMEMBER TO PACK

-Your ID! You need it to pick up your tickets!

-Sunscreen, parasols and floppy hats; shade is limited at the Orleans pool.

-Bandaids for blisters (in case, like me, you ignore the sensible shoe advice.)

-Waterproof mascara & Kleenex for the Friday night Legends showcase. You will cry.

-Lotion, moisturizer, chapstick, and baby power if you’re prone to chafing. You will feel like a lizard come Sunday.

-Your business cards & flyers.

-Cardigan or shawl to cover up in the cold casino.

JUST BREATHE

If you’re performing during the weekend, you might be a little stressed. Or freaked out. Or you might be in full-blown meltdown mode….so just take a minute to breathe. It’s natural to be a little stressed out, so set aside some you-time to unwind and relax: take a quiet bubble bath in your room, find a secluded part of the pool to get in some reading, or book some time at the spa. Remember, you’re here to have FUN, right? So just go with the flow, don’t sweat the little shit, slap on another layer of sparkle and be fabulous, baby!

If you’re traveling with your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse, make sure your S.O. is attended to and has what s/he needs to stay entertained and happy. Try to book something alone time for just the two of you, whether it’s watching the fountains at the Bellagio or enjoying a nice meal together away from the hustle & bustle of festival.

OK, you crazy kids — I still need to create a packing spreadsheet for my handbags and dresses, finish sewing my Barecats Bowling costume, and buy at least one damn pair of sensible shoes since lord knows I don’t own any.

I’ll see all of you in VEGAS, BABY!

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