Kool Kat of the Week: School of Va-Va-Voom: Ursula Undress Teaches Atlanta a Tassel or Two About Burlesque

Posted on: Sep 5th, 2013 By:

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress. Credit: Derek Johnson.

Curious if you have what it takes to tease? This Saturday Sept. 7, the Atlanta School of Burlesque is offering a sneak peek behind its doors for a Grand Opening Launch Event Day with a chance from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. to sample a variety of classes for just $5 each (see list of classes and times at the end of this article) followed by a party from 2:30-5 p.m. with refreshments, prizes, vendors and discounts on School merchandise. The burlesque revival has been thriving here for over 15 years now, but unlike other major cities, Atlanta has not had its own academy for this art form until Studio Burlesque opened last winter. Unofrtunately, it was shortlived but the demand was so great that The Atlanta School of Burlesque has quickly taken its place, and veteran performers have a place where they can share their techniques, both classic and contemporary, with aspiring dancers and anyone who just wants to spice up their love life or enjoy a fun, different exercise program.

ATLRetro wasn’t surprised to learn that the headmistress and founder was none other than the dynamic Ursula Undress, regular performer with Syrens of the South Productions and co-consprirator at the first Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, which will celebrate its fourth year next spring. We’ve been eyeing Ursula as a Kool Kat for a very long time, so this week seemed like the purr-fect time to check in with this self-proclaimed “naughty girl next door” to find out more about the school, as well as her own secret origin story and what else she has up her sexy sleeves.

What drew you personally to the burlesque revival and when/what was your first performance?

I was a performer in musical and dramatic theatre for about 15 years. Personally, I was trying to find my identity again after returning to school and sort of immersing myself in classes and projects, etc., not to mention finding friends I could connect with when I first moved here and didn’t know anyone. So, burlesque – something I was already excited about – seemed a good fit.

Did you have any early role models, either classic or contemporary, who helped shape your approach to the art form?

Yes – Dirty Martini. The first performance I saw of hers was a YouTube video of her performance at the HOWL festival in 2007. I could not take my eyes off of her. She was the one who gave me the confidence to get on stage. But as for my performances being shaped by something, I would have to say that it was the music that did it.

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress. Credit: Nimh.

Some said that Atlanta just wasn’t suited to an annual burlesque festival, but you helped Katherine Lashe prove them wrong. How do you feel the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival (SFBF) has changed the burlesque community here and Atlanta’s burlesque reputation around the nation?

In some ways, SFBF has pulled down some walls that divided a lot of performers here in the city and showed performers that there is a fairly strong community here. I think nationally that it has put Atlanta and burlesque in the southeast on the map, and helped to inspire other cities around us to do the same. I am continually amazed at the talent and innovation that comes from Georgia and the surrounding states, and am so glad to have a place to bring it all together on one stage.

It seems like you’re now putting the bulk of your energy into the Atlanta School of Burlesque. Why are you so passionate that we need an actual school here?

Well, I was actually running the first full-time burlesque school that had a previous owner – Studio Burlesque – and the passion for this project comes from the hordes of emails and phone calls when it closed. It was apparent that we had created this community and this amazing place for women where they could come and explore other sides of themselves and just have fun. So, I pulled my resources and did what I had to do to re-open a school for not only these students, but for all of us performers to learn from each other and keep fuel on the creative fires we tend every day.

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress.

I understand the School’s students are a mix of aspiring performers and ladies who just want to get more fit in a flirty way. Can you talk a little about that? 

It is amazing – we don’t have a real target audience. We have women of all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds. Of course, we have students that want to go all the way and be performers, but I think the common thread is that they all just love feeling glamorous and graceful and sexy, and most of all – CONFIDENT. I think all of the instructors provide an environment that really fosters all of those things.

Who’s teaching at the School and how do you select your instructors?

I am very adamant about people learning the art of burlesque from actual burlesque performers who have studied the history and actively tour, compete, and perform. I select performers to teach based on their love for constantly learning and working on their craft, along with their ability to lead a class and make it fun and interesting. I am very fortunate to have performers of the caliber of Talloolah Love, Lola LeSoleil, Katherine Lashe, The Chameleon Queen, Fonda Lingue, Rebecca DeShon [hula hoop] and Sadie Hawkins [aerialist]. I also love that I have the opportunity to bring in outside talent and their knowledge and expertise in with workshops and specialty classes.

What are you teaching personally this Fall?

I am teaching both Beginning Burlesque Choreography and a class called Slow and Steamy Bedroom Burlesque that is for intermediate students.

Is this Saturday’s event for current and aspiring students only? Who should come and why?

Anyone who is interested should come – it is going to be a blast! The first class – Burlesque Fundamentals is actually co-ed, so I do mean ANYONE.

I know you don’t want to play favorites, but is there one of your students who you’d especially recommend our readers to watch out for?

Wow – I think the awesome thing is that ALL of our previous graduates from the Spring are amazing on stage, and have continued to perform regularly. Greta Von Trollop is so charismatic. Nina Charrise and Roula Roulette are both competing at the Shakespeare Follies this weekend, and then Rena Rhinestone has some incredible stuff planned for her next number. Oh! And I am really looking forward to what A to Z does next; he seems to be this glue that keeps them all wanting to work together on fun stuff. So yeah,it is impossible to play favorites!

Photo courtesy of Ursula Undress.

Will you be involved with next year’s Southern Fried, and if yes, can you share anything about it?

I think I will always be involved in some capacity. I really enjoy working with the legends and being a sort of liason with them and the headliners. It takes a village, and I am proud to assist Katherine with that.

What’s next for Ursula Undress performance-wise?

Well, I recently took a workshop with [burlesque legend] Gabriella Maze and am seriously in love with the cape! I have one number where I work with a large duster, and I am now looking to expand on that with what I learned from her. Combine that with some secret talks with burlesque legend Satan’s Angel, and well, that is all I am going to say. Yep, even in interviews, I have to tease!

