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I was recently asked where in DC someone could learn the basics of burlesque. I realized that would be good info to collect in one place. That’s part of what this blog is about! So, if you teach burlesque (or any variety art!) and are near the DC/Baltimore Metro area either message me or post a...

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Meet the Variety: Queens of the Modern Age

Posted by Jules V Moorhead | Posted in burlesque, Meet the Variety | Posted on 03-09-2015

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Bambi Galore in full drag.

Bambi Galore in full drag.

Bambi Galore is a burlesque producer, performer and…drag queen? Bambi, a cisgender female, is a well-known performer in the DMV and New York burlesque scenes, but the Chameleon of Tease also describes herself as a drag queen. And it would seem the world — or at least Baltimore — agrees with her. She’s currently a finalist in the Baltimore City Paper‘s Best of Baltimore contest in the category of Best Drag Performer.

But how can a woman be a drag queen, an area of performance long claimed primarily by gay men? According to many, it’s a feminist statement. Drag, at its core, is all about exaggerated femininity, and a new wave of female performers are reclaiming that femininity as their own.

Said Bambi, “I consider it to be a form of feminist art. By taking what society tells women to be and turning it up to the highest voltage, we are taking back the gender stereotypes and making people reexamine what does it mean to be a woman. Drag to me is as much a thought process as it is an art form. It means to me, looking at the world from an outside perspective that is bigger and bolder than the everyday. It has more kitsch and glamour to it. It’s all about being the biggest and best version of yourself.”

Metro-Bambi

Bambi (center) on the cover of DC’s Metro Weekly with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

For some, the difference between drag and burlesque might be hard to spot. There are a large number of drag burlesque performers, both queens and kings, who strip — for instance local favorite Betty O’Hellno or Seattle sensation Lou Henry Hoover — but on the whole, drag performers don’t strip. “There is some overlap between drag and burlesque,” Bambi admits. “I think the biggest difference is in drag, the story isn’t always about the reveal. Its more about the journey.”

Bambi recently participated in an all-female drag show in NYC that received a lot of press, but according to her, it’s not really a new phenomenon. “It’s funny because in a lot of ways it’s starting up now but has also been around for generations. Dixie Evans, best known as the founder of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, called herself a female impersonator of Marilyn Monroe. World Famous *Bob*, who is my drag big sister, has been performing as a drag queen since the ’90s, and there are many more.”

She credits the world of social media for bringing these like-minded lady queens (as they’re sometimes called) together. “We have started to create a community for ourselves and, with that, it’s getting noticed more by others.”

But while social media might be bringing them together, they’re finding an enthusiastic audience. Bambi credits the changing tide of cultural awareness. “Society as a whole is questioning gender more. We as a collective are open to more ideas and not having to keep everything in one tidy little box, and so with that we are able explore and express gender representations. Though I still get asked often, ‘How can you be a drag queen if you don’t have a penis?’ I don’t think people realize how ignorant that question sounds until it is said back to them.”

LadyQueen

Bambi on stage in NYC.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are just women in makeup. When, in fact, we are gluing our eyebrows down, padding, pushing and wearing multiple pairs of pantyhose like our male sisters. We don’t take the fact that we use female pronouns all the time as an excuse not to put all the work into it.”

In addition to reclaiming femininity, female drag queens are also holding their male counterparts to a higher standard. Traditional drag has often struggled with accusations of misogyny and offensively sexist attitudes. Bambi reports, “With female to female drag queens, I have yet to see someone do a misogynistic act.”

Which leads to the question, what sort of reaction or reception do lady queens get from traditional male drag queens? “It varies. I have worked with many who have accepted us with open arms and consider us sisters. You do run into some though that are stuck in their misogyny. Overall though, I’d say, those that understand that drag can be used as a tool to educate as well as entertain welcome us. Many of my biggest supporters are drag queens, and I love them dearly.”

“In New York City,” Bambi continues, “most of the venues and producers have warmed up to the idea of lady queens and include us in their shows without blinking an eye. My own personal fears have been what has kept me for reaching out here in Baltimore. I reached out once to a fairly big name and didn’t even get the decency of a response back. That was hurtful. Change scares people, and what I think producers need to realize is we’re not here to take over the art form or appropriate it, but to add another voice to the chorus, to be able to express ourselves in a way that feels true to our own identities. I will say getting nominated for Best Drag Performer has given me more courage and I hope to reach out more.”

