Spotlight On: Red Velvet!

This is the FIRST in a new segment where I will be interviewing burlesquers and performers of all kinds!

This is not a ploy to get around writers block. Shhhh, no it’s not.

Mama Burlesque literally draws ALL SORTS to her glittery bosom, and I’m fascinated by each and every one, so it seemed like a no-brainer to start with my sparkly Partner In Crime RED VELVET!

Red Velvet is a POWERHOUSE in burlesque and life in general. She is the Co-Artistic Director of DIVA or Die Burlesque, performs ALL OVER the Bay Area and the country, name a burlesque festival and she’s probably performed there and probably won an award. She’s as classically glam as she is FUCKING TWISTED. This is why I love her.

There are things in this interview that even I didn’t know! Read on for a closer look at one of the Bay Areas favorite desserts…..

A little Marie Antoinette action Photo by Freak the Mighty

A little Marie Antoinette action
Photo by Freak the Mighty

How long have you been performing burlesque?
Who is Red Velvet? Where did she come from? Do you have a tagline?

I started performing burlesque in 2008 – I started with Bombshell Betty.  Red Velvet is all the best things about me….  The most extreme components of my personality.  The danciest, the happiest, the creepiest, the goofiest.  Velvet is an eclectic mixture of all the things that make me happy or make me think interesting thoughts.  Velvet is never bored or boring, but she does sleep very very deeply because she is fucking exhausted.    My tagline is “Try a Slice!”

I find performers chosen identities fascinating, what’s the origin of your name?

I played around with a lot of words and a lot of combinations and I wanted something that read classy – not because I always am, but because sometimes I am.  Red, because I have red hair and Velvet because I love Blue Velvet, and Velvet is fuzzy and sensuous and feels really good on your skin.  And then on top of that you have Red Velvet cake and cream cheese frosting to talk about and the possibilities of having fun with the name were just too good to pass up.
 What are your inspirations, outside of burlesque, that influence your burlesque?
    Do you do any other type of performance, besides burlesque?

Inspirations are mostly not burlesque about my burlesque, if that makes any sense at all.  I do other types of performance – Duncan dance, cancan, flamenco, and samba.  In the past I have done a whole lot of different types of dance, plus singing and a bit of acting.  Inspirations come from ideas, books, movies, television – my sick and twisted brain – all over – but MOSTLY my ideas come from music.  That is my most compelling force for creating my acts and drive most of my decisions from the storyline to the specific choreography, to the costuming choices.

She sings too! Photo by Jeff Lapierre

She sings too!
Photo by Jeff Lapierre

Who is your favorite burlesque performer, living or dead?

I love Michelle L’amour  and Dirty Martini who are two of my current favorites.  They both move amazingly and have awesome number ideas – I love watching them both.  I have taken classes from Michelle L’amour (including a workshop where I stayed in her house for a week with ten other burlesque performers) and she is a great teacher and super supportive.  And she and her husband are amazing cooks on top of everything else!    

Sally Rand is probably my favorite deceased just because I love the fans and bubble props, the classical moves, and the smooth flowing movements. 

 
 Performers are drawn to burlesque for a multitude of reasons, what drew you in?

I love to perform and I am an on-stage exhibitionist.  I saw other performers and thought “I can do that.”  And Mr. Velvet says – “Well, then do it.”  And I was – “But how do I get started, I don’t know anyone…”  So, he found me classes and the rest just happened after that.
What’s your guilty pleasure?

Reading MAD magazine.  Although it will never be as good as when I was a child and sneaking into my brother’s bedroom when he wasn’t home to pull out copies of it and read it in his closet – at that time I was too young to understand a lot of the movie and popular culture references, but loving it anyway because I know I wasn’t supposed to… 

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The breathtaking Russian Ballet routine, performed at Red Hots Burlesque Photo by Amber Gregory

 What do you consider to be your trademark? Whether it’s a style, a certain prop, a color etc.

I don’t have a trademark.  Maybe it would be better if I did.  In burlesque, like life, I am a jack of all trades…. 
What does burlesque mean to you?

Doing and being what I want to be on stage and making it fun and sparkly and amazing.  Being who I want to be and letting the audience peek at those little moments and enjoy them with me.
What do you think is your best feature? Physical or otherwise?

I don’t have a best feature.  Overall, I think I am a pretty good package – everything is pretty good but I don’t have one stand-out amazing feature…  Oh, and Mr. Velvet says that I am incorrect – he says my best physical attribute is my ass and my best overall attributes are my versatility and grace.  My nipples are really super hot, but the audience doesn’t get to see those (haha…)
Do you remember your first show? Where was it? How did it go?

Oh, yes. It was at the Uptown in Oakland.  It was the first time in my life I ever performed without doing a run through on stage first – very strange for me at the time.  And afterwards, I felt awful.  There were cords all over the floor and a carpet which was smunched up and I tripped on the carpet during the act and fell against one of the on-stage speakers.  I felt like such a loser, but made it through anyway, and then most people told me they didn’t even notice I tripped.  I don’t know if they were drunk off their ass, or just trying to be nice, but everyone cheered a lot, regardless. 
What’s on your bedside table?

