Interview with Miss Dirty Martini

Burlesque can just be stripping, but when it’s done expertly, it can be about so much more.

Interview by Lora Wiley - lora@citizenbrookyln.com Photos by Icarus Blake
Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: You have classical dance training – How did you get from Ballet to Burlesque?

My progression from classical dance to burlesque was quite natural actually. I’ve always been interested in performance art and feminism. During my time as a dance and choreography major at Purchase College, I developed my own language and ideas based around the female body and politics. Upon moving to New York City after graduation, I worked very hard to continue my dance training and get involved in interesting theater.  I danced with a company called Stanley Love Performance Group, who had a strong basis in dance theater as well as very intense and difficult choreography.  I made extra cash and gained touring experience and continued my eclectic movement skills with the company Pink Inc. that specialized in large form puppeteering. They had a whimsical feel and we performed often at corporate events and arts festivals. Along with the large puppets, we formed a girl group called the Fortunettes, female female impersonators lip-syncing to 60s music that was my gateway to the burlesque performance arena. At this time, there was no burlesque.  It was as good as dead and all that existed were a few neo-vaudevillians and a newly formed Coney Island Side Show.  It was because of the Fortunettes and my chance viewing of “Something Weird” videos of a 1950’s burlesque show that I decided the forgotten art form of burlesque would be perfect to showcase my 1950’s style curves, interest in drag, costuming and wigs as well as my extensive dance training.  Everything seemed to fall into place with burlesque.

CBK: One of your specialties is The Fan Dance, Describe this lost art.

The fan dance was my first burlesque performance. I was one of only 3 or so people in NYC dancing with fans when I started out. I quickly met and became friends with the other ladies of plumage and was happy to find them interesting and fabulous people. Now, there is no way to count the number of fan dancers in NYC alone! They are everywhere. The fan dance is simply the most wonderful feminine thing that one could possibly do. I learned my techniques that I now teach from Sally Rand herself. I studied her videos and made a choreographic structure that I still use today when making new fan dances. She was known as the first fan dancer although I suspect that is an exaggeration much like everything in burlesque.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: You perform in many different countries. How are audiences different by culture?

The largest difference outside of America is the behavior of the audiences.  Americans are always using superlatives and yelling loudly! This is wonderful for burlesque performers. In France, when I started performing there with the Cabaret New Burlesque, audiences were so concentrated on us. They didn’t want to be disrespectful and they were afraid to be judged by their neighbors. Until the film Tournee, French audiences were so difficult, but now they know what is expected of them and It is as if they must yell and scream or be poorly judged by their neighbor.

CBK: You were the first fan dance performer in post war Bosnia. What was that like?

I performed with Pink Inc in Sarajevo during the first spring after that horrible war.  It was horrifying to see the damage that war causes, but incredible to meet the formidable Bosnian people. I found the whole experience to be profound and fulfilling. In the spirit of PT Barnum and burlesque ballyhoo, I felt that since I performed there with my fan dance (incidentally causing a catholic school to leave the theater) I could reasonably call myself the first fan dancer to perform in Bosnia and the “International Burlesque Sensation”. Since that time, I have heard that title announced in many a burlesque show introducing performers who have made one trip to England and I have also met a Bosnian woman who is a very talented burlesque performer. I maintain, though that I am the original International Burlesque Sensation and first fan dancer in Post war Bosnia!

CBK: What burlesque performers, living or dead do you admire?

My first burlesque love was Lili St. Cyr for her incredible presence and precision of movement. After further research, I’ve come to admire Jennie Lee, who was as much a union organizer and club owner as she was a fabulous performer.  She was known as the Bazoom Girl, Miss 44 and plenty more and she created what would be known as the Burlesque Hall of Fame and Striptease Reunion.  Dixie Evans is also one of my heroes. She was the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque in the 50’s and she did more for the preservation of burlesque than anyone. Dixie recently passed away and there is a fundraiser happening to try and bury her properly in Westwood cemetery where you can also visit Marilyn.  Contact DixieEvansweek.com to contribute.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK:What did you want to be when you were a young girl?

Either a dancer or a pastry chef. I used to pretend I was doing a cooking show like Julia Child when I was young!

CBK: How do you want to be remembered in the history of women in burlesque?

I would like to be known as an innovator of new burlesque and an instigator of other women to find happiness within themselves. I hope to help women to understand how important it is to live in the body one is given and enjoy all  that life has to offer.

CBK: Your real identity seem to be a bit of a mystery. How is the woman behind the performer different from Miss Dirty Martini?

I am always myself. I do not differentiate my onstage persona from that of my offstage one.  I am only more of myself on the stage.

CBK: What is your definition of glamour?

Glamour is an unaffected way of holding oneself. Glamour can be fabricated with lovely expensive clothes, but a glamourous person is someone who exudes style and confidence well no matter what they wear.CBK:

CBK: If you were to perform for your dream audience, who would that be?

I must say without pretense that my dream audience is any audience that is paying attention and ready to experience a show together with all of us back stage. That said, my favorite audience are the women that performed burlesque in the 50’s and 60’s. Women who performed nude before the sexual revolution and the women’s rights.They are truly pioneers and tough broads and they know what Show business is all about!

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: What’s your favorite costume and why?

I’m lucky to have the most intuitive and fabulous costume designer.  My David Quinn gowns are a treasure and I believe that someday he will be known for his brilliance just like his hero Charles James who incidentally sewed for Gypsy Rose Lee.

CBK: What is the biggest misconception about burlesque?

There are many misconceptions about burlesque.  I find the most pervasive is that people assume that burlesque is a style of dress as if burlesque is only corsets and top hats, bows and perfume. The best burlesque performers that I have seen take the audience on a theatrical journey. Burlesque can transform an audience and excite audiences to be open to more possibilities. Burlesque can just be stripping, but when it’s done expertly, it can be about so much more.

CBK: You’ve said “Understanding of art and cultural critique is essential for world peace” Can you elaborate on that?

I believe that it is through exploration of art and culture that people can truly be awake and alive in this narrowly marketed world.  Good art encourages critical and independent thinking which can have the ability to change humanity and the world for the better. Independent thinking and considered appreciation for radical ideas keeps possibilities open for life changing ideas.

CBK: We see you as a ground breaking role model for women no only in your performance medium but in body image. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes, I am absolutely a feminist.  The last frontier of our independence is true sexual freedom and equality. I believe that by promoting the appreciation for different body shapes and actually getting the eye trained and used to seeing many different bodies without judgement will lead to a wider appreciation of women in general and help to change how we perceive ourselves and others.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: Any beauty tips you’s like to share?

Love yourself and you will promote goodwill and attract excellent people into your life.  Know that self acceptance is a journey not a destination. Wear high heels on occasion and buy pretty under garments; I swear it makes a lady feel like a movie star.

CBK: What is the number one question women ask you? Men?

Women:  How are you so brave that you can take your clothes off on stage?
Men:  How can I convince my girlfriend/wife to be more confident?

Women – I think fire fighters are brave.
Men – Tell your lady that she is beautiful EVERYDAY no matter what she may say to protest. Keep at it.

CBK: What’s next for you?

I am currently creating a new show in France with the Cabaret New Burlesque which will premiere in Paris’ Rond Point theater and then tour Europe through the winter.  I perform with Dita VonTeese’s wonderful show, StripStrip Hooray that is currently touring the States and I am continuing to headline Burlesque festivals and shows all over the world.  My goal in life is to be on the cover of Vogue without the words “plus size” in the issue! that’s a tall order!

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