Meet the Variety: Tapitha Kix, Doing It Her Own Way

Posted by Jules V Moorhead | Posted in burlesque, Meet the Variety | Posted on 17-06-2015

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Photo Credit: Stacy Atwell Photography

Photo Credit: Stacy Atwell Photography

Like many people who get into burlesque, Baltimore-based producer and performer Tapitha Kix started out as a fan. After a friend invited her to see Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey at Creative Alliance, she was hooked. After attending many shows in the audience, a twist of fate put her on stage when a kitten had to back out of a show at the last minute and Tapitha was game to fill in. “That night, I thought to myself, ‘I should be on stage!'” Tapitha said. “Being onstage is what makes me truly happy.”

After rejecting a few stage names, an ex-boyfriend christened her Tapitha Kix, but as the famous song from Gypsy says, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Having a background in tap and dance, Tapitha knew right away what would set her apart. “I do a style of dancing that (to the best of my knowledge and research) no other burlesque dancer does — pointe tap, which is tap dancing on the tips of my toes in a pair of custom-made ballet pointe shoes fitted with metal caps.”

Once Tapitha discovered pointe tap — practiced in vaudeville in the 1920s and ’30s — she knew she’d found her niche. But she doesn’t want it to define her as an artist. “I don’t want to be a one trick pony,” Tapitha explains. “I’m trying to expand myself as a performer and do more regular pointe and modern dance/jazz/hip hop. I’ve always said that as a performer who does not fit the American stereotypical standard of what a ‘hot’ woman looks like, I have to work extra, extra hard to impress the audience. I can’t just stand there and prance around looking hot and pretty. And that’s okay. I want to work hard to impress my audience. I want to surprise and delight them. And believe me, when people see me dance, they are surprised.”

In addition to performing, Tapitha is also a founder and producer of Twisted Knickers Burlesque. After finding it difficult to find casting opportunities, she decided to create shows herself. She and some friends, including Hot Todd Lincoln, got together and Twisted Knickers was born. Today, Twisted Knickers is Tapitha and Todd with a rotating cast of regulars and guests. While Yellow Sign Theater has been their primary home for years, the are currently expanding to other venues, such as the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, and Church & Company in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore.

If you want to catch Tapitha and Twisted Knickers, their next show is The Burlesque Sing-a-Long at the State Theatre on July 10. “Performers will dance with lyrics projected on a big screen for the audience to sing along with karaoke style.”

Twisted Knickers also has a more theatrical-style show slated for July 18 during Artscape called The Grind and the Glitter, a tale of an up-and-coming burlesque dancer set in 1957. “Expect to see something unlike the Knickers have ever done!”

Meet the Variety: Lady Fancy, One of Baltimore’s Newest Burlesque Beauties

Posted by Jules V Moorhead | Posted in burlesque, Meet the Variety | Posted on 06-04-2015

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Photo Credit: Dorret Oosterhoff

Lady Fancy [Photo Credit: Dorret Oosterhoff]

Meet Lady Fancy, one of Baltimore’s newest burlesque beauties. She’s burst onto the scene in a big way in a short amount of time. She’s already appeared on stage with TimelessTease Productions and Twisted Knickers, and she’ll be competing in the Burlypicks DC Regional Competition next on May 1 at the Bier Baron.

I first saw Lady Fancy at GalHaus Review‘s Big Show 6, the student showcase put on by MICA’s burlesque club annually. My co-producer Betty O’Hellno and I attended to support the club and were blown away by her artistry and poise. We immediately booked her for our next show, where she effortlessly wowed the crowd. You never would have guessed she was new to the scene.

I recently had the chance to ask Lady Fancy some questions about what attracted her to burlesque and her first impressions so far.

What was your introduction to burlesque?

There was a burlesque club [GalHaus] at Maryland Institute College of Art that had a few shows I attended, and afterwards I was curious and started looking up videos of other performers on the internet. I stopped attending MICA as a student, but the club was kind enough to let me still participate in their activities, and I was hooked from there.

What drew you to performing?

I’ve been involved in the performing arts for pretty much all my life, mostly through music. Piano and voice recitals, musical theater, leading music at my church and at conferences…I’ve done a lot of different things. Looking back, even at the church stuff, I got so much out of interacting with an audience. There’s a kind of energy the audience gives you, and by performing, you take that gift and give it back. It’s a very powerful feeling. I get a lot out of making people happy that way. Being able to make someone smile, or convey some kind of meaningful message through performance is really special.