A basket for the various remote controls for electronic devices, a Chinese vase with a very classical obscene sex scene painted on it, a tub of lotion, my retainer container, a black and white Alfred Cheney Johnson photo of a semi-nude woman in a pearl frame, a carved wooden box, and an artistic antique Chinese penis. 
Any fun projects on the horizon?

I am working on a Morticia act and a Death act (Death from the Sandman comics kind of Death.)    “You get what anybody gets…. You get a lifetime. No more. No less.”  ‘Cause that shit makes me happy….

The infamous Crazy Dance (one of my personal favorites), photo by Jeff Lapierre

The infamous Crazy Dance (one of my personal favorites), photo by Jeff Lapierre

And there ya have it, kiddos, a little peek into Red Velvet! Come see her at next months DIVA or Die Burlesque, and get your tickets QUICK ‘cuz we sell out fast! Ticket link below…..

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/302111

See you at the Burly-Q

Whendy

Tiki-O, Daddy-O!

Tiki Oasis tickets go on sale tonight, so I was reminiscing about the event last year, my first year attending.

I’ve attended and performed at Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend with Los Shimmy Shakers, and had a blast as I love retro culture. But, there’s something about Rockabilly culture, depending on where you are, that can be a little “too-cool-for-school” for my taste.

This is something that I found to be wonderfully UNTRUE about the Tiki scene. My boyfriend and I went to Tiki Oasis 2014 (the theme was Beatniks) and were simply tickled by how colorful, friendly, kitschy and fun all the tiki kids were! There is, of course, a Rockabilly contingent there (duh, and it’s great) but there’s something about the Rockabilly folks with a Tiki leaning that keeps them from taking it too seriously or being too snooty. There’s the hard-core, tried and true culture FANATICS of course….but there’s just something about Tiki that made it feel so open and friendly. I got to do the Pinup Photo Safari and go-go dance and had such a blast meeting everyone.

Lulu Cachoo (of the Devilettes) and I, accidental twinsies!

Lulu Cachoo (of the Devilettes) and I, accidental twinsies!

The bands were fantastic (El Vez!! The Lampshades!!), the burlesque was scintillating (Bunny Pistol! Jessabel Thunder!), the Devilettes were groove-tastic, the room parties were outta control and the market place was a treasure trove. We were totally smitten.

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Photo snapped by my fella during the PinUp Photo Safari. Hair by Bunny Pistol

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The gentleman with Beat Tiki at the opening night shindig at Bali Hai

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Me with El Vez SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!

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Poolside, baby

So, it’s just been decided that we will be going back again this year, and I couldn’t be more excited! The theme this year is SPACE, and the gent and I are gearing up to bring our retro-space A-Game

I can’t wait for August to roll around for another tiki-tastic year, and with even more friends coming!

Love Tiki? Love Mai Tais, great folks, fab music and a good time? Come to Tiki Oasis!

http://www.tikioasis.com/2015/

XOX,

Whendy

Whendy’s Ten Commandments of Burlesque

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Lagunitas Beer Circus 2014, at the end of the day. The babes pictured here from Left to Right are Me, Dixie DeLish (holding Dually the amazing circus dog), Bombshell Betty and Lala (aka Ophelia Coeur de Noir). And I’m super sorry, but I can’t remember who took this photo! If you do, let me know so I can credit them.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time, and I end up talking about this constantly with my sparkly sisters and Event Producer pals. I’m focusing on burlesque performance, but these can really translate to any performer-types. And I fully accept the fact that some folks might disagree with me. Whatever. These are all standards I do my best to hold myself to, and they’re pretty damn reasonable.

Alright cherubs, imagine this nailed (or carpet-taped) to the dressing room door of your heart.

THE TEN BURLESQUE COMMANDMENTS (in no particular order)

I. Thou Shalt BRING IT

What ever your style is, don’t be afraid to get all crazy on that stage. Are you a total freak with fake blood and body parts? BRING IT. Are your more strictly-classic, beauty eleganza? BRING IT, BLIND ME WITH OPULENCE. Are you the only political act in the show, worried it may be to “heavy” for your audience? BRING IT, MAKE ME THINK WITH YOUR SMART SEXY ASS. Do you have a different body type than what is mass marketed by the media? Are you a person of size/disabled/a person of color/older or whatever? BRING THAT SHIT SO HARD, IT HAS SO MUCH POWER.

I’ve done a few acts that weren’t supposed to really be pretty or sexy or funny. Which are kind of the easiest crutches to lean on. What happens when you’re doing something that’s different, or scary for you, pushes boundaries? BRING IT, WE NEED YOU.