Finally, what’s one thing about the school or about you that readers might be most surprised to find out?

Hrm….I think that people find out in our classes exactly how non-intimidating burlesque actually is.

Grand Opening Day Class and Event Schedule:

10:30 – 11:20AM – Burlesque Fundamentals with Syrens of the South & Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Producer Katherine Lashe.

This CO-ED class is designed for absolute beginners! Learn how to walk, bump, grind, and shimmy in easy, broken down steps, and then perfect them in drills and short combinations.

11:30 – 12:20PM – Classic & Glamorous Burlesque with Southern Fried Burlesque Queen Lola LeSoleil

This beginner class will help you to learn the grace and elegance of the early Burlesque style from the 1930s and 40s. This class begins with a simple, graceful warm-up, and then switches into the sultry but elegant moves of a Burlesque Queen. This class will also help you be a little more graceful in your everyday life.

12:30 – 1:20PM – Beginning Burlesque Choreography with Studio Owner & Performer Ursula Undress

This is the perfect class to get a taste of what burlesque can do for your inner and outer self while learning fun choreography to boot! Learn the basic standing and walking movements to start your journey into burlesque along with bumps, grinds, shimmies, and arm movements.

1:30 – 2:20 PM – Dance like a Mermaid with Professional Bellydancer and Mermaid Karma Karmelita.

As a professional mermaid and aquatic entertainer, Karma has gained extensive knowledge and experience in working in the water. This has given her a unique perspective on three dimensional movement when on the stage. This class focuses heavily on her original and innovative technique and teaches part of a breathtaking choreography. Recommended for people with previous dance knowledge in belly dance, but not restricted to.

2:30 – 5PM – Open Shopping and Grand Opening Soiree!

Join us for light eats, drinks, shopping, and hobnobbing with other students and performers!

Note: Wear comfortable low heels or flexible dance shoes to any class. Prices will be $5 per class, and advance reservations are not required. Due to the dramatically reduced class price, social deals will not be honored on this day. The Atlanta School of Burlesque is located at 1745 Defoor Place, Ste. D Atlanta, GA 30318. For more information, visit www.atlantaburlesqueschool.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: From Batman to Burlesque: Stormy Knight Plays Nice and Naughty at Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge

Posted on: Dec 13th, 2012 By:

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: Jeffrey Ling.

Holy smokin’! One of Retro Atlanta’s coolest ongoing events, Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge, will be shakin’, rattle and rolling its fifth anniversary this Sat. Dec. 15 at The Masquerade. Doors open at 9 p.m., The Sideburners (formerly Junior Dolan & Cash) are headlining, Reverend Andy will be spinning, free jello shots will fly, vendors such as East Atlanta’s Grease Monkeys and jeweler extraordinaire Jezebel Blue will help you with your retro revival holiday shopping, the usual Ragin’ Raffle will be drawn and the entire shindig will be topped off with a bright red maraschino cherry: a Christmas-themed burlesque show at midnight. The latter, as usual is emceed by Miss Mason, and performers include Stormy Knight, Hada Pixie, Scarlett Page and Miss Kitty Love. All for a bargain cover price of 10 bucks!

Seeing that the holidays are a time for unwrapping and staying warm by a hot fire, ATLRetro thought this would be the perfect time of year to make our Kool Kat of the Week that red-hot performer named Miss Stormy Knight. We caught up with her recently to find out more about what drives her to dance, her soft spot for sci-fi and to get a tease about this holiday-inspired Rockabilly Lounge

What about you as a little girl would have predicted your future as a burlesque performer?

I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember and the burlesque, belly dance, and other performance arts that I do grew out of that love of creating something unique and beautiful. The fact that I get to share this lifetime love with others is an added bonus!

How did you decide upon the stage name of Stormy Knight and how does it reflect your unique style?

I’ve always loved listening to storms and the fact that they can be so many things — anything from thunderous and intense to relatively soft and light. There is great diversity in what storms are and they cannot be caged or contained. As a performer, I love the energy and diversity in my acts and love to explore different performance styles.

Nighttime is my favorite time of the day; it seems that my muse wakes up as soon as the sun goes down! Also—and here is where my geek comes out to play—my favorite comic book character has always been Batman. Since he is also known as the Dark Knight, I incorporated that spelling into my name as a little inside joke to myself.

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: Van Brown/Soul of View Photography.

When did you first perform burlesque onstage, and is there any story about how you got that first gig?

I have been on various stages since late teens and started belly dancing and doing various fetish and martial arts performances under the name Starphoenix 15 years ago. I originally joined Big City Burlesque many years ago as a bellydancer and performance artist, but soon fell in love with the burlesque art form so much that I added it to my repertoire.

Can you name one classic and one contemporary burlesque performer who is an inspiration to you and why?

Why choose just one? Sally Rand, Mae West and Satan’s Angel have been big influences on me. All three pushed boundaries, and when faced with opposition in something they wanted to achieve, they simply went about it in a new way. None of them compromised on their performances and were very forward for their times. Between the three of them, there was plenty of glamour, innovation, intelligence and ballsy wit. I have had the honor of meeting Satan’s Angel and learned quite a bit in a short time with this bluntly honest Legend.

As for contemporary performers? To narrow it down, I’ve got to ponder that one for a minute. There are so many. Catherine D’Lish is a big influence on my level of costuming. She pours her heart into her creations, and they look amazing. One day I hope to be able to create on the scale that she does. One of my inspirations is a fairly new performer who has an immense amount of raw talent and dedication. Every time I watch her perform, I am re-inspired by the creativity and imagination that she brings to her acts. I met her while working with Big Mamma D’s House of Burlesque [Charlotte, NC], of which she is a member, and am privileged to call her friend: Silver Kitsune.

You’ve recently been very instrumental in organizing burlesque shows at science fiction cons such as DragonCon and Anime Weekend Atlanta. What does sci-fi mean to you, and how have those shows gone over with fandom?

