Kool Kat of the Week: MidCentury Home for the Holidays: Persephone Phoenix Cooks Up Some Domestic Mischief with Fat Cat Cabaret

Posted on: Nov 12th, 2013 By:

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Oh, Happy Days! Fat Cat Cabaret, one of Atlanta’s newest Retro entertainment troupes, is sneaking a peek behind closed doors to home life in the post-World War  in their 1950s Burlesque Holiday Show this Saturday Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at Andrew’s Upstairs. The sassy shenanigans set to the music of the birth era of rock n roll include iconic foods, props and include special guest and recent Kool Kat Talloolah Love, the Sweetest T in the South, as the hottest neighbor on the block, and Nashville self-proclaimed Dieselpunk Prophet of Pop Culture Big Daddy Cool, as the Ultimate Entertainer. Also on the roster are Sketch Macquinor as the comedic neighbor and bearer of all things funny; Ben Gravitt, as Jerry, your humble narrator and all-around hip cat; and another Kool Kat, Ruby le Chatte, as Jerry’s other half and the life of the party!

To find out more, we caught up with Fat Cat’s Creative Director Perspehone Phoenix, a true Kool Kat’s Meow in her own right. So yeah, we asked her a bit about her path to fabulous frivolity, too!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s the secret origin story of Persephone Phoenix?

As the Head Haunchess of Hell and the Princess of Purgatory, I emerged from a previously mundane, muggle existence, and with a fiery glory, was reborn as a creature of the dark side known as burlesque performance. I am currently an aerial instructor with Play Hard Gym and creative director for Fat Cat Cabaret, as well as freelance performer, splitting my time between performance, organization and community involvement.  An aerialist for nearly four years, I initially took burlesque classes with Syrens of the South, and after my debut combining both aerial arts and strip tease, I have not looked back. I have performed all over the Southeast and am a member of or have performed with such groups as Fat Cat Cabaret, Syrens of the South, Musee du Coeur, Cheeky BellesBible Belt Burlesque (Perry, GA), Spooky LeStrange and Her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls (New Orleans) and recently, in front of an audience of over 1000 people at DragonCon’s Glamour Geek Revue.

What about Fat Cat Cabaret?! The troupe is relatively new to the burlesque/variety/Retro scene in Atlanta. What sets it apart?

One of the things that initially attracted me to this group was that, unlike many other troupes whom I have worked with, Fat Cat attempts to tell a story with their productions. Each number is thoughtfully placed, with consideration being given to how it advances the story, explains the characters, or provides more era-related background for the audience. Using costumes, music and dialogue, you will follow a central character through a semi-period-accurate environment, and will be entertained the whole way through. It’s an intellectually challenging project, and it really takes burlesque/variety productions to a new level in my opinion.

The ‘50s is the heart of all we love at ATLRetro. What does that decade personally mean to you? What are your personal favorite things about it?

I have a penchant for A Line skirts, crinolines and short gloves. For someone who is often wearing little to no clothing, I have never felt more feminine, sexy and empowered than I did wearing these pieces. I see the ladies fashions from this decade as the delicate veil over what was the rising sexual revolution.

The show follows Jerry, the narrator, through adventures of 1950s home life. Is it a play or a series of burlesque vignettes? Why home life and not, say, the birth of rock n roll or haute couture?

It is both a play and a series of burlesque/variety vignettes. Each number is played out by characters who are in some way related to Jerry: a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, family member. The production tightly organized to bring continuity to the storyline and to entertain the audience.

As Jerry was a character first introduced in Fat Cat’s Holiday Show last year and this is a continuation of his storyline, home life was the natural subject to explore in this show, since the characters naturally fit as members of his community. But that doesn’t mean that other ’50s concepts aren’t touched on in this show.

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Will it be the ‘50s through the lens of the present day or is Fat Cat trying to create something contemporary to the time in humor, etc.? Or a combo of both? If the latter, then how did you research? What was most challenging?

Since the ’50s wasn’t a particularly sexually liberated era, and there will be copious dirty jokes and sexual humor, the production will not be entirely period accurate. However, using music, costumes and dialogue, we attempt to immerse the audience in a comical cross-section of 50’s home life. Research was conducted on music which fits the time, phrasing and subjects for comedy which were true to the era. The most challenging aspect of this show, which continues to be challenging, is sloughing off modern terminology and incorporating antiquated phrases. Since we’re adlibbing quite a bit, it’s likely a struggle that our audience will find comical.

Can you tease us a little about what you are doing yourself in the show?

Lets just say that relationships can be very messy. Especially when there’s food around..