II. Thou Shalt REQUEST Feedback

Burlesque is very empowering, that’s why many people get into it. The validation and applause can be like a drug, especially for those that have been marginalized. It’s a very powerful, life changing thing. BUT, just because you have the guts to do it does NOT make you a good performer. If you’re truly a hobbyist and are pursuing burlesque as part of your self-healing/fitness/just plain fun etc. more power to you! I encourage that! But, if you are serious about being a performer, you best be requesting feedback. I know I can always count on Red Velvet, Mr. Velvet and others to give me honest feedback and constructive criticism. Because I want to constantly get better! I want to always be growing and improving as a performer! I have this hope for my entire community. Sure, it’s nice to have friends that think you’re great no matter what, but don’t stop there.

II.a Thou Shalt NOT Give Feedback Unless It Is Requested

Yes, you may have an opinion. Keep it to yourself unless the performer asks you. We put a lot of love and a lot of ourselves into our performances. We are, quite literally, naked in front of our audiences. To have just performed and have all your adrenaline pumping, and then have some person come up to you and tell you “well, I didn’t like that one part.” or “I didn’t like that character” or “I have no idea what that was about'” etc. can be really intense for a performer.

III. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Bookings Unless Absolutely Necessary

I, like many of my co-glitterers, have performed while sick/injured/about to rush off to another show/last minute when someone cancelled. I get it. Life happens. But, what I’ve found in my experience, is that if I think I can’t make a booking (for whatever reason) I pretty much always know with a day or more notice. If you’re a professional, you will take it upon yourself to make sure you can get your music to me and in the right format. If you’re a professional, you will figure out a way to get to the show. If you’re a professional, you will let me know RIGHT AWAY if any of these becomes an issue. If you flake or just don’t show entirely with no word or explanation after the fact (SERIOUSLY?), don’t be surprised if I never book you again.

On this subject, Producers talk to each other. You know that, right? If another Producer came up to me and asked, “Have you worked with so-and-so? What are they like?” I’m sure as hell not lying on your behalf. I will keep it professional and not personal, I will not gossip. But if you were late, non-communicative, flaked entirely, was a jerk backstage, got sloppy drunk etc. I will share this information if asked. If you want to be treated as a professional, you have to act like one.

IV. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Crew/Bar Staff/Stage Kittens ALWAYS 

My background is that of a Stage Tech. I was a Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, Set Dresser, Props Designer, Set Designer, Light/Sound Board Operator etc. before I ever became a Sparkly Naked Lady. Nothing is worse than a rude performer that treats you like the help. One thing you should know: Your show would pretty much SUCK without your crew. No lights, no sound, no set-up, no booze, no security…Think about it and act accordingly. These folks are not backup for your lead vocals, they are not “less than” because they have no desire to be in the spotlight. THEY RUN YOUR SHIT AND MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD. Respect!

On that note, if there’s an issue with any of the crew. I dunno, say someone backstage was really inappropriate to you or something, tell your Producer. Let them deal with their crew, it’s not your job to reprimand.

V. Thou Shalt Not Knowingly Plagiarize EVER

Burlesque is an old art form, and a lot of us are inspired by the same things. There will be some cross-over with songs, themes, archetypes etc. Be mindful of this. I’ve refrained from creating a routine to a song I love because the fierce-as-fuck Sgt. Die Weiss has a routine to that song. Some time ago, Dangerous Delilah was going to do a Poison Ivy themed act for a Villains show, but decided not to when she remembered my Temptation act where my costume is vines and leaves. But, instead, she did an adorable and morbid Cruella DeVille act which was fantastic! No one OWNS certain themes or archetypes but you should really educate yourself and make sure you’re not stepping on any toes. If you’re not sure, reach out to that performer and talk about it. Use your Adult Words for fucks sake.

Also, on this note, I think it’s very important to keep an eye on this is your immediate community. I don’t expect anyone to know what every performer on earth is doing and not do anything remotely similar. (But, if your plan is to do a routine in which you bathe in a giant Martini glass….you better do something CRAZY different with it or don’t do it at all). The internet is a BIG place, BUT if you decide to plagiarize someones blog, or the like, PEOPLE WILL FIND OUT. This happened to a dear friend of mine, where some burlesque performer from another state literally cut/pasted a several blog entries and didn’t use any quotations, give any credit or anything. She sold it as her own. That shit is TACKY AND RUDE. She was confronted and she took it down. Please don’t do this, ok?

VI. Thou Shalt Not Use Leg Avenue (or similar) Bagged Costumes

As someone who isn’t a super seamstress, I understand that it’s easier to take a garment and build off it. Go to town! But, please, modify the shit out of it. When I MC, I love pointing out that these performers created everything you’re seeing! She rhinestoned those shoes herself, fools, and you should be applauding for that alone! We’re giving a people a fantasy, a walk on the wild side, a break from their everyday. We’re not showing them what they too can own if they shop at the Halloween store, ya dig?

If such a bagged, pre-made costume really works for your act for some ironic reason or whatever, go for it. Or when having a troupe of Go-gos or something, it makes sense. As a solo performer? I dunno…But, it’s like I always say kittens, DO IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

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Masquerotica 2013, roving fabulous characters, myself and Barron Scott Levkoff mugging for Adam Parmalee’s camera

VII. If Thou Borrowest, Thou Better Fuckin’ Give It Backeth!!

I can’t tell you how many pairs of scissors/rolls of pastie tape/tubes of lipstick etc I have lent out over the years and never gotten back. And I know those are my scissors and tape, bitches, because I write my name on everything!