I am a huge geek. Yes, in fact I proclaim it loudly! And I have been involved with both conventions, as well as a few others for *ahem* quite a while. In fact I often got into trouble in school for reading my books in class, then breezing through the exams. Sci-fi, comic books, and later anime and manga, were ways for me to escape. Even now I revel in breaking open and pouring through a new book and follow many different series from different genres.

In mid 2007, I had the idea that a burlesque show might go over well at a con. I mean, who doesn’t like boobs? They’re pretty awesome, but hey, maybe I’m a bit biased here. But I didn’t just want to throw a show together; I wanted to give the fans an amazing show. I produced the first show at DragonCon to a standing-room only crowd. It did so well that I got the opportunity to do one at AWA, with the same results. Every year I produced both shows, the rooms were completely packed to the point that after the second year at each convention the show was moved to one of the main rooms to accommodate the crowd. To give the fans a little something different each year, I changed up the themes and pulled performers from across the country and abroad. For various reasons, I did not produce the 2012 DragonCon burlesque show though I  continue to produce the AWA Cabaret. Keep your eyes peeled though, as there just might be a development for this year’s DragonCon. (*wink*)

You recently returned from Great Southern Exposure 2012, didn’t you? Can you share a little about what that was like and maybe your favorite memory?

I did and I had a fabulous time meeting so many new people! There was a little nervousness because it was a competition, but for the most part I was so excited to see so many new performers and acts that I forgot to be nervous! My favorite memory had to be taking Perle Noire‘s movement class. That woman is such a talented dancer and I learned a LOT from her.

Without giving away too much, can you tease us a little about what you have planned for this Saturday’s Rockabilly Lounge?

Now that would be telling! All right, I’ll give you a wee hint: I will be doing something completely new. *wink* But you have to come out to the Rockabilly Lounge on Saturday night to see it!

You’ve been somewhat of a regular at the Rockabilly Lounge and other Mon Cherie Presents events. Why do you enjoy working with Mon Cherie and what do you think has made her Rockabilly Lounge such a long-time success?

I love working with Mon Cherie and, as a performer and fellow producer, can appreciate that she’s an honest person who is full of ideas, class and gumption. She’s true to her word and takes care of her people. Those qualities are rare in today’s world and are in great part why she has been a long-time success.

Besides, who else would let me play with fire?

Stormy Knight. Photo credit: R.J. Newton Photography.

Beyond the Rockabilly Lounge, what’s next for Stormy Knight?

Lots of sewing and crafting. I have a big act that has been pounding away in my head for little over a month now and a few others that, while less insistent, are still quite loudly proclaiming their will to live and be seen!

Finally, you have some beautiful artwork on your body and especially on your back. Can you talk a little bit about how you arrived at the particular designs, and do you consider your body as a canvas now to be complete or will there be more to come?

Thank you! My body is a canvas, and yes, there shall be more tattoos eventually, though they have to be *just right*. I am so very picky about what goes on my body, where it is placed and who does the work that I am content to go slowly. I do know what my next tattoo will be, but have not yet decided on the placement.

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Retro Review: Fire, Feline and Frivolity Make for Sexy, Sassy Second Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Pageant

Posted on: Mar 16th, 2012 By:

Orchid Mei, the reigning Southern Fried Burlesque Queen, performs at the 2nd annual festival's Pageant. Photo credit: Kevin McConnell.

By Talloolah Love
Contributing Writer

This past weekend I had the divine pleasure to write an article for ATLRetro on Atlanta’s biggest burlesque event to date, the second annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest, presented by local honeys Katherine Lashe of Syrens of the South Productions, and Ursula Undress. Not only did I get to review a show, I got to review THE show, the Pageant to crown the next Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Queen! The other exciting addition to this year’s pageant was the advent of the very first Southern Fried King of Burlesque.

What I love about these festivals is the opportunity to attend what feels like class reunions all over the country. You get to see beautiful people, friends and colleagues for an entire glorious weekend. Sometimes I wish the shows began later than advertised, but alas, we all had to hit our seats right on time. No small wonder with the good Bishop involved. David Bishop, known as “The Bishop of Burlesque,” who hails from New York, makes all festivals he is involved with run smooth as silk. He is always a joy to work with and I look for him to be involved in every festival I attend. For two years now, the ladies behind Southern Fried have made David a part of their event. They truly are smart cookies for ensuring that he’s a part of their festivities; he really knows how to make it happen!

As the lights went down, I sat firmly in a seat next to the spotlight, and out came John Carney. I haven’t seen John grace the stage in what feels like years, and it gave me a tingle of nostalgia as he sang his rendition of “The Burlesque Show” (set to THE MUPPET SHOW theme music). Atlanta’s “worst comic in the world” did not disappoint with his bad puns and offbeat humor about his clothes. The judges were announced: Satan’s Angel, Gabriella Maze, Shannon Doah, Perle Noire, Tim Mack and Siren Santina. You can’t get a better panel than that, folks; you just can’t!

Kittie Katrina exchanges a kiss with Stephan, King of the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. Photo credit: Kevin O'Connell

The whole show was a lot of fun, and John Carney built up a nice sense of suspense for the category and results of who the next Queen would be, without short-changing the rest of the categories. My personal highlights of the show include Donna Touch; I have seen the cat burglar act before, and I thought this was truly the best. She was on fire. Stage Slave Gavin was a very pretty little hoot, and Üla Überbusen brings me to tears with her cat lady number without fail every time!

Next, there was some banter between a very cranky but pink Bourgeois Betty who played with sock puppets while putting John Carney in his place. I am not sure he knew what hit him. Siren Santina did a rousing booty shaker to “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie,” by Richard Cheese, and we all had a great laugh for the experience.

Then, the moment of truth, we got to see Satan’s Angel perform. Never have I seen her so electric as she was that evening! The whole room was positively on fire, along with her pasties, in her signature act. If you’ve never seen Satan’s Angel perform her fire pasties act, the one that made her famous in the world of burlesque, then you’ve no idea what you are missing. She lives up to her name in everything that she does, and we all love her for it.