What else is happening? We’ve heard there will vendors, a period deejay after the show and drink specials?

The fantastic artists of 2the9’s Retro and Jezebel Blue handmade jewelry will be hawking their unique wares at our show.  Also Deep Eddy Vodka will be on special, and DJ Huda Hudia will be spinning modern tunes into the wee hours of the morning.  The party doesn’t stop after the show is over, so we encourage everyone to stick around and enjoy the fantastic venue!

Photo courtesy of Persephone Phoenix.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The team creating this show are some of the most talented, professional, creative folks I have ever had the joy of working with. They are committed to bringing this shared vision to life, and have made personal sacrifices to devote the time necessary to make it happen. I am grateful for that, and can’t wait to show the audience all of our hard work.

Also, I took over creative directorship from my predecessor, who I count amongst one of my best friends. The theme and concept of this show was very much dependent upon her inspiration, and I’m thankful to have worked with her on this and previous projects.

What’s next for Persephone Phoenix and Fat Cat Cabaret?

Well, I have recently devoted my entire professional life to art and artistic endeavors, so I look forward to seeing where that will take me. The transition from a full-time professional muggle career to freelance artist is an intimidating one. However, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community with lots of opportunities and support.  I am hopeful to travel some for performance, volunteer more in the performance community, and continue building my aerial student base.

As for Fat Cat Cabaret, we will begin formulating our next show, to be revealed early next year. All of the players in Fat Cat will no doubt be seen around the Atlanta community, so keep your eyes and ears out!

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Man of Style and Song: New Orleans Jon Serves Up a Swingin’ Soundtrack at Meehan’s Roaring ’20s Gourmet Dinner

Posted on: Jul 30th, 2013 By:

Johnny Pines, aka New Orleans Jon. Photo credit: No Rest Photography.

Johnny Pine, aka New Orleans Jon, has a well-earned reputation as the swankiest burlesque MC in Atlanta from his perfect pompadour to his after-eight moustache and signature soul patch, his Rat Pack-ready suits, shiny ties and dress shoes, not to mention a penchant for attracting a bevy of vintage vixens wherever he wanders. He’s also an ace crooner  of swing, lounge and jazz, and it’s that persona that he’ll be showing off this Thursday Aug. 1 at the latest in Meehan’s Public House Sandy Springs themed supper clubs, a Roaring ’20s Gourmet Dinner. (See our ATLRetro feature on Chef Val Domingo’s Elvis Beer Dinner here.)

New Orleans Jon began his burlesque career as the original MC for the now-retired Big City Burlesque & Vaudeville and also hosted one of the first cabaret shows at DragonCon. Recently, he has had two sold-out solo performances in Alpharetta and also hosted and performed at AnachroCon in February and MC’d the Free Range Burlesque Show at The Southern Fried Burlesque Fest in March. He also serves as MC and part of the Directorship of the vintage performance collaboration known as Musee du Coeur, but you’re likely to find him crooning and cocktailing at just about any burlesque, swing, vintage, cosplay or rockabilly event in Atlanta.

In other words, New Orleans Jon is just about the bee’s knees when it comes to Kool Kats in this city, so ATLRetro was delighted to have the opportunity to find out more about his lounge legacy, as well as his plans for the Roaring ’20s Gourmet Dinner and beyond.

ATLRetro: How did you get the name New Orleans Jon?

 

Johnny Pines: I got the name New Orleans Jon in 1999 when I moved to Atlanta after I graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans. New friends would say, “Jon’s coming out with us tonight!” “Jon who?” “Ya know, New Orleans Jon.” The name stuck and has been my stage name ever since. I thought about changing it, but that’s how Atlanta knows me.


Can you share any secrets about maintaining the perfect pompadour?

My hair is one of my best trademarks. They aren’t any secrets about maintaining it; I roll out of bed looking like this. Don’t everybody?

The flirty side of New Orleans Jon with Colette Alesi, aka Dahlia Danger. Photo credit: Dim Horizon Studio.

You are certainly a man of Retro style. Where do you shop, and what’s your favorite find or accessory?

My favorite retro find is my signature yellow smoking jacket. When I really wanna knock ’em dead that’s what I wear. I don’t really ever share with people where I find my duds, but lately my best connection has been Nathaniel Self. He knows my style and size, and when he finds something he knows I’d like he gets it for me. You can always find him alongside Jezebel Blue. She makes all of my custom accessories.


How did you get into MCing burlesque and what’s your favorite show as an MC so far and why?