I don’t mind lending stuff out ever, but it really sucks when people aren’t considerate in getting your stuff back to you. I’m made of Glitter and Swear Words y’all, not money. Come prepared, babies! And be good borrowers so when you need something people won’t hesitate to help you.  On the other side of this, some of my favorite moments backstage are when something has gone wrong and everyone bands together to help fix it. Like, that time at the Glas Kat when I read the set list wrong and put on the wrong costume when both costumes were complex, had layers, and required different pasties. A few helpful pairs of hands had me ready to go!

Also, please be mindful and respectful of other people’s belongings back stage. I haven’t had any issues with this in ages, which is great. But GOD HELP YOU IF YOU TOUCH MY FEATHER FANS I WILL DESTROY YOUR WHOLE FAMILY

In life, to me,  Rule #1 is Don’t Be An Asshole. Basic, but extremely affective. You know when you’re doing it…stoppit.

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Proof I’m not a total asshole, here I am helping Cookie Crumbles with her false lashes. Bombshell Betty’s Too Many F@%#ing Bunnies show at the Elbo Room 2011

VIII. Thou Shalt Promote Your Shows!

This drives me totally crazy. Especially when it takes about 4 seconds to share an event on Facebook and invite your friends. It is unacceptable to me for a performer to be booked in a show and to not promote that show in any way. It makes me think twice about booking you, frankly. It makes me wonder if you are so self-serving that you can’t be bothered. Plus, don’t you want the shows you’re in to thrive? Don’t you want your friends and fans to know where to see you? To have a supportive community, we need to actually SUPPORT each other. Don’t be “takers” darlings, you need to give a little too. Extra points for supporting and promoting shows that you’re not in.

IX. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Producers Process and Ask Them to Respect Yours

So. I’ve seen this become a touchy subject lately. All Producers have their own process when it comes to booking and running shows. If I’ve never seen you perform before, I’m going to want to see you or a video. Is that really too much to ask? I’d like to know if you’re going to come out in a KKK robe and tell rape jokes or something, ya get me? If I request a video, respond like a normal human adult please. If you don’t have one, we can talk. If you start lashing out and becoming abusive? Sorry, no.  When all other performers, because the majority are great, have complied to our process at DIVA or Die or talked to us about it, do you really want to be the toddler throwing a tantrum? On the other side, stand up for yourself. Get all the info on a show, dressing room/time/expectations etc. If something isn’t ok by you (like, I dunno, there’s no dressing room so they want you to change in the back alley) SAY SOMETHING. If a venue or Producer is being shiesty with paying you, don’t let that shit fly! As always, be a respectful adult until it seems the big guns are needed.

X. Thou Shalt Check Thy Ego At The Door

Yeah, you may be great at what you do and that’s awesome! As always, Rule 1 is Don’t be an Asshole, watch any egotistical/self-involved/condescending behaviors. I’ll guarantee you one thing: there are a million other performers out there that are great at what they do AND they have a great attitude. I’m not saying anyone is replaceable or expendable, everyone has their own thing to offer. BUT, if you’re difficult to work with, that may be the first nail in the coffin. I find the people that toot their own horn the most….are often the ones that have the least to be proud of and/or just total pains in the ass to deal with. When you start bragging about how great you are and have a shitty Diva attitude, that’s when I stop wanting to book you. You may be awesome, but I honestly don’t want that attitude in my green room. Don’t be toxic. Instead of spending your time demanding star treatment and bragging about your amazingness, spend it actually getting better and improving. We all have space to grow so sit down with that shit.

So, that’s my 2 cents. And a lot of this comes from performing for 5 years, observing and fucking up. Seriously. What do you think? Any special Do’s/Dont’s? Mantras? Mandates? I’d love to hear them!

With Sparkly Love and Sass-Mouth,

Whendy

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Photo by Serena Morelli taken at the EXIT theater after a DIVA or Die show. Left to Right: Josie Starre, Red Velvet, Tasty Temptress, Myself, Bunny Von Tail, Lula Applebruise and Tornado Supertrouble

All the cards are on the table, and the cats are outta the bag….

Any time I mention the fact that I’ve never told my parents that I’m a burlesque performer they are usually incredulous and say something along the lines of, “how is that possible? It’s such a big part of who you are!”

Well, yeah.

I was incredibly shy and introverted as a child, like enough to where having to talk to a stranger would bring on complete panic. I had issues telling my mom what kind of music I liked, let alone tell her the other things I enjoyed/thought were cool that I already knew she didn’t like or had negative associations with….like tattoos, horror movies, sex work…you get it, some regular parent stuff.

My parents are older than most of my friends parents, I’m about to be 29 and my parents are 67 and 71. They just don’t have context for a lot of these things, and I get that. My mother has literally told me that only trashy girls and gangsters have tattoos. She’s thinking in terms of 1955, but that point is beyond her.