By the time the Angel’s act was over, we had forgotten we were there for a competition! Here are the final results for the Second Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival:

Siren Santina sings a farewell song before passing on her crown. Photo credit: Kevin O'Connell.

Best Group: Slow Burn Burlesque from New Orleans;

Best Duet: Bourgeois Betty and Katarina Von Dutch from Augusta, Georgia;

Best Variety: Safety 3rd from Atlanta

King: Stephan from San Antonio.

Then we had a song from Siren Santina, who was soon to be the former Queen of Southern Fried. I can’t put in writing the name of the song she sang, as it is not exactly all ages friendly, so suffice it to say that it was a gift for all who came out that night, and it was utterly blush-worthy. Now, the final results of the night:

Second runner up: Donna Touch from Chicago

First runner up: Lola Le Soleil from Atlanta

Queen of 2012 Southern Fried Burlesque Festival: Orchid Mei from Denver.

Satan's Angel sets the audience on fire. Photo credit: Kevin O'Connell.

And let’s not forget the Subcategories:

Miss Congeneality: Sunny Midnight

Audience Choice: Stephan

Most Innovative: Orchid Mei

Most Funny: Lola Le Solei

Best Costume: Donna Touch

Most Classic:  Orchid Mei

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Tis the Season to Be Sexy: The Second Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Shimmies Into Decatur This Weekend

Posted on: Mar 8th, 2012 By:

Southern Fried Burlesque Fest; Thursday, March 8–Sunday, March 11, 2012; Courtyard Marriot and Conference Centre, 130 Clairemont Ave, Decatur, Georgia 30030; Weekend passes and show tickets available online and at the door. For more info, click here.

The Second Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival again is bringing the best performers from all over the world to Atlanta for a weekend full of sparkle, sizzle and spectacle!

Thursday night, the festival kicks off with Just Hatched, performances by new and promising performers (doors at 7 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m.) Then at 9 p.m. Burlesque Legend Satan’s Angel takes the stage for “Have Tassels Will Travel, a One-Woman Improvisational play about the life and times of the star nicknamed “The Devils Own Mistress,” the Queen and originator of fire tassel twirling.  She has performed this act for over 40 years, lighting her tassels approximately 25,000 times all over the world.  The show chronicles Angel’s career from how she began stripping in 1961 in San Francisco, to a peek at how hers was no ordinary life. From following Bob Hope and the USO in Vietnam, appearing on the Gypsy Rose Lee television show, dating Clint Eastwood, Bobby Darin, Hedy Lamarr, and Janis Joplin, defying the convention of The Folies Bergéré in Paris, working with Ann Corio, Harold Minsky, Barry Ashton and running with The Rat Pack in Vegas, and two near death experiences.

Satan's Angel.

Friday Night brings The Free Range Burlesque International Showcase, featuring performances by Burlesque Legends Satan’s Angel, Shannon Doah and Gabriela Maze; neo-burlesque star such as Perle Noire, and headlined by Miss Exotic World 2002, Kitten De Ville (this week’s Kool Kat) as well as other amazing performers from all over the world! Last year’s Free Range was one of the best burlesque shows ever to grace an Atlanta stage, so in ATLRetro’s humble opinion, this show is not to be missed.

Saturday Night is the main event: The Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant has performers competing for Best Duet, Group, Variety and the Southern Fried Burlesque King and Queen!  The Pageant will also include a farewell performance by the first-ever Southern Fried Burlesque Queen, Siren Santina!  After the awards ceremony, let your hair down at the Southern Scorcher Showcase with performers from all over the Southeast, a special performance by Sadie Hawkins from Blast-Off! Burlesque, and headlined by Atlanta native, The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins!

Perle Noire.

Be sure to stop by Sunday, however, for a Burlesque Legends Panel at 1 p.m., with neoburlesque star Kitten DeVille and classic performers Satan’s Angel and Shannon Doah.

From Friday to Sunday, you can also sign up for lectures and classes for all skill and interest levels. Whether you are a history buff, into crafting costumes, want to learn the basics, or fine tune your performance, this festival will have activities for all levels and aspects of burlesque. Learn entirely from seasoned burlesque performers, teachers, and legends, and leave the festival with all the tools you need to be the next Burlesque Aficionado! Don’t worry guys – all genders are welcome to attend classes!

As lovely and talented festival producers Katherine Lashe and Ursula Undress of Syrens of the South remind us, Burlesque is the art of the striptease, with a focus on the tease.  Performers occasionally strip to pasties, but there is no nudity in any festival productions. This festival is dedicated to the preservation of an art form that has become an international movement.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Like a Burlesque Girl Should: Shaking, Rattlin’ and Rockin’ Out with Kitten DeVille on Neoburlesque’s Underground Roots, Lux Interior and Headlining Atlanta’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2012 By:

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Neil Kendall.

Anyone who’s spent any time watching Atlanta’s burlesque scene knows we have some amazing performers and troupes, but Southern Fried Burlesque Fest finally put Atlanta on the map as having its own weekender featuring nationally known stars, legends and local and regional performers. At last year’s premiere event, we had an amazing time watching some of the most creative acts ever to hit local stages and mixing and mingling over cocktails in between. So needless to say, ATLRetro can’t wait for the second annual festival this weekend (March 8-11) at the Courtyard Marriott/Decatur Conference Center.

Look out for a full preview soon, but in the true spirit of tease, we couldn’t wait to titillate you with an exclusive interview with headliner Kitten DeVille, Miss Exotic World 2002 and the Queen of the Quake. Kitten is the shake-rattle-and rock ‘n’ roll 3-D embodiment of the cat’s meow, the quintessential Kool Kat, and one of the key founders of the neo-burlesque revival. So listen up, kids, as she divulges some sexy secrets about the pioneer days of the early ’90s (to find out how Atlanta’s own burlesque revival began, check out Torchy Taboo‘s tale of the city’s first show here.), as well as what she’ll be up to this weekend. Oh, and we  just couldn’t resist asking her what it was like to shoot the “Ultra Twist” video with The CrampsLux Interior, Kitten and we miss you more than you could ever imagine!

