Interview & Photographs: Shoshana, of DallasPinUp.com
Q: You describe your style as “avant garde”. What do you choose this term and what do you hope viewers will walk away with from your performances?
The word avant-garde is defined as new and unusual or experimental ideas, especially in the arts.¹ Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm.² I simply feel this explains what I do, who I am, and what I aim to achieve as a performer. It’s a motivational term that expresses my desire to go above and beyond what’s safe, comfortable or expected.
While I don’t personally see a lack of innovation in the scene at all, I feel being avant-garde speaks to the style and execution of creativity. In my case I utilize modern/alternative music, costuming and concepts over the beloved classic choices in many routines. I have something to say that extends far beyond my sex appeal or dance abilities; although a great deal of it hasn’t been seen on stage yet. Describing myself as avant-garde is a reminder to not be scared about going “there” and sharing that experience with others.
I cannot yet specify what I wish viewers will walk away with from my performances, but it’s my hope that I will be embraced for my beauty, brains and balls.
¹ Oxford English Dictionary
Q: In addition to your “alternative” views on burlesque, you also have some alternative personal views. Can you explain your desire to “create the world’s largest swapping environment” while “shacking up with your huge polyamourous family”?
Ha! I see when those two phrases are set side-by-side it’s quite suggestive. However, in my case “swapping” is a reference to stuff, not people and partners. One of my entrepreneurial pursuits before burlesque was creating an NPO where I hosted parties for (mostly) women to exchange all their excess stuff with one another. Even though I switched gears, I have every intention of continuing that work on a much larger scale because it’s tragic how wasteful and resourcefully careless we are on this planet.
As for the other mention, I am a bi-sexual, polyamorous woman. While I am married to a wonderful, gorgeous man I adore, it is my ultimate desire to have multiple partners in open-but-committed extended relationships that result in a huge family with oodles of super-kids and pets running around on our eco-farm village. I’m definitely a modern hippie.
Q: Though you have extensive formal dance training, you opted for the world of burlesque as opposed to say, joining a touring dance company. Can you share with us how you picked your path in the dance world?
When I first fell in love with dance as a child it was upon the discovery that dance was a language, and it became a conversation I could have with myself to learn more about who I was. It was a secret place that I could disappear to and feel more truth and honesty than I did in the real world. As I grew older and navigated the dance domain further, it got farther and farther from what I wanted it to be.
After high school I knew I would not be happy in any of the traditional homes for a dancer, and decided to withdraw. I trusted I would find or make my own way. I had first found The Wall in Deep Ellum, where I cut my freestyle chops, then belly dancing at my local YMCA, and finally burlesque. It’s in this community that I have the freedom I was searching for.
Q: It’s been quite a year for you! Since leaving the Velvet Kittens, your former troupe, you have been a solo performer for just about a year now and were recently earned the Newcomer Award- One to Watch at Hot Rods and Heels as well as being selected from a pool of hundreds to perform at Viva Las Vegas. Have those recent experiences influenced your burlesque outlook or feelings on competition within burlesque?
It has been an exciting year full of new experiences for sure, although familiar at the same time since I’ve been performing successfully most of my life. Still, in a new community you don’t exactly know what to expect so I feel very lucky to have been so welcomed and recognized!
I continue to feel that there should be better ways to recognize performers than having them be formally judged in competitions, but I am grateful for being selected and the opportunities that stem from that of course!
Q: As well as the highs, you’ve had some lows this year. As a result of a random and violent attack several years ago, you spent some time early this year in surgery. How’s your health now?
Well the low was really 8 years ago when it happened and in the past year I’ve been very lucky with the two surgeries I’ve had so far. I have two more planned as of right now but my costs have been completely covered so that’s a huge relief. I also chose a naturopathic physician I just love and their whole team is wonderful; they take very good care of me. It’s one step at a time and while I don’t know exactly what the end result of all the work will be, I have been able to focus on healing and have every reason to be optimistic about it.
Q: In addition to aspiring to be “a world renowned burlesque star”, also have “successful indie singer/songwriter” on your list of lifetime ambitions. Any chance we’ll be hearing you sing anytime soon?
I hope so! I’ve been singing and writing songs since I was 8 or 9, but I developed a major case of stage fright. I can be brought to tears singing so easily (damn emotions) and letting my music be heard feels like the most vulnerable and exposed I’ve ever been. But, I’ve been practicing with my husband and friends so it’s in the works. I have a signature act and song called “My Name is Bunny” that I’d love to get on stage- it’s upbeat and adorable, so I won’t cry.