I’ve been a retro/swing kid since 1997. I got into emceeing and burlesque when I was put in touch with the original production of Big City Burlesque through Evil Sarah. The director and I met, and he showed me a drawing of the character he wanted me to play, and I then showed him a picture of me at a club. And although he and I had never met, the drawing and I matched to a T. I got the gig, and 12 years later I’m still doing my thing.

Johnny Pines, aka New Orleans Jon. Photo credit: No Rest Photography

My favorite show so far is the Free Range Burlesque Show at this year’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest. I got to share the stage with some true legends and amazing performers from all over the country and worldwide. I was humbled and honored to have been asked to do the show, and it was the best performance I ever gave as an MC. That whole weekend was career-changing for me.


What’s the secret origin story behind Musee du Coeur, and what’s its unique niche in the world of Atlanta burlesque? 

Musee du Coeur is a collaborative project in which each performer eats, sleeps and breathes our craft and history. We aren’t just a burlesque troupe. We are more of a vintage performance group. We’ve carved out our own niche because we have our hands in all types of art. We are musicians, artists, seamstresses, flyers, magicians, dances, singers, carnies, historians and the list goes on and on. We all bring something different to the group.


You seem to have a real joie de vivre and sense of adventure. What’s the craziest adventure you’ve had in the world of burlesque?

The craziest adventure I’ve had in the world of burlesque took place at this year’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest. After Saturday night’s show, the reigning King and Queen of American Burlesque From The Burlesque Hall of Fame, THE Canadian Burlesque Legend, we’ll call her Judy, a certain journalist we know, and I went to a gentlemen’s club together. We had a blast! The dancers could get enough of Judy. It was a dream come true for me!

The Roaring ‘20s gourmet dinner at Meehan’s Thursday night sure looks delicious. Meehan’s has done a bunch of rock-themed dinners, too. Were you at all involved with the menu planning, and what can diners expect when it comes to the total experience – food, ambiance and entertainment? 

The planning of the menu was a collaboration between Chef Brian O’Rourke [of Meehan’s Public House Vinings] and Chef  Val Domingo [of Meehan’s Public House Sandy Springs]. The food at Meehan’s surpasses any expectations you may have of eating at a pub of any kind. The atmosphere is quite quaint and comfortable with an amazing staff. Since this theme is so different from what they’ve done in the past, they asked me to do my stuff. I’m what’s called a crooner. I sing Jazz Standards dating from the 1920s to the 1950s. I cover them all. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and so many more. I truly LOVE what I do. I hope the guests enjoy it as much as I do.


The invitation says reservations are required. Is there any standing room, too, to hear you perform?

Reservations are truly recommended and spaces are almost filled. I strongly suggest that people call ahead for availability.

Is it true you’ve also launched a burlesque ladies night out on Tuesdays? What’s that about?

The ladies night out isn’t really a burlesque event. Anyone can come out. It’s at Atlantic Seafood Co. in Alpharetta. They do a ladies night  starting at 4 p.m. featuring me and my buddy Monroe behind the bar, and live music, by George Martini, starts at 7:30.


You’re always so busy hosting and crooning. What’s next for New Orleans Jon?

After The show at Mehann’s, I begin preparing for DragonCon here in Atlanta. I’m MCing the Pool Side Pin-Up Party at the Sheraton Atlanta, Friday August 30, and I’m performing in The Glamour Geek Review the following Saturday night!

Meehan’s Roaring ’20s Gourmet Dinner is a mouth-watering $50 five-course price fixe dinner featuring pairings with New Holland Brewing and vintage-inspired cocktails.Call (404)-843-8058 to reserve your spot. For more information, including the night’s full menu, visit Meehan’s Public House Sandy Springs Website or the Facebook event page.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Born to Tease: Retro Fatale Katherine Lashe Puts the Sizzle into Southern Fried Burlesque

Posted on: Jun 10th, 2013 By:

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene right now is hot, hot, hot, and one lady is right at the sizzling heart of it – Kool Kat Katherine Neslund, aka Katherine Lashe. This week alone, Syrens of the South, her production company, is giving Atlanta a new monthly burlesque showcase with Tease Tuesdays at The Shelter on June 11 (specific Tuesdays will vary per month). She’s also a key player in the city’s first Debut-Tease Ball, featuring Katherine and a mix of experienced and new talent either teaching or taking classes at Studio Burlesque, Atlanta’s own burlesque school which launched just last winter.