We had lunch on Monday. Tuesday she sent me an email saying she’s worried about me and she’s sad that we only have a “surface” relationship and I don’t share with her. Then she sent an email an hour later saying to ignore her previous message and that she was just whining and feeling sorry for herself.

In my response…it just felt like time, so I told her. I came out of the glittery closet and told her that her daughter is a sparkly naked lady. I’m scared because I know this has the potential to change our relationship forever. I’m scared because I know she may not be able to accept this about me, let alone celebrate it. But, I guess I just had to, at least she would know if not understand. I mean, she’s a dance teacher and I feel like she could be hurt by realizing her shy daughter has become a performer and is dancing and singing….and didn’t include her. Below is the letter I sent to her. She still hasn’t responded.

What? Don’t be sorry, being real isn’t whining. I’m just seeing these now, covering 5 projects on top of my own stuff has kept me pretty busy today.

I feel like I’ve been so run down for so long that that’s just what I have to talk about. And that’s what’s real for me, I’m unhappy with this job that has taken over my life and trying really hard to keep it together, so I can’t help but share it. For a long time I wasn’t taking any action to fix this, kind of like I did in past bad relationships. In the last few weeks I’ve been trying to take the steps to get myself back on track and to be happy.

I’ve never thought we had just a “surface” relationship, I tell you ALL the emotional stuff. But part of me has always felt like there are things about me you might never like or accept. Like, I have tattoos and I know how you feel about that. I know you’ll always love me no matter what, but I wonder if you would always accept me and celebrate me.

And maybe that’s me projecting, maybe it’s not like that at all, but that’s how I’ve felt for a very very long time. I’m not saying this to hurt you of course, I just want you to understand me.

It’s not like I do drugs or steal or hurt people or anything like that.

Ok Momma, I’m going to come out of the closet. In case you don’t already know, which I kinda thought you might, I AM a burlesque performer. So that’s a thing. I have been for 6 years. I actually run a monthly show and have co-produced/created 2 theatrical Productions that fuse theater and burlesque. I’m working on one now actually.

Totally sobbing as I write this. As this has progressed I’ve felt more guilty for not tellin you about it, because I’m performing and dancing and you would probably want to know. I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t think you would understand. I thought you would be disappointed and judge me, and I couldn’t carry that on my shoulders because this is something I truly love.

I’m not sure if you can get this, but burlesque honestly gave me permission to like myself. To feel beautiful and talented and not feel shy and terrified of people. Can I feel that way with anything else? I dunno, maybe, but this is what opened the door for me. I have made more friends and had more fun because I joined this community. It has taught me so much.

Yes, it is sexual, just like many things in the world. But that is secondary to the humor, camp, politics….so many things. And it’s where I can own it. Where it’s mine. And not some guy harassing me on the sidewalk, it’s not being done TO me. And it’s body positive and female-centric, radical self acceptance. And glitter. So much sparkles. You know how I feel about sparkles.

I think I was pushing away because there was too much I was keeping from you. And keeping such a big piece of myself from you is hard. And not fair. I hope you can forgive me for not telling you sooner. I’m genuinely terrified that you will not accept this and you will judge me and not be proud of who I am. But I can’t live in terror of my parents, my biggest fear is living a life that I regret because I was scared of what others would think.

I’m sorry to do this over email, but not at the same time. I’m crap over the phone and it’s hard for me to gather my thoughts an speak clearly. I’ve always liked letters more, then I can really think about what I want to say. So if you call after reading this and I don’t pick up, don’t worry I’m just having a panic attack.

I’m the same person I always was, but now you know exactly who that is. I hope you can love her and feel proud of her and not just tolerate the parts you may not understand.

I love you so much Momma. And now you know everything, I don’t need to hold it back anymore

 

 

Photo by Martin Caplan, Corset by Dark Garden Corsetry

Photo by Martin Caplan, Corset by Dark Garden Corsetry. This was taken on NYE at the New Bohemia party at the Armory, trolling the basement with a bad-ass girl gang

On Bad Body Image, The Brain Washing That Brought Me Here & Why I Need To Start Dealing Already

For starters, kittens, I consider myself a pretty confident broad. Over-all, I love myself. I know who I am, what I want and I surround myself with people who treat me the way I deserve to be treated. I know my value and no one can take that away from me. But……

Like most women, I can admit that I am seriously fucked up about my own body. My head has become very muddled on the whole subject, my thoughts conflict each other. I’m usually decently proud of my body, and always feel that way at burlesque shows. And maybe that’s why I’m feeling this so intensely, I haven’t performed in about a month.

This post is going to be therapeutic, I’m figuring out my feelings as I write them down. I’m trying to figure this shit out, I’m tired of hanging onto it.

This is something I’ve been struggling with lately.

Oh my god, what am I talking about? This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. It’s just been right in my face lately.

I remember being about 7 years old and refusing to wear sweatpants because I thought they made my legs look fat. At 7 years old. What the hell?