How did you choose the name Lady Fancy as your stage name?

My friends have been calling me Fancy, Miss Fancy, Fancy Pants, etc. for a while. It’s really to the point that hearing my real name is almost a surprise. Fancy just fits and I love it. It’s my true name, if you will. When it came to picking a stage name for burlesque, I picked Lady to go with it because I really admire the poise and classiness so many dancers bring to their routines. The poise of a Lady, the playfulness of Fancy….that’s what I want to bring to my performances.

What background contributes to your style?

Musical theater and belly dance both have a strong influence on the way I move and dance. Musical theater taught me a lot about stage presence and how to fill up a room, as well as strategies for blocking and using stage space well. Belly dance is something I’ve seen a lot of and dabbled in, both dance and costume-wise. I was always impressed by the importance of both choreography and improv in that style. You can tell a lot of stories through belly dance the same way that you can with burlesque. It’s also very close to burlesque in how extravagant the costumes can be. I can’t resist the sparkly!

Do you have any influences or inspirations as a burlesque performer?

Lady Fancy [Photo Credit: Dorret Oosterhoff]

My fiancé showed me a lot of Dita VonTeese’s photographs when I started burlesque. I really connected with the lavish opulence of her looks – so many rich textures and so much sparkle! She also brought the poise and elegance from her performances into her everyday lifestyle. I’m a little chaotic as a person so the idea of taking the spirit of burlesque and molding myself to its ideals is really amazing. Also, I really admire Nina Amaya, a local belly dance performer. She leads the Aubergine Troupe, and I took a few lessons with her after seeing their performances at local events like Artscape. They do traditional belly dance, but also do performances and storytelling as fairy dancers! She’s a very whimsical lady who makes a living by bringing a fun loving, childlike spirit into her dance. I really admire her as a person and for what she has accomplished as a performer.

What’s been your most memorable experience (good or bad) on stage so far?

There have been a lot of really good ones from my church days, but one in particular sticks out to me. I led a congregation in a song called “Wade in the Water” one week.  There were about five or six hundred people in the room that Sunday. The song had a lot of soul and I really was able to grind and get dirty with the sound. The lyrics talked about the struggles of life and the hope that it would all mean something in the end, which everyone can connect to. It was call and response, where you sing one line and the audience sings back. By the end of the song, everyone in the room was on their feet, stomping and clapping. The energy was really intense. I remember that I was shaking by the time the song was over, it was just that powerful. I hope that I can bring that kind of vulnerability and connection to future performances, because I will never forget that experience.

Tell us a bit about GalHaus. How has it shaped you as a performer?

I can’t speak highly enough about GalHaus. Dolly Longlegs did a great Burlesque 101 workshop the semester I joined the club. I was still wrapping my head around the idea of stripping, but the welcoming atmosphere she created along with the club leaders encouraged me to give it a try. The first year was a little challenging because very few of us had been exposed to burlesque before, but having mentors like Mimi Madly who could teach and give us direction while developing individual acts for Big Show 5 was so helpful to our growth.

The second year, the returning members did a fall show that brought in a lot of new students, but also gave them a head start on putting ideas for an act together. Having so many people who already had strong and unique ideas made Big Show 6 a really diverse show. I remember feeling confident about approaching my second act with the club, as I was starting to learn what kind of dancer I wanted to be and what kinds of themes I wanted to bring to my performances. I even got to try my hand at leading a workshop for the new members. I really hope that I can give as much back to that club as it gave to me.

I’m giving the pro thing a go because GalHaus taught me how much I loved burlesque and wanted to keep doing it. That kind of drive and inspiration is hard to come by, but GalHaus has it in spades. I hope the professional community continues to keep an eye on future Big Shows, because the people who stay in Baltimore after graduation have turned out to be some pretty solid performers, and it really prepared me to go out and apply what I learned to other acts. I am truly grateful that I got my start in such a great environment. Cheeki Ho is heading up the club next year, and I am really excited to see how it flourishes under her leadership.

As a new performer, what are your biggest fears or concerns as you get into burlesque?