Perhaps most of all, Katherine is the driving force behind the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, which celebrated its third anniversary this year. Finally Atlanta has an annual event that brings together local, regional, national and even international burlesque revival stars and legends. Tease Tuesdays are fundraisers for SFBF. And that’s not even beginning to talk about Katherine’s own talents as a performer who has graced nationwide stages including the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

ATLRetro caught up with Katherine recently to find out more about this week’s events; her own path to burlesque via theater; what else she has coming up, including a significant partnership between Syrens and 7 Stages theater in Little Five Points; and much more.

ATLRetro: What’s the one thing that happened to you during childhood that made it your destiny to be a burlesque performance artist?

Katherine Neslund/Lashe: When I was younger my Mom made costumes and clothing for drag queens in Knoxville, TN.  I ended up wanting to be a drag queen when I grew up because they had the best clothes! Later it was explained to me that, being a girl, I couldn’t technically be a drag queen. I was pretty disappointed  with this childhood realization. I’ve obviously since realized my passion and have been doing theater in some capacity my entire adult life. I’ve always felt pretty at home on the stage. Burlesque seemed to unite the whole drag queen dream with my theater experience.

I understand you kicked off your burlesque career in Atlanta by opening for Dita Von Teese. That’s a pretty exciting beginning. How did that happen and can you share something about that experience? Did Dita impart any words of wisdom that have stayed with you.

I used to be the head performer at The Chamber, and one day Howie, the manager, told us we were opening for Dita von Teese in two weeks and we should do something burlesquey.  I had no idea what that meant since I had very limited experience with burlesque having only seen The Doll Squad and Torchy Taboo perform a few times at that point.  We ended up putting together a Fosse-style group number that incorporated burlesque, dancing and a little bit of that Chamber touch.  It’s kind of funny that out of that group came myself, Renea’le Roux and Gia Nova as professional burlesque performers.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

The Syrens of the South is a production company, not a troupe. A lot of people don’t know the difference, so can you clarify what this means in the burlesque world?

A troupe is traditionally a group of people that works together on a regular basis; going through routines and rehearsals, every member focused on a common vision of what the group should embody as a whole, and then also on what every member will perform exclusively.  Syrens of the South treats all of our performers as independent contractors, and I have always encouraged everyone to have their own identity – to perform whenever and with whomever they want.  Each performer creates their own personal vision of what they want to be, and they own and control their personal performance.  Syrens is like a playground on which these amazing folks can show their talent. Thanks to this freedom, performers can feel free to include everything from classic, to comedy, to just plain weird stuff.  I also try to make sure that we have a good variety of acts, including, of course, vaudeville type acts to break up the boobies, making it an interesting evening for everyone!

It’s been long overdue for Atlanta to have an annual burlesque festival, and Southern Fried really seems to be putting the city on the map. SFBF has made it to its third year and seems to be really hitting its stride. What did you personally enjoy the most at year’s festival and can you give us a little preliminary tease about your goals are for next year?

My favorite part each year is the Legends.  I have a passion for burlesque history, hence why I teach a very in-depth class on it, and have been collecting burlesque legend interviews for a very long time now.  My goal is to gather as much information as possible before the information is no longer available.  I was lucky enough to interview Tura Satana before she passed away, and I am so very grateful I was able to do so.

This particular year I was really excited with how many people from the local Atlanta burlesque community became involved.  In between volunteers, performers and even those that just showed up in the audience to come and see us, plus so many regular Syrens of the South performers, members of Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret, The Imperial OPA Circus, Minette Magnifique and Musee du Coeur showed up both on stage and off.  The hope is that Southern Fried can help show Atlanta a taste of what goes on in the rest of the world, as well as showing the rest of the world the amazing talent we have here in Atlanta and the Southeast.  Many performers don’t travel, so this is a great way to show off all that we have to offer here!

Funding a festival must be challenging. Where does Tease Tuesday fit in?

The goal of Tease Tuesday is to help raise money so we can continue putting on this amazing festival.  It costs around $20,000 to put on each year, and we make less than half of that from ticket sales each year.  The rest of the money comes from our vendors, sponsors, application fees, Syrens of the South shows and out of my pocket.  We need approximately $2,500 to pay off the remaining bills from last year before we can start moving on to next year.  Tease Tuesday events, at 10 acts for only $10, gives us  a nice inexpensive monthly show to help us get the remaining bills paid off and then hopefully help us get the deposit for the hotel next year so we can continue going forward with the festival.

Another thing we love about Tease Tuesday is that it’s going to be monthly. In New York there are multiple monthly and even weekly burlesque events, but Atlanta audiences have had to wait several months between shows by the same troupe or producer. Can you tease our readers about the Syrens first Tease Tuesday and how you plan to keep a monthly show fresh and exciting? Will shows be themed and will you just feature local performers or regional and national performers as well?