I’m not one to blame my parents. It’s not blame, per se, but just like anyone my parents input and actions certainly had a huge affect on me. And a lot of this I’ve only come to realize in the past few years. I just thought it was me, I never thought about why I felt this way about myself.

My mom was a dance teacher. So, I was raised by someone who was very body-concious. When we moved up to Northern California and she became a High School PE teacher,  (she still led the dance team but could not be as active due to multiple knee and foot surgeries), she was on a constant diet. It was always this battle. She’s 5’2″ so any extra poundage seemed to be immediately noticeable and cause for immediate action.

As a PE teacher, about once a year she would get out her little machine and test her students BMI (Body Mass Index). Guess who she would test it on every year? Yup. I got to hear how much of me was fat, bone, muscle and tissue. And how much I should weigh for my age/height….and how far from that I was. I was never where I was “supposed” to be. And I guess that’s always stuck with me.

I remember being given protein shakes for breakfast around the age of 10. And I know that my mom genuinely meant well, she just wanted me to be healthy. But she didn’t realize what affect this would have on my young mind and self esteem.

My father retired from being a fire fighter when I was about 11 or so. After a quadruple bypass, the constant smoke inhalation was clearly a no-go. He was a stay-at-home-dad for a few years and still cooked like he was still feeding the entire fire station. He was also a “clean-your-plate-that’s-perfectly-good-food” dad. To this day, I have shame when I don’t clean my plate. I will keep eating until everything is gone, despite how full and sick I feel. Without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, this time coincided with my pre-pubescent and pubescent years. Awkward Weight Gain Engage! Plus I had a Dorothy Hamill bowl cut. *Cringe*

The bottom line of what I believe: Body Shaming is wrong. For everyone ever. And for some reason, I cannot extend this compassion to myself. What the eff, Whendy?

As I developed very quickly, and was very shy, my body was a constant conversation piece for my peers and my mother and her friends and any talk of it made me feel ashamed and sick to my stomach. In Junior High, my friends were all about 4’11”-5’1″ and still had pre-pubescent bodies. I was tall and had almost-C cups. I felt like a freak. That and my mothers input taught me that basically my body is wrong, not what it should be. Not like everyone else’s my age.

I consider myself a “Middle Sized” person. I’ve never been skinny or slender, not since childhood anyway, never had a flat stomach or muscle definition. And considering I shot up to 5’5″ in Junior High and then continued to 5’7″, I’ve never been what one would call dainty. But I’ve never been large enough to be in with the Big Beautiful Women. I don’t quite belong to either camp.

*I realize the problem with this statement. This isn’t a binary zone. There is more to the world than Skinny or Fat*

I started working in an office a year ago, outside of San Francisco. The time I spent walking to and from work is now spent sitting and commuting. I’ve gained 20 pounds and my energy is lagging. I feel it. I see it. I hate it. Before gaining this weight I already considered myself over-weight.

And I’ve had this moral conundrum for a while, and the next two things I’m going to say…I’m pretty ashamed to admit.

I feel that I would have more value as a woman if I was skinnier. But I feel as if I would have less legitimacy as a burlesque performer if I was skinnier.

The first statement is obviously ingrained in me from the media and all the other garbage I’ve been fed from a young age.

The second statement….well, let me first say that in NO way do I think skinnier/smaller burlesque performers are less legitimate. This is purely a statement based on my personal experience and how I feel about myself, no one else. Amazing performers come in all genders, shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.

But, what brought me to burlesque was the body positivity. I belonged somewhere! And I was celebrated for exactly what I was! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had curvy gals and larger women come up to me and thank me for my performance, “It was so amazing to see someone with a body like mine celebrating it.” The fact that I was doing what I was doing with no apology made them feel better about themselves and encouraged them to like themselves just a little bit more. That’s a powerful thing and I’m grateful to be a part of that.

Honestly, becoming a burlesque performer gave me the permission to like myself more.

So when I say I feel that being smaller would make me less legitimate, what I really mean is that I would be losing the part that made it feel really rebellious, exciting and scary for a shy girl who always thought she had no business putting her body on display like it’s something to be proud of. The part that makes me feel like an activist. Being a sparkly naked lady already IS rebellious, but I’ve always felt it was on another level when you don’t have a “commercially-acceptible” body. So it’s like I’m scared of losing my effectiveness, if I was more slender. Not that that’s going to happen any time soon. But then to feel that way seems to say that more slender performers aren’t as effective, and I certainly don’t think that’s true. ARG jumbled thoughts!!

BBW Trigger Warning: I’m highly aware and sensitive to the fact that some things I may say might be offensive or triggering to women who have larger bodies than me. This is not my intent, I’m trying to approach this with as much respect and sensitivity as I can. I don’t ever want to be that smaller gal who whines,”Ugh, I’m so FAT.” in front of her larger friend. I don’t talk like that anyway, but I’m aware of that behavior in others and the way it can make others feel.

Sometimes I look in the mirror on a “bad” day and just feel disgusted with myself. I just look at myself and think “BARF”. And then sometimes I think, “Get it together, you’re not gross. You don’t have rolls really or a double chin that doesn’t go away when you stop looking down.” As if having negative feelings about oneself should only happen when you reach a certain weight. As if reaching a certain weight means you should look in the mirror and think “BARF”, as if that’s the way you should feel about having a larger body. WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF THINKING IS THAT??!!