ATLRetro: When you got started in burlesque, the art form was mostly dead. Yet around the country in the early-mid ‘90s, it seemed like there was almost a simultaneous energy to bring it back. Can you talk a little bit about the early days of the Burlesque revival and what inspired you to perform?

Kitten DeVille: At the time  I was go go dancing along with Michelle Carr at an underground gay club inLos Angeles called Club Fuck. I was collecting vintage men’s magazines and had always been inspired by the photos of burlesque dancers. Their photos seemed to capture  incredibly, fierce and glamourous women having  fun on their own terms. Their costumes inspired me to make all my go-go costumes in their style . When Michelle and Elvia ( the creators of [Los Angeles burlesque troupe] The Velvet Hammer) started talking about putting together a burlesque supper club I was sold on the idea. The first Velvet Hammer was held on Valentines Day 1995. Lux & [PoisonIvy (of The Cramps) were in the  sold-out audience. I was hooked from the very start – one-upping my costumes, always in search of the next song. Backstage was like a girls night out – champagne, laughter, catching up on the latest stories. (I still feel this way backstage today.)

Kitten DeVille Miss Exotic World 2002 Promo shot. Photo credit: Don Spiro.

Some things that were different in the start that maybe girls do not think about today [include]:

In the 1990s, there was really nowhere to go for  8x10s. There were no modern pin up photographers like there are today. We had to make it up as we went along, designing our shoots, telling them we wanted a certain mood and lighting. Most photographers did not ‘get it right off the bat.

There was no place to buy costumes. The lingerie industry was pretty boring, very plain compared to what is out there now (also pretty burlesque-inspired if you ask me). There are so many things that seem so common now that were really hard-to-find objects in the ’90s, from hair ornaments [to] shoes, clothing. Most things we could only obtain in vintage form; now there is so much off the rack .

At the 2000 Miss Exotic World & Tease-O-Rama in 2001 there were only a handful of neoburlesque girls. It was an exciting world to ourselves. Each year our numbers grew. We returned with new stories and adventures. Our world expanded. We helped each other along; we were inspired by the legends. We witnessed the burlesque explosion. It is pretty amazing to watch a scene grow, to be a part of it from the very beginnings. Because when you are in the midst of it, you do not understand that you are part of this history, that people will one day be inspired by you, that we were creating and forming this thing that has become modern burlesque. It is quite an honor.

What kinds of people came to those early Velvet Hammer shows?

Gays, straights, hipsters. We had an underground mixed crowd right from the start. It was its own scene. People dressed up. It was an event, a real night out on the town affair.

Today’s burlesque performers can learn their craft in classes through schools of burlesque such as yours. How did you develop your stage style and did you have any mentors/early inspirations/role models in the art of burlesque?

In 1994, when I started creating my first burlesque act, there was no YouTube and very little vintage burlesque easily available on video. I took what I saw in vintage burlesque  photos and blended it with what I believed they must have been doing on stage with their bodies and created my own style of burlesque. My main inspirations for my movements are Lilie Christine‘s photos and Lux Interior’s and Iggy Pop‘s no-holds-barred stage presence.

Kitten DeVille & Lux Interior.

What was it like working with the Cramps? 

Working and performing with the Cramps has been amazing and intimidating. I had been a huge fan of Lux and Ivy for years. At first, I felt so meek sitting in the same room with them. But they are such wonderful people, very friendly and funny.  At one point Lux was asking our opinion on which heels he should wear for the shoot and if we would mind doing an extra scene riding in a back of a convertible with them. Lux also liked to take 3D photos, and backstage at the Key Club, he was doing an impromptu photo shoot of Michelle and me when we opened for their show. Now that was a mix of horror and amazement because the event was over-sold so people were packed in standing room only from stage to exit and here we were opening for The Cramps!  Not really a burlesque show audience, people had only one thing on their minds and that was Lux & Poison or so it felt to me. I remember walking onto stage and looking into their faces. It seemed as if  half the audience was super into what I was doing  and half had that look of, “OK, now bring on The Cramps!  But the best thing from that night was what the DJ and some people in the booth overheard Lux saying to Ivy as they watched me perform. Lux had leaned over to Ivy and said  “now how are we going to follow that!”

What about being shot by Bunny Yeager and David LaChapelle?

Bunny Yeager is such a pro, such an eye and very easy to work with. I only wished I would have filmed the shoot so I could remember all the little tricks she was telling me, just an inch here or a hand held there. Her direction and photos came out flawless. I remember she kept wanting me to be naked and in the end I was. Ha ha, she has her ways of getting what she wants, and, well, it’s Bunny and who else should be the first photographer to shoot nude photos of me?!

David LaChapelle is so fun to work with. It is always a crazy party; you never know what to expect out of the day. I had first met him with a mutual friend  in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery watching movies being projected on the wall. He said that he liked the dress I was wearing and asked if he could put my number in his phone. I have done a few photos, videos and commercials with him. He is such an artist and very sweet.

What’s your favorite performance thus far and why? 

I cannot choose only one. Many of my performances have a special place in my heart for different reasons, but the one that shines is “The Casting Couch” that Dixie Evans personally taught to me back at the Ranch.  I love Dixie. She is the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and kindest lady I have ever met in the field of burlesque. She is the glue that binds this whole scene from the beginnings to the modern day. When I was asked to perform a tribute number at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, I instantly chose Dixie.

I spent a couple  days with her teaching me her routine, filming her, taking down notes on what songs she had used. And in the end she was insistent that I finish the routine with something of myself, with my bumps and grinds, because she had said “no one can shake the way you shake and you have to make this your own.” So I added “The Man with the Golden Arm” song to the end and made her routine have a bit of myself mixed into it.  This is the only time I have ever performed someone else’s choreography and such a well-known routine.  Although it went off wonderfully, it was such a challenge of nerves to perform it in front of her and my peers at BHoF that I put the routine away for about five years. I brought it back out again for Viva Las Vegas and spent the next two years touring with it because I loved doing it so much. Funny how things go sometimes .