Our first Tease Tuesday show was in May as a straight up fundraiser and test show.  We were lucky enough to have the current Southern Fried Queen, Lola le Soleiland two time SFBF winner Bourgeois Betty, Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra founder Rob Thompson doing an acoustic set, as well as Talloolah Love, Nipsy Tussle from Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret, Tora Torrid, Persephone Phoenix, Edie Akimbo, Tru Bliss, and my Wednesday night Beginning Burlesque class from Studio Burlesque.  Fritzengreuben was our Master of Ceremonies with Tupelo Honey as our stage kitten.

Our show on Tuesday, June 11, will have some amazing burlesque – Florida’s Tokyo Bell incorporates fire into her stripping, Atlanta favorite Ursula Undress will be there, Jed Drummond will be singing and playing his ukulele, there will be sexy juggling, some sultry singing and many more burlesque dancers.  Remember -10 acts for $10, so it’s a surprise as to who the other performers will be!  The next one on July 16 is so secret I can’t tell you anything other than it’s gonna be awesome!

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Studio Burlesque is another milestone for the Atlanta burlesque community. How did that get started and what was your role in its fruition?

I have been teaching burlesque classes for almost six years in borrowed/rented spaces. It was really only a matter of time before someone realized the popularity of burlesque was on the rise and that there should be a studio dedicated to it.  An investor approached multiple members of the Atlanta burlesque community until he found the right fit which happened to be the valedictorian of the very first Syrens of the South graduating class: Ursula Undress.  She and I had a long talk about it after she was approached, and her mission statement was beautiful and her heart was in the right place, so I decided to move my regular classes to Studio Burlesque.  I’ve given a little advice just because of the six years of previous experience, but with the festival taking off, it’s really nice to get to just show up as a teacher rather than organizing all the classes like I used to.  Many of my former students became teachers in the Syrens of the South class series and now teach at Studio Burlesque.  I am very proud of all of them and love that there’s a home for everyone in Atlanta Burlesque to be able to come to learn and to teach.

Are classes just for aspiring burlesque performers? Could any of them be an alternative to a conventional boring exercise class?

The regular weekly classes are for anyone at any level of dance experience.  My Beginning Burlesque class on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. has people who have never danced before and a few seasoned performers, however, they all work great together in learning the new choreography we do each month.  For those who want to try performing, I’ve been offering a performance spot for that class at each of the Tease Tuesdays.  Students get a little firsthand taste of the performance experience and can then decide if it’s something they want to try.  The performance track classes are for those that are interested in becoming burlesque performers or at least getting a solo opportunity on stage.  It consists of three months of classes; we focus on getting them on stage for a student showcase at the end of the three months.  The next performance track series will be starting in July after July 4th.

Debut-Tease is coming up this Saturday. Some people might be reluctant to come to a beginners’ show. Tell us why they’re wrong.

I love student showcases!  There is that excitement of it being their first time, and you can see the nerves, the joy, the fear and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when they walk off the stage.  It’s like watching someone be born without all the gross parts!  However, even if you’re not a big fan of watching newbies, myself and many of the other teachers will be performing as in this show, so many professional performers will be gracing the stage as well as all the newbies.  Ursula Undress, Talloolah Love, Fonda Lingue and The Chameleon Queen will be performing, just to name a few!

Are any of your students performing? Any star student in particular to watch out for?

Every student that is debuting on the 15th is part of the Studio Burlesque Performance Track Classe Series so I have gotten to teach them all as I teach the History of Burlesque and Tassels and Gloves classes in that series.  Many of them also come to my Wednesday night class so I’ve gotten to know a few of them fairly well.  If I had to pick one to watch I’m going to have to say A to Zee as he is the only boy making his debut that night.  I’ve seen his work in progress, and I think everyone will have fun with it. Being the only guy, I think he’ll succeed in inspiring other gentlemen to come out and learn the art of boylesque!

Finally, burlesque is just one of your talents. You have a background in theater and were heavily involved with 7 Stages‘ hit DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. Anything you’d like to share about that experience and what’s next for that production? Or anything else you’re up to?