Hopefully everything we’ve discussed so far (which is a shitload)! I will continue performing and modeling, although I will be slowing down a bit. The acts I want to put on stage next are all pretty much going to take a while to prepare.
Even more of a consideration than that however, is my recent decision to return to school and get my degree in Environmental/Sustainable Architecture. This is a very big deal and will mean a move and performing only during summers once I’m enrolled. That is ideal for me though, as I need a healthy dose of scholastic endeavors to balance my artistic activities.
A future full of love, laughter, learning, philanthropy, art, community, creating, travel and other such great things- that’s the plan!
We last spoke with Austin-based Coco Lectric back in November. Since that interview, she has gone on to win the Title of Texas Performer of the Year, “Texas Burlesque Ambassador”, and will be performing later this month with none other than Dita Von Teese. We certainly have a lot of catching up to do, and were honored when Coco took time out of her insanely busy schedule for an interview with us.
Interview & Photographs: Shoshana, of DallasPinUp.com
Q: Since we last interviewed you in November, so much has happened! First, let’s talk Hot Rods and Heels. You won the Texas Performer of the Year title, and The Jigglewatts won for Texas Troupe of the Year. Tell us a bit about the evolution of your work over the last nine months.
The last nine months has been a pretty wild ride. I’ve done more producing than I ever have. We opened the year with a Tribute to Bettie Page which featured The Jigglewatts and Dallas performers, Ginger Valentine and Elisa and other amazing Austin girls. Miss Ruby Joule and I have done a lot more traveling as well; we performed in Albuquerque at the Southwest Burlesque Showcase and in Bustout Burlesque in New Orleans. I performed in Chicago with Michelle L’Amour and her Chicago Startlets in Chicago for “Stripper’s Holiday” in April.
Dallas made reaching my goal of getting my name out there because I got the opportunity to perform in shows with Catherine D’Lish, Perle Noire, Angie Pontani, and my personal favorite, Dirty Martini. I’ve also made festivals a priority this year because, not only would a title or two be wonderful, I get to learn from and become closer friends with some of my favorite burlesque performers and legends. Networking is so important in burlesque world, I mean, sharing one’s performances is kind of the point, right? Performing with other folks from all over the world that make burlesque a priority widens the net of potential audience members and fans.
Q: Right after Hot Rods and Heels, you were off to Vegas to be the only Texas performer given a performance slot at the Miss Exotic World Showcase, part of Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas, becoming our “Texas Burlesque Ambassador”. Tell us about that experience.
Being the opening act for the opening show was an honor. So many attendees told me how much they enjoyed my number and I attribute a lot of that to being the first one on stage. The audience was absolutely incredible and attentive and spent their hard earned time and money to get to the venue, so they were ready for a good show. I was SO ready to give it to them, I’d been saving up my adrenaline for that night and can honestly say that when I walked off the stage, I was content. I even got to give Perle Noire the eyes during a glove peel. She responded ecstatically! Being the “Texas Burlesque Ambassador” this year was an honor but it also brought about a new set of responsibilities. So many amazing performers here submitted applications and I was shocked that I was the only one to get in. I was nervous that if my performance wasn’t so great, they really wouldn’t take Texas seriously. I’m hoping I made a big enough splash this year that they consider more Texas performers next year.
Q: The Jigglewatts are headlining at the Lakewood Theater on July 2, and then you are off to New Orleans to perform with none other than Dita von Teese at Tales of the Cocktail. Can you tell us which number/s you are doing? Are you more nervous or excited?
I’m performing my Big Red Boa number in Dita’s show. I’m very excited about performing with her and I’m doing the long version of the song, which is what I’m most comfortable with. I’m mostly nervous that I won’t have enough rhinestones on my outfit! But seriously, I am a little nervous about performing for an entirely new audience. Most folks come to burlesque shows because they love burlesque. Dita von Teese’s audience comes to the show because they love Dita, I hope they have enough room in their burlesque hearts for a full-bodied Texan with a tan.
Q: Your four month whirlwind lands you back in New Orleans in mid September to compete for the title of Queen of Burlesque at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Last year’s competition featured an amazing line-up including burlesque super stars like Perle Noire, Catherine D’ Lish, and Lola Van Ella. What was your reaction when you were asked to compete? What is your view on competition in burlesque?