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Luca Rome.

For us East Coast Southerners, what’s the Rock & Roll StripShow, how did you get the idea and is that still happening?

The Rock & Roll StripShow is a joint effort of Joseph Brooks, Annie Sperling and myself. It came about because of a few different reasons. First, there are no large-venue burlesque shows in Los Angeles. Second I wanted to co-produce something with Joseph Brooks who is hugely responsible for the underground club scene in LA starting in the late 1980s which I loved dancing at. And thirdly I wanted to combine my two favorite worlds – rock  & roll and burlesque – something most people were not doing back in 2005. Rock & Roll StripShow features our own band and guest singers which have included David J of Bauhaus fame, Pearl Harbor, Kitten on the Keys and other wonderful  performers. We handpick a headliner roster of performers, and the night is filled with burlesque performances set to live Rock & Roll in a proper venue with amazing sound and lightin . It is a main event attracting everyone from Dita [Von Teese], David LaChapelle and a who’s who in LA  to attend. Right now we are looking to take StripShow on tour. We also want to attach it to larger burlesque or Rock & Roll festivals .

Kitten DeVille Onstage in New Orleans.

What will you be up to at Southern Fried Burlesque Fest?

I am performing on Friday night [at Free Range Burlesque] and judging the [Southern Fried Burlesque] Pageant on Saturday. I am also teaching two classes. I have a movement class [Sat. 3:15] that is guaranteed to have the students feeling their bodies,  and also a question/answer [Sat. 4:30 p.m.], ask-me-anything sort of a class that should be really fun because I never know what I will be asked and they maybe surprised by my answers.

What else, other than your own performance and classes, are you looking forward to the most at SFBF?

Watching the other performances. I love Perle [Perle Noire, the Black Pearl] and Angel [ Satan’s Angel]. They are both always so inspiring. I am excited to watch and meet all the wonderful  performers. My favorite things about festivals are meeting and making new friends. I have never been to Georgia before so I am also excited to be in a new place, to soak up my surrounding and sample the food.

You’re quite the multitalented Renaissance woman of burlesque. What else are you up to right now in movies, music, modeling?

I have been doing some interesting modeling work with Annie Sperling. I am in talks with a producer about doing  a TV show. I am thinking about doing some writing, and I am working on setting up another European tour for late summer early fall. I am also traveling the states doing festivals. I have Viva Las Vegas and the Texas Burlesque Festival in April and The Windy City Burlesque Festival in July .

What question does no one ever ask you that you wish someone did? And what’s the answer? 

Wow, what a great question! I think I am too much of a Scorpio to give away all my secrets, but now you have my mind spinning for the perfect question. I will have to get back to you on that one.

In addition to Kitten DeVille’s main Website, she invites you to enjoy more pics and clips at http://kittendeville.tumblr.com/.

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From Baghdad to Atlanta: Burlesque Legend Gabriella Maze’s Triumphant Return to the Stage to Support Tits for Toys for Tots

Posted on: Dec 15th, 2011 By:

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

The Tits for Toys for Tots benefit not only will bring out a bevy of the best local burlesque beauties but also marks the return to the stage of legendary international performer Gabriella Maze Sat. Dec. 17 at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. Born in London, Gabriella first danced in Spainin the early 1970s, embracing a 20-year glamorous career that took her across Europe and the Middle East, even sharing a hookah with the Shah of Iran. “Would I change anything in my life?” she says. “No way! I am a lucky gal!”

Gabriella now lives inSouth Carolina and says she had no idea until recently about the burlesque revival. ATLRetro caught up with her earlier this week to find out more about what the international burlesque scene was like in the 1970s, as well as see if we could coax out a little tease at what she has planned for her Saturday night grande finale appearance—the first time she has performed live since 1989.

Tits for Toys for Tots Details: Doors open at 7 p.m., a Tease U Student Showcase at 8 p.m. and sintastional main show at 9 p.m. which also features last week’s Kool Kat Fonda Lingue, Katherine Lashe, Lola LeSoleil, Ruby Redmayne, Talloolah Love, Kisa von Teasa of Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret and more. Produced by Syrens of the South. Admission is either $20 or just $10 with a new unwrapped toy worth at least $5. Purchase advance tickets here.

ATLRetro: You grew up in England and began dancing in the early 1970s. How old were you, what made you decide to embrace burlesque, and how did you end up performing in  Spain?

Gabriella: I always wanted to dance. I guess I’m just artistic in nature. I began going to different auditions and trying to get into the London dance scene, but it was pretty tough. A girlfriend brought to my attention an ad in the local Variety newspaper. I had that audition in somebody’s kitchen for a lady named Jackie Harris and her husband Luciano Migliorini, after whom the troupe was named. I started as a showgirl at the end of line and worked my way to the front of the line. Then I began doing solo acts which were burlesque acts. In between the quick changes of numbers, they did burlesque acts. The show was an hour, and it was a troupe that worked at a regular nightclub. There were probably five to six different numbers and maybe four to five dancers that danced in between the acts. I never worked inLondon. I worked in Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, lot of places in the Middle East. I mainly did six-month tours and then come back

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

In America, it seemed like the art of burlesque was losing its sheen in the 1970s, but you talk about the burlesque way of life, glamour and travel across Europe and the Middle East. Were things different on the other side of the Atlantic?

InLondonat the time, I don’t think there was much burlesque going on. If it was, it was very underground and kind of seedy. A lot of dancers started out as showgirls and you were offered more money if you were willing to do topless. I was like, feathers and rhinestone, why not? It was more money—more money does motivate a lot of people—but also a lot of fun. The clubs in the Middle East were extremely opulent, but there were very tight rules. You weren’t allowed to date waiters or musicians in the band. For instance, I worked in Baghdad at the Embassy Club, and most of nightclub performers were all housed in places that were kind of like a pensione. The doors were locked, but you had young boys who slept on the ground floor, usually with no blankets, and if you needed anything—food, groceries—they’d run and get it for you. We were transported from the pensione to the nightclub every evening and back, and at night there were guards on the door. It was like being in a gilded cage in the Middle East. I got spat on a few times going from rehearsals or from the pensione to the nightclub in Tehran which was called La Boheme and was right next door. Even though we wore  jeans over our leotards, we were spat upon. You couldn’t go into a coffee shop unless you were escorted by a man.