And the converse side of this, is that I apparently feel that since I am not a certain size, I don’t have the right to be unhappy with my body. And the base issue with that, is that I am telling myself I don’t have the right to think or feel however the hell I want about my own body.

Yes, I have the right to think negatively about my body. What I’m debating today is should I? And, well, I know the answer.

Step One is to stop comparing my body to other bodies, as if some are Better or Worse. I know this thinking to be a big ol’ stinky pile of bullshit. I want to purge this type of thinking from myself immediately. Bodies aren’t good or bad. They just are. It is your story, your vehicle, it is YOURS. And the way it works and moves through the world is amazing

Earlier, when I said my thoughts conflicted, I was referring to some of this. I have so many amazing friends, many are burlesque performers, that are larger women. And I genuinely think they are powerful and beautiful and amazing and inspiring, and not just because of their body types clearly. They are all of these things without taking size into the equation. They are not these things DESPITE their body types.

What’s conflicting is that I feel this way about them, and cannot extend these feelings to myself.

When did I get so brainwashed and judgmental towards myself? Well, I guess it’s been part of me for about 20+ years. I’m only now beginning to see it for what it is. It is a self-worth issue. I can extend these thoughts of body positivity and support to other women but not myself because I believe I am not worthy of it. I am not skinny enough to be comfortable and “acceptable” to the masses and I am not large enough to be boldly proud of my body and sticking it to the Patriarchy by not hiding it.

So I’m saying I’m not skinny enough to be proud, and I’m not large enough to be proud? I am losing my damn mind.

And I clearly know and accept that ALL shapes battle with this. And that it is different for every person. God, I just want to hug everyone when I think of the similar feelings weighing on all our shoulders.

But, the truth of the matter is, just be being a woman and refusing to give up my autonomy; by being a burlesque performer; hell, just by being a woman and refusing to shut up, that IS standing up to the Patriarchy and status quo. Body mass doesn’t even have to be a part of the equation, although it is a powerful part when it is. I am not any more or less of these things because of my size.

And then I just get irritated with myself for spending so much time thinking about this. Quit being such a bitchface to yourself already, what a colossal waste of time! SAME TEAM, dude.

At the end of the day, I have an over-all healthy body. It’s strong and can carry heavy things, walk long distances, dance for hours. I have all my fingers and toes and things work the way they should. So be grateful, fool.

Step 2 is to change my relationship with food. I am a HUGE comfort and boredom eater. I give myself food as a treat. I give myself food when I am sad or stressed. I eat when I have nothing else to do. Which wouldn’t be such an issue if my metabolism could keep up, but frankly it’s a boring way to pass the time. I should teach myself to take comfort in other things. Take comfort in my ukelele. Take comfort in my hula hoop. Take comfort in a book.

Even just going over all this is exhausting. My own neuroses are tiring. But, just putting it out there feels good. Just to get it out of my head.

Step 3 is to dance more. Simple as that. I’ve been meaning to register for 2 dance classes, but haven’t made the time. And that’s a theme with me. Not making the time for myself. Not making the time to take care of myself, love myself, do what I need to to make myself feel better. I’m a dancers daughter, I took dance classes for about 13 years, why has it been so long? Plus, it gives me so much joy. So what am I doing here?

If I took the time to support myself and make myself feel better, not even from a weight-loss stand point,  I think my body issues wouldn’t feel so prevalent. That’s what it’s really about: feeling good.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. This was actually really difficult to write about. Maybe I’ve helped someone think about why they’re so hard on themselves. Please do. Examine where these ideas come from. Maybe then we can all learn something and get rid of harmful, useless thinking.

I was going to add pictures, but then I decided it would derail from what this is about. This actually ISN’T about what I look like on the outside. This is about what I feel like on the inside. And I’m ready now to do the work I need to do to change that.

And I mean really do the work. Not just in the way I present myself to others, but in the way I think about myself.

Re-emerging……

Oh gracious, It’s good to be back! Did you miss me kittens? Aw, I missed you too!

It was the infamous Tallulah Bankhead that once said, “Only the good girls keep diaries, the bad girls don’t have the time”. Which is basically what’s been going on, except maybe not so much “bad” as “busy”.

For those of you that don’t know or those that weren’t lucky enough to see, this busy business was attributed to Red Velvet and I creating…a different kind of burlesque show.

“Different? How so?”, you may find yourself asking. Well get ready, cuz here we go….

Back in November we started having meetings with the founder of EXIT theater, Christina Augello, and the Production Manager Amanda Ortmayer (who became our Director, THANK GOD). We knew we wanted to bring a bigger show to this years DIVAfest Festival, but we weren’t quite sure what/who/how. Everyone at the EXIT has been a major support for DIVA or Die Burlesque, and we were all so excited to do something new. We just wanted to give our audience……more.