I worry about my lack of knowledge and exposure. Other than the GalHaus Review, I haven’t seen a lot of burlesque, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to those who have dedicated so much of their lives to cultivating burlesque locally and internationally. I really want to make it out to more shows so I can see what is out there and learn as much as possible from other dancers. I’m also a little worried about the actual cost of where burlesque might take me. It’s something I can see myself doing a lot of, but the cost of making new acts, traveling, touring, festivals, etc. is a little bit daunting. I tend to throw myself into things out of the sheer joy of it, and am worried that the money side of things might steal some of that spark. Still, I know there are a lot of performers who do it on a much tighter budget, so I just need to network and learn from those people so I can figure it out too. I’m really looking forward to the connections and friendships that are out there waiting to happen through burlesque, though. I just hope I can stay humble while still being the best that I can be.

Jules V Moorhead co-produces TimelessTease Productions in Baltimore. Find Jules and TimelessTease Productions on Facebook.

[Photo Credit: Dorret Oosterhoff]

Meet the Variety: Hot Todd Lincoln, MC

Posted by Jules V Moorhead | Posted in Meet the Variety, reviews, sideshow | Posted on 31-03-2015

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HotToddLincolnI first saw Hot Todd Lincoln on stage at a Twisted Knickers show in the Yellow Sign Theater in Baltimore, the city he calls home. I wouldn’t formally meet him until a year or two later when he accidentally molested my knee at Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey‘s annual Holiday Spectacuthon, but I digress. Hot Todd’s MC style is pun­filled and banter­heavy. He likes to make a connection with his audience. Over the years, as he’s added sideshow acts to his sets, you can feel that same sense of connection in his performances.

For Hot Todd, being an MC is an extension of who he is offstage. “I tend to be very outgoing, and really like being a part of a community. The role certainly plays to my strengths of being quick on my feet and very convivial. I tend to be fast with puns and snappy comebacks, and I truly enjoy the feeling that comes with connecting with an audience.”

But with great power comes great responsibility, and Hot Todd wasn’t satisfied with simply delivering a well­timed zinger. “As I continued to host shows, I realized that being an MC gives me unique opportunities to do more. Once you connect with an audience, you can say something really important.” Hot Todd has used his time on the mic to promote marriage equality, equal rights, body positivity and the sexiness of consent. “I want to create a space in which everyone is having a good time and feels safe and welcome.”

He cites MCs and performers such as Swami YoMahmi, Mab Just Mab, Paco Fish, Professor Sprocket and Harley Newman as some of his biggest influences, among many others like Miss Astrid, Bradford Scobie, Bastard Keith, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside, Ben Wisdom, World Famous Bob, Doc Wasabassco, Murray Hill and Armitage Shanks. “Everyone I’ve mentioned comes to the mic with wildly different perspectives, and really connects with their audiences from a very personal place.”

In addition to his skills as an MC, Hot Todd also does classic sideshow acts like the bed of nails and routines such as a fun, audience-­participatory straight jacket escape number. “While being an MC is fantastic, I wanted to explore what I could do on the performance side of the equation. I’m no dancer, so initially, sideshow seemed a better fit. Once I started, I became captivated by the physicality and honesty of sideshow. There’s no illusion to sideshow. What you see, is really what’s happening. Bed of Nails? Real nails. Walking on glass? Real glass. Eating fire? Yep…real fire. I am also realizing the benefits of performing and practicing sideshow on and off stage as I’m pushing myself beyond my own fears.”

As if hosting and performing wasn’t enough, Hot Todd co­produces a monthly show with Chérie Nuit as Hot Night Productions at the Bier Baron in Washington, D.C. As someone who lives and hosts in Baltimore while producing and performing in D.C., Hot Todd straddles the burlesque scene in two different cities to an extent few others do. When asked to compare and contrast the two, he replied, “One immediate difference is that there aren’t really any ‘troupes’ based in DC, with the exception of the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow. There are a lot of production teams: Hot Night Productions, Valentine Candy Burlesque, The Weirdo Show, Atomic Doll Productions, etc. This creates flexibility in casting and adapting to venues and performer schedules. In Baltimore, there are both. Twisted Knickers and TimelessTease Productions have adopted the small core with a lot of guest performers model, whereas troupes like Gilded Lily Burlesque and Bawdy Shop Burlesque are doing well with larger core casts and fewer guest stars. Both scenes have a wide pool of talent to draw from and are generally very supportive of each other with a good amount of overlap. Another difference is that the some of the Baltimore groups are doing more scripted shows and bigger productions.”

As to what it’s like being in both scenes, “It’s pretty great in that I work with really good people in both cities, on both sides of the curtain.”

Jules V Moorhead co­produces TimelessTease Productions in Baltimore. Find Jules and TimelessTease Productions on Facebook.

[Photo credit: Josh Aterovis]

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