Yes, I was honored to be the stage manager for DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA!  The finished recording of the awesome soundtrack from our show will be finalized and out for sale on CD sometime soon.  We’ll be doing a concert version in February so do keep your eyes peeled for that!  I went to school for musical theater and am now finishing up a degree in technical theater to balance out my onstage and off-stage experience, which is good since I was just the lighting designer for LADY LAY, a great play at 7 Stages Theater that closed out the 2012-13 season.  I’ve also been a stage manager for The Imperial OPA Circus for a few years, and look forward to continuing at 7 Stages in the 2013-14 season.  After Dracula, I really just found my home at 7 Stages as I love everyone who works there and what they are trying to do through art and community building.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

I’ve recently been made a member of their fundraising committee and am helping to put together a brunch at Our Way Cafe on June 23.  Brunch will include a concert by the awesome local band Till Someone Loses an Eye, and benefits will go to 7 Stages.  Mark your calendars!  Also, our Syrens of the South 6th year anniversary show will be held on the main stage at 7 Stages on Aug 3.  I’m splitting the profits with the theater to help them with their fundraising goals.  As 7 Stages is now going to be our new home for our big shows, for instance our Anniversary, Tits for Toys for Tots (Nov 23) and our Vixen’s Valentease show, we want to make sure to start our new marriage by giving them a decent dowry!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rebecca Deshon On Living THE HOOPING LIFE

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Rebecca DeShon of HoopEssence. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

Hula hoops made of willow, grapevines and stiff grasses date back all the way to prehistoric times, but most people today probably think of them as the girls’ must-have plastic toy manufactured by Wham-O starting in the late 1950s. The quintessential toy, however, has made a comeback in recent years into hoop dance, and if you missed this twisting trend, you can catch up at the Atlanta premiere of the acclaimed documentary THE HOOPING LIFE (2010) at 7 Stages in Little Five Points on Friday Feb. 24 (doors at 8 p.m.; show at 9 p.m.).

THE HOOPING LIFE not only delves into hula hoop history but also tells eight extraordinary stories of hoop enthusiasts who have embraced it as an art form, a teacher’s aid and even an instrument of redemption. The screening will be accompanied by live performances including a spectacular aerial number by Emerald Dove (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret); hoop dance by Maria Valentin aka Riahoopaleena all the way from New York City; stunts by Luna Trix Hoops Performance & Fire Arts of Columbia, SC; hoops and juggling by James Abele; and acts by Gesche Anneliesa of Musee du Coeur and  Ashly Connor of Imperial Opa Circus.

The entire night’s festivities have been organized by this week’s Kool Kat Rebecca DeShon, proprietress of HoopEssence, Atlanta’s own Hoop Dance performance company and school. ATLRetro recently caught up with Rebecca, to find out more about THE HOOPING LIFE, as well as how she got into hooping, how hooping has transformed her life and what it’s like to live la vida hoop dance.

ATLRetro: Hula hoops seemed to be less popular for a while, but now are enjoying a Renaissance of sorts not just with girls but grown-ups, too. Why do you think it’s back in vogue?

Rebecca DeShon: Hoop dance and hula hooping have really exploded into so many scenes. What was once thought of as just a fad in the underground club scene has really blossomed into a tool for dance, self expression, fitness, meditation and so much more. In my opinion, we are only just beginning to see this full immersion of society in hula hooping. Some hoopers like to call it a “Revolution,” if you will. I think part of the reason it is becoming so much more popular is the development of hand-crafted hula hoops which open up hooping to people of all ages and fitness levels. Besides, it just feels like a lot of fun, which is more than you can say about a lot of other fitness routines. Who doesn’t want that?

For the uninitiated, what’s the difference between hula-hooping and hoop dance

Modern hoop dance has come such a long way since the stereotypical image most people think of from hula hooping in the ‘50s. People are now completely expressing themselves in dance both inside the hoop and using the hoop as a prop to tell a story through dance. We are repurposing an object that was only to be flung around the waist in endless rotation or simply rolled on the ground into what is now a vast array of styles and forms of hooping or hoop dance. Today we see hoopers not just simply flinging dozens of hoops around their waist like you see in the circus, but truly dancing in and with the hula hoop as a dance partner. It is now such an extraordinary companion for artistic self expression.

Hoop dance just means that we are actually dancing with our hoops and at times incorporating many different “tricks.”  Hooping has expanded so far between styles that we are actually seeing entire “genres” of hoop dance styles. It is an incredible art form! With the proper hand-crafted hoop, patience, practice and determination, I know that anyone can be a hoop dancer. I, for one, have no professional dance training, so I can assure you that you don’t have to be a “dancer” to become a hoop dancer.

I understand fans from all of the Southeast are coming to Atlanta for the screening. What’s so special about THE HOOPING LIFE as a movie?