Velvet and I met at Borderlands, (which is an awesome horror/sci-fi/fantasy bookstore and adjoining cafe in the Mission, if you weren’t aware. Also, they have hairless cats. Yeah), and started spitballing ideas. Thus, Rebel Without A Bra was born!

cover

flier art by Star St. Germain

If a play and a burlesque show got together and made sweet, glittery love and had a baby….our show was that baby.

Like pretty much all burlesque performers, we are completely obsessed with our own history, and with so many legends still alive and shakin’ it we are a very lucky community. So, we decided we wanted to take our audience on a journey through burlesque history as told by the women who made it what it is today. We wanted to do something bigger and more theatrical than the standard MC-Performer-MC-Performer-MC-Performer format. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s how our monthly show (and pretty much every other show) runs.

Pictures after curtain call. Someone yelled, "Everyone fight!!" Look how happy Josie Starre is....

Pictures after curtain call. Someone yelled, “Everyone fight!!” Look how happy Josie Starre is….

But, if we’re never going to take risks and try something new…what are we doing here?

Auditions were scheduled, which is also something that….pretty much never happens in our scene. We were so excited to see who came out, and we were not disappointed! We started out the rehearsal process with a few workshops; we did dance/character exercises, discussed questions about ourselves and opinions. It seemed unanimous that we found the greatest rebellion for us was to get onstage…and be exactly ourselves.

Our Incredible Cast: Red Velvet, Myself, Sean Owens (our fantastic Drag Mother/MC/Narratrix character), Laika Fox, Josie Starre, Bunny Von Tail, Dee Os’Mio, Shimmies Galore and our quick learnin’, fast-steppin’ understudies Tornado Supertrouble and Pink Flamingo. These folks rocked it out. I’m not kidding. You’re sad you missed it.

Mae West tribute

Mae West tribute…just barely fitting into Bunny Von Tails dress. I think Mae would have approved

Every era we stopped in was inspired by a bonafide moment in history. From a shout out to the All World’s Fair of the late 1800’s and Little Egypt the belly dancer, who’s old Nickelodeon reels were censored though she was fully clothed; to the decline of burlesque in the 1960’s, as it was slowly killed by Porn Houses and the birth of what I call the “Mainstream Stripper”. Well, “Mainstream” these days. We were lucky enough to have Red Velvet interview living legend Holiday O’Hara on this particular moment in history and what it was like to be part of that shift. We visit the Ziefield Follies and Billy Minsky’s girls, the Tableau Vivant where performers enacted paintings or moments in history but it was only considered art and not smut as long as  no one jiggled 😉

Every era was glued together by Sean Owens, playing different female characters throughout time. A concerned housewife of the 1960’s, a female film director from the Silent Film era, an aged burlesque starlet, a strict French cancan teacher…this show would not nearly have been the same without Sean! His work made all the difference.

1930’s Moulin Rouge, Can-Can, 1950’s Fetish….I don’t want to give too much away as we may bring this show back later in the year, due to high demand!

Red Velvet and I, and our whole cast, are so proud of this show and the work and love everyone put into it. It was amazingly rewarding to do something new and different in our community, someone who saw the show said they were touched by what a love letter we had written to our art form. I’ve never received so much amazing and consistent feedback after a show. I had people tell me they cried a little. I had people say that “this is what they always knew a burlesque show could be”. We poured so much sweat, glitter and tears into this project, the rave reviews we got meant the world to us.

Huge thank you to the EXIT for supporting/housing/loving us, even huge-er thanks to the partners/spouses/significant others/friends that we incredibly supportive and understanding with our busy schedule, and deep gratitude to all the members of the burlesque community who came out to support. It really meant a lot.

Finale!

A shot of the finale in dress rehearsal

From me personally, huge thanks to Scott Levkoff for being a consistent support and inspiration for me on this journey. And gratitude and much love to Amanda Ortmayer for such great feedback and support, I honestly grew so much as a performer because of you! And to Red Velvet, thanks I cannot express for being such a power house of creation and creativity, you truly got this show off the ground and looking fantastic!

Our opening night was SF Weekly's Pick of the Week for Saturday!

Our opening night was SF Weekly’s Pick of the Week for Saturday!

What’s next, you say?! Well, in the very immediate future we have the return of our monthly show DIVA or Die! This month we are featuring Ophelia Coeur de Noir, Belle Phenomene, Mistress Marla Spanks, Cinnamon Stick, Ginger Snapped and of course Red Velvet and myself! Our Stage Kitten this month is the purr-worthy Penny Chianti, and I think I speak for everyone when I say…I’m looking forward to being bossed around by our MC, Odessa Lil again 🙂

Saturday, June 22, 2013
Doors 8PM, show 8:30PM
The Exit Theatre
156 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA
Near the Powell Street BART station

get tickets here if you haven’t already, we may already be sold out! http://www.theexit.org/divafest/happening/performances/burlesque/

I solemnly swear that I will be better at updating, for I am frequently up to no good and I know folks love knowing where I’ll be next!

Shimmie Hard and Sparkle On!

Whendy