I was there four times when Shah in power, and Tehranwas one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to as far as opulence. Everything was very European with a French flavor, but if you turn the corner, you’d see people living on the sidewalks, lots of beggars. You’d only see two classes—the rich or the poor. It was almost like being in a very unreal place, seeing all this opulence as a dancer, and you’re meeting some of the most rich and famous people—sheikhs and princes. It was a very, very crazy world.

Can you talk a little bit about the types of routines you performed and do you have any favorite performances?

One of my favorite performances which I will be performing at Tits for Toys for Tots is a classical piece to Ravel’s Bolero. It’s just a beautiful piece. The music tells the story. The costume is feathers and rhinestones and very elegant, more in a showgirls 1920s time style. Then I also like a lot of modern stuff, and I hope to be doing a second performance called Bedtime Story. It’s basically a story of a young girl’s transition from child to sex symbol to princess and then a little humor at the end. I’m kind of an eclectic person so there’s a mixture of styles and I’d go so far to say even a hint of the Muppets. It’s a very cute show and one of my favorites.

At the beginning, I was told what to do. All costumes were provided by the troupe. But once I was comfortable in what I was doing and I showed that to the choreographer—who always traveled with us—he let me put my own artistic marks into what I wanted to do. There are people who can freestyle to music, but to me, choreographed numbers are best. When I started traveling by myself once I left the troupe, I had total control over what my dancing and costumes. But my experience with that troupe gave me everything I needed to know.

How did you end up in America?

I spent in some time in Germany, where I met one of my friends whom I’m actually staying with when I’m in Atlanta. I’ve known her for 40 yrs. Her father was American and her mother was European. One day I came and visited her and met my husband and got married.

When and why did you stop dancing? And what have you been up to?

Age could be one factor. It was in 1989. I was dancing at one club in Charleston, SC, which was still doing a burlesque style, though mot exactly. That then died out in about a year. I remember the first pole coming into the club and how it changed the nightclub as I knew them. Of course, when the poles came, then the age factor came. I told myself, you had to wean yourself off. My days are up.

What made you decide to start dancing burlesque again after 20 years away from the stage?

My daughter said you need to get on Facebook.  I did, and I put in word “burlesque,” and it’s like my computer just lit up. There was all this amazing stuff. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Burlesque is still alive?!”

What I’ve noticed with neoburlesque is that it doesn’t seem to have that age criteria.  It’s really refreshg. All ages, all types, shapes and forms performing. I contacted Angel Walker (Satan’s Angel) and said I want to perform again, I miss the life, this is fantastic. I said, tell me the truth, how do I get back into this? I said, don’t I have to attend these competitions and win prizes and crowns? She laughed at me [and said], no, you don’t need to enter any competitions, we just need to find you some work. So here I am. I guess you’d call it my grand coming out. I’m feeling that hard to describe feeling of nervousness to excitement to pure pleasure. You know what I’m talking about if you’re any kind of performer, whether a singer, magician, actress or a burlesque dancer.

How did you get involved with Tits for Toys for Tots?

I contacted Angel, and she has taken me under her wing. She is my angel. She contacted Katherine [Lashe] and Ursula [Undress] and told them about me and asked if I could still get into the show. Lucky for me, Katherine and Ursula contacted me, and I will be there on Dec. 17, and I am absolutely honored to be doing it. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the wonderful neoburlesque performers.

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

Did you ever think that you’d be dancing burlesque for a children’s charity like Toys For Tots, or is that another way the scene has changed?

I think it’s fantastic, but no, I don’t think it would ever happen in the ‘70s. Burlesque in the ‘70s or before was kind of taboo and risqué.  In today’s world, risqué is what you see over dinner when you turn on the TV looking at the commercials. In the past, you wouldn’t have a fundraiser unless maybe it was something personal in the burlesque community or a troupe maybe would raise money for another girl. I think it’s wonderful.

What’s next for Gabriella Maze?

I’m not sure. I’m just so excited. Once people see me on Dec. 17 and see what do, my style and the way I perform, I hope I get bombarded with “come join us” emails. That’s be fantastic. I’m hoping it comes to that, and if it doesn’t, I’m just going to enjoy the embrace offered from Atlanta and from the burlesque community. I’m also thinking about teaching. If there is a request for me to, by all means I’d be more than happy to teach or talk with people in the burlesque community and give them my experiences.

I feel like I’m Sleeping Beauty. I’ve  been asleep for a long time and suddenly the endorphins have been triggered in my head. I’m still kind of nervous as to what to expect from the community, but what I’m seeing so far is really loving and very outreaching. I never thought I’d have a second opportunity at this life at age 60. I thought it would be something I’d look back on and have my fond memories and that would be it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big thank you to Angel Walker, to my costume maker Karma Blake Originals, and to Delorean Chase for my sound mixes.

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Kool Kat of the Week: 2011 Burlesque Queen Indigo Blue Shimmies South from Seattle for a Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Fundraiser

Posted on: Nov 9th, 2011 By:

Burlesque royalty is coming to Atlanta as 2011 Miss Exotic World Indigo Blue performs at this Friday’s Southern Fried Fundraiser Spectacular at 9 p.m. at Bart Webb Studios, a bargain $10 for the all-star line-up. All proceeds support the second annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest (SFBF), scheduled for March 8-11, 2012, and the show also features the first Miss Southern Fried Burlesque Fest Queen Miss Siren Santina from Knoxville, TN, Fonda Lingue, Ruby Redmayne, Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Sadie Hawkins, Talloolah Love, Lola LeSoleil, Katherine Lashe and Ursula Undress (Syrens of the South Productions) Founded by Lashe and Undress, the first SFBF not only showcased some of the best local and regional performers but treated Atlanta to such national stars as Dirty Martini, Jo “Boobs” Weldonand Jonny Porkpie, as well as classic greats Tiffany Carter and Gyna Rose Jewel. The 2012 festival will be headlined by burlesque legends Satan’s Angel and Shannon Doah; The Queen of the Quake, Kitten De Ville; Perle Noire, the Black Pearl; The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins and Siren Santina!For the lowdown on SFBF’s fabulous first year, read our preview here and a post-event review by Talloolah Love here.