We are thrilled to report that we have fans and performers coming from all over the US for this event! They are coming from as far away as CA, NYC and Texas! Chicago, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and all over the state of GA. THE HOOPING LIFE is a feature-length film that has been six years in the making. It is a labor of love in the form of a documentary film which has not been released for public screenings until Jan 2012. We have been waiting for this event for so long and are so super thrilled to see its final release. THE HOOPING LIFE documentary is important not just for hoopers but for those who don’t know its amazing life-changing benefits. The film has been shot all over the world by the hoopers themselves. This film covers eight story lines from eight very different aspects of just how dynamic hooping can be. It is the first film of its kind!

Will any of the filmmakers be there?

Currently the filmmakers are super busy working on the music video for “Hooping Life”, the original music by Basement Jaxx which was created just for this amazing film. While nothing has been set in stone, we have heard rumors of interest in them making the trip. Honestly, with an event like this, you really just never know who might show up! Surprise guests will be there and you just need to be present to see exactly who!

Rebecca DeShon hoop dances with fire at Hellbilly Family Reunion (Elliott Street Pub 2011). Photo credit: Erick Jara.

What else is happening Friday night at 7 Stages in addition to the screening?

We have a spectacular evening of entertainment planned for our guests!! Doors open at 8 with live entertainment right from the start! We will have hooping gifts, hoops and merchandise for your shopping pleasure, a “red carpet” photo session for guests, HUGE prize giveaways, a carnival-like atmosphere with jugglers/stilt walkers/hoopers and that is just the pre-show!! At 9 p.m., the stage shows begin with live performers for your pleasure Maria Valentin from NYC, Lunatrix Performance & Circus Arts (SC), Ashly Connor (Imperial Opa Circus), Emerald Dove on aerial silks (Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret), Gesche Annelesia (Musee du Coeur) and many more performances. After the live performances, we have the Atlanta Premiere of THE HOOPING LIFE film. Directly following the film, we will invite all guests to come up on stage and give the hoop a twirl themselves for a huge hooper dance party. We also have visuals being projected on the screen from start to finish. This is going to be an incredible evening like no other in Atlanta.

How did you first discover that you loved to hula hoop?

I was actually gifted my first ever adult hand-crafted hula hoop in 2008 from a friend, Beki Bear, as a going away gift before embarking on a journey to New York for a while. That first northern winter, I found myself stuck indoors buried under snow and very cold with nothing but my hula hoop. I picked up my hoop, began playing with it and really found myself embracing it. I was so surprised at how much I was enjoying playing with the hoop. I felt great about learning a new skill and have always loved dancing so I was hooked right away, head over heels. I began searching online, hungry to learn more about hooping. At the time there were very few resources to learn from and, unless you lived in California or were willing to travel many miles, not many instructors around. I found a great resource called Hooping.org which I like to call “the holy grail of Hooping.” You can find endless information about hooping from this site. I didn’t realize then that I would use the hoop as a tool for self-empowerment or use it to help others to do the same.

How did you start performing professionally and what’s your favorite gig so far?

I guess you could say I just stumbled into performing during my hooping development. As a hoop dancer beginning my journey inRochester,NY, performing came pretty naturally for me. Hoop dance was so unique that people couldn’t help but stop and watch. I love what I do and want to inspire others to try it out and experience the joy, so performing just came with the part. My first gig was just a couple of months after beginning my hoop dance journey. I got to perform as part of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY. At first I was terrified, but I really enjoyed the crowd’s response and the adrenaline rush of performing so after that first gig I was instantly hooked. I have been blessed with a lot of really fun gigs.

Rebecca DeShon performs at The High for College Night with Dance Truck. Photo Credit: Matt Gilbert.

Many of my gigs are corporate events, which gives me the opportunity to perform in some really exciting venues. Last year I was hired to perform at The Georgia Aquarium dressed up as a mermaid. I also loved hooping at The High Museum of Art a couple weeks ago for College Night. Next month I am particularly looking forward to a gig at Chateau Elan for Verizon Wireless (we are conducting an LED Circus of sorts). I also participate in a lot of smaller gigs in club style settings as well as my work with charity organizations such as East Atlanta Kids Club, Atlanta Streets Alive and Atlanta Women’s Foundation.

On March 3, I will be performing and doing class demos for Atlanta Dance Marathon at Zoo Atlanta – which is a benefit for Atlanta Children’s Network Hospitals. I really love community-based work and feel hooping can be used as a tool for outreach on so many levels. It is simply a joy to share what I do! I dedicate a lot of time and energy into my practice, sometimes at the cost of sleep. It brings me so much joy to share the experience of hooping that I really find it is worth the effort.

You’ve said that hula hooping has changed your life. Can you talk just a bit about how and what is it about hula-hooping that you personally find so special?

Hooping or hoop dance has changed my life in dramatic ways and I continue to grow daily through what I learn inside the hoop. Initially I saw the physical benefits of hooping right away. My body is more fit and trim with great muscle tone – all from what I once thought of as just a simple child’s toy. Later, I noticed my stress being melted away from hooping, anxiety being relieved, and, of course, exercising produces endorphins that helped to naturally chase away any blues or depression.

Rebecca DeShon. Body paint & photo by Stephanie Anderson (Neon Armour).

Hooping gives me a great feeling of accomplishment, even when I am not performing for others. It is nice to feel good about yourself and what you are doing. Hooping has led me to make some of the most incredible friends and expanded into what is today a global community of hoop dancers. My life suddenly had direction and purpose once I began hooping. I found myself thinking and living more positively and healthier. The list goes on and on… I could speak for days about how hooping has changed my life: from the most simple things to complexities even I find hard to believe at times. Hoop dance has literally caused a chain reaction of positivity and prosperity in my life.

The hoop has a way of changing your attitude. Once you get the hang of hooping and get past the initial learning curve – this only takes a few minutes with the proper hoop and instruction – it is so unbelievably difficult to not be happy and giggle while hooping. You will find that if you are in the presence of hoopers, we are generally pretty happy and positive. I feel most of us work hard to spread that love to others. I am so fortunate to have found an outlet in hooping that lets me get past the miseries and frustrations that life puts in our way, and focus that energy towards something positive for myself and for those around me.

How did hula hooping grow from a hobby into you founding Hoopessence? 

Hooping began as a hobby that I discovered I just couldn’t keep to myself. I wanted to share the love and joy with everyone I met. So I learned how to hand-craft hoops and began teaching everyone who would listen. I found it is not hard to get others excited about hooping once they see you hoop and hear/see the magical benefits of it all; they want to try it too. I found that hooping and sharing the benefits was a calling for me. I became a certified hoop dance instructor within my first year of hooping and since then have built my own teaching style.

Now, my own HoopEssence teacher trainings are in the works. I just want to share the love with as many people as possible. So it comes pretty easy for me. Turning any hobby into a business is very challenging however. What you once did for fun can feel forced and unnatural once you try to earn a living from your hobby. It is a very delicate balance. I love what I do so much that I am willing to work hard and make sacrifices to do what I do. I am also really fortunate to be married to an amazingly supportive man who assists in any way he can with my business. He is constantly empowering me to excel and grow. For that I am thankful. If it was just me on my own, I’m not sure could not make a living from hooping; a business needs the support of a great team.

Rebecca DeShon. Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson.

What types of classes do you offer at HoopEssence?

I offer classes in all things hoop at HoopEssence. Beginner basics, intermediate hooping, specialty hooping classes (i.e. minis, isolations, multiple hoops), workshops, hoop crafting workshops, private lessons, dancing in and out of your hoop, children classes and community jams. You name it, I hoop it! If you are just getting into hooping, I teach you all the basics of this great hobby in my Hooping 101 Series. Hooping 101 is four Sunday classes from 1-2:30pm with my next series starting March 4. You may find all the info about my next Hooping 101 series here.

I am also teaching intermediate and advance hoop dance classes at various locations throughout the Metro Atlanta area. You may find all the information and more through my website www.hoopessence.com. I am always looking out for new venues and private lesson students as well. If you would like to book a lesson or want to see hoop dance in your neighborhood, drop me a line and say hello. I am always here to help. With the upcoming spring and summer months, I have a lot of free outdoor events (called Hoop Jams) where I bring hoops, tunes and people can come join in on the fun with no obligations.

Any secrets to buying a great hula hoop?

A great hula hoop is a hand-crafted adult hula hoop. The hoops that you find in the dollar store just don’t cut it and can leave you feeling hopeless as a hooper. You can find hoops of all sizes and all the colors of the rainbow through my website  www.hoopessence.com/products-page. I hand-craft each hoop and fancy myself as somewhat of a “hoop sizing expert”. If you find yourself in the market for a new hoop or are just simply curious to what its all about, please feel free to call or drop a line with your questions. I would be more than happy to assist you in choosing. It can be a bit overwhelming for the beginner with all the options available from sizes, weight, colors, material, LED and even fire hoops. Check out my website and also be sure to sign up for my email newsletter where I send out coupons for deep discounts on all things hoop!

Tickets for THE HOOPING LIFE are just $15 when purchased online in advance before midnight on Feb. 21.  Any remaining tickets will be available at the door only for $20 each, but be warned, at press time, there were only 50 seats left so we highly recommend purchasing in advance here.

Find HoopEssence on Facebook and Twitter.

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