Back to the lovely Miss Indigo Blue. She’s been heating up the Seattle “nouveau burlesque” scene since the early ‘90s with a style that’s not just sexy but exudes an edgy sense of humor. Known for clever, racy routines; authentic 1930s-60s costumes and ribald reformulations of pop culture icons like Holly Golightly and Wonder Woman, she has performed across the nation and in Europe. While she has just taken the top crown, she is a three time award-winner at the annual Miss Exotic World competition at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas – the top honor in neo-burlesque, and also holds the First Runner Up title from the Jennie Lee Tassel Twirling Contest. Her BurlyQ Cabaret, founded in 2002 in Seattle, now has satellites in New York and London. She performs solo and with the Emerald City All-Stars and the Atomic Bombshells; is president and chief twirling officer (CTO!) of TwirlyGirl.net, a maker of creative pasties; and is the founder and headmistress of the Academy of Burlesque in Seattle.

Indigo Blue looks vivaciously vintage. Photo credit: Paule Saviano.

ATLRetro caught up with Indigo Blue recently, and she teased us with a few juicy details about her journey south, which also includes teaching gigs on Sat. Nov. 12 at the Artifice Club’s Mechanical Masquerade: A Paranormal Fantasy and at SpinArela, as well as her career, thoughts on her secret to success and what it’s like to be reigning queen of burlesque!

Without giving away any big secrets, what can you share about your plans for the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest fundraiser this Friday night?

I’m really excited to perform at the fundraiser! I’ll be bringing the sash & tiara for all to see!

I understand you’re also teaching a workshop on “Steampunk Burlesque: Being in Character” at the Mechanical Masquerade? Are you a big follower of steampunk, and what distinguishes steampunk burlesque from traditional burlesque?

I love the anachronism, whimsy, and creativity of Steampunk. It’s a style, a philosophy, and a culture; burlesque is a performance art form and a culture. The workshop is intended to integrate the two and enable those who like to play with an alter-ego to develop ways of creating  more dramatic and effective characters using burlesque techniques.

Finally you’ll be teaching “The Art of the Tease” at SpinArela. Can you tease us with a sneak preview of what students will learn in that class?

I love the Art of the Tease! My favorite parts are hearing from the students what they most crave to learn, and watching them understand how to implement the tools of the tease. We will play with gloves & boas!

Jeepers, Creepers, Where'd she get those Indigo Blue peepers?! Photo credit: Karl Giant.

You’re headmistress of the Academy of Burlesque in Seattle. Why is it important to you to teach burlesque versus just being a performer, and what do you enjoy most about teaching?

I feel called to be a teacher. I love sharing what I know, and I love the process of watching students evolve and grow through the study and practice of burlesque. My personal mission is to exemplify embodied femininity, and to support people’s personal transformation through burlesque.

Many burlesque performers can only dream of winning the title of Queen/Miss Exotic World at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. What did you do to earn the title; what’s the secret to your success, in your opinion; and what did it mean to you personally to win?

The secret? Hard work! I have been dancing since I was 5, stripping since I was 21, and competing in the Miss Exotic World pageant for 10 years. It doesn’t take that long for everyone… But it did for me!

Winning was a wonderful acknowledgement of my professional career this far in burlesque. It has given me the opportunity to represent the Burlesque Hall of Fame, an organization I deeply believe in and am committed to.

Can you share a little bit about what’s so special about the Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHOF) as an event with folks (performers and mere spectators) who may never have attended? 

The BHOF Weekend is an incredible opportunity to develop meaningful connections with performers of all generations, as well as The Place to see the pinnacle of international burlesque performance. The Friday Night show featuring vintage vixens is an inspiring and powerful glimpse into our shared artistic history.

Indigo Blue performs at the 2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame. Photo credit: Diane Nagel.

When did you first start performing burlesque and what inspired you to this vintage art form?

I began creating comic erotic skits “burlettas” in 1994 for Tamara the Trapeze Lady‘s Fallen Women Follies. After attending Tease-o-Rama in 2001 in New Orleans, and then Exotic World in Helendale shortly afterwards, I knew I had found my people.

How did you come to choose the name Indigo Blue, and how does your “blue” persona inspire your acts and costuming?

When I was a peep-show stripper in the ‘90s, my name was Indigo!  Blue has always been my favorite color, since I was a child.

Seattle's glamorous Indigo Blue. Photo credit: Don Spiro.

What’s the burlesque scene like in Seattle, and do you have any recommendations for travelers on how to tap into what’s going on there?

Seattle’s burlesque scene is second only to New York in size, and has produced some of the most stellar, high-production value shows in the world. The active Seattle Burlesque Google calendar lists most shows, and the Seattle Burlesque Press blog has regular previews and reviews.

What other burlesque performers (legendary or contemporary) have inspired you the most personally and why?

As far as the vintage ladies, I am inspired by the coy elegance of Toni Elling, the bawdy curtain-humping of Marinka and the fierce intensity of Wild Cherry. My contemporary inspirations continue to be Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Miss Astrid and Tigger. I am also constantly impressed by the stellar Seattle scene, including in particular Inga Ingenue, Waxie Moon, The Shanghai Pearl, Lily Verlaine and Ernie Von Schmaltz.

Will you be returning to Atlanta for Southern Fried Burlesque Fest 2012?

I’ll be there in 2013!!!!

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