I was absolutely beside myself thrilled when I found out that I’d be competing in the Queen of Burlesque competition this year. I really want to bring something fresh, new, and a little naughty to the show this year. There is just something about performing with a live band that gets my toes curling. I actually kind of enjoy competition in burlesque, it makes me want to improve my craft and do my homework.
I’ve always been a little bit aggressive when it comes to my talents, though. If I weren’t competing with other bombshells, I’d be competing with myself. It really is difficult for a panel of judges to make a decision of who has the best act though, burlesque is like comparing different fruits. No one is selling the same exact gimmick and everyone likes something different. To be honest, I don’t really know how to compete well with other performers, there’s never a level playing field and most of us are playing different games any way.
Q: In the midst of all this, you also managed to complete your master’s degree, be a single mom, and hold down a personal relationship. How do you manage to do it all?
Wow. That really makes it sound like I’m busy, doesn’t it? The short answer is: I don’t know. I take things one moment at a time. I follow my passions and I try to temper everything with common sense and logic. My degree will open a lot of doors for me in the future, but it has taken a back seat to everything else. There are a lot of things I know I need to do right now. I need to focus on burlesque right now. I need to be a good mom right now. I need my boyfriend right now…wait that’s not what it sounds like!
On a more personal note, I only get the chance to be a great mom once. I know how important my influence is while he’s young and he is my top priority. My boyfriend has been a great support in my life, artistically and emotionally. We’ve known each other for years and I still get butterflies when I know he’s in the audience. I follow my heart and my gut in all matters of my life and, to my great surprise, I find myself where I belong.
Patriot PAWS Service Dogs
Patriot PAWS Service Dogs is a Rockwall, Texas-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of disabled veterans by providing specially-trained service dogs at no charge to the recipient. Created in February 2006 by Lori Stevens, Patriot PAWS benefits not only disabled veterans, but also changes women’s lives through their prison training program in which female inmates are given instruction on dog training. The women, currently serving at the Crain Women’s Correctional Unit and the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, Texas, teach the service dogs such skills as getting help in an emergency, retrieving items, opening and closing doors, pulling wheelchairs, helping with chores, and various other tasks as needed. Some of the dogs are even able to detect oncoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) episodes and assist the veterans in averting them.
Founder Lori Stevens, who has been training dogs for over 20 years, was named 2009 Woman of the Year by the American Legion Auxiliary, an award which in the past has been given to women like Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Dole, Laura Bush, and others. Stevens intends to enhance the lives of disabled veterans by helping them restore independence and self-sufficiency, and it is certain that any person who has received one of these amazing companions would say that she is accomplishing that goal. “It is truly a remarkable experience to watch these men and women who have so proudly and gallantly served our country when they connect with a dog,” said Stevens. “Some of these veterans have not been out in the world since their injury, preferring to stay in the relative comfort and security of their homes. Once they receive their service dog, some of these recipients begin traveling and shopping and returning to some form of normalcy.”
Lori’s service dogs, typically Labrador Retrievers, are obtained from shelters, rescue groups and reputable breeders and are individually selected based on a variety of factors. Training lasts between 18 months and 2 years, and at the completion of training the dogs are tested and certified according to Assistance Dogs International (ADI) standards. It is preferred that the dog actually choose his veteran, as opposed to the other way around. The staff observes the veteran interacting with multiple service dogs and waits until a certain dog makes his choice clear. The veteran spends 7 to 10 days at the training center learning commands and resultant behavior, and how to continue training at home. “After the veteran goes home with their new service dog, we give them a few weeks to acclimate and then we travel to their home to customize the dog to their home environment and to accompany the veteran/dog team when they begin public outings,” Stevens said. “It is imperative that the veteran and service dog team know that assistance from Patriot PAWS does not end once they receive a dog.”
The dogs completely change the lives of the veterans, thanks to the training received in the prison training program, which has also been a godsend to the women who have been selected to participate. The women are trained by Patriot PAWS staff on proper dog training techniques, and the experience helps them grow as well as giving them a new skill which they may be able to use to find work when they are released. “These women experience a tremendous lift to their self confidence and self respect,” said Stevens. “While spending much of their prison time under the cloak of indifference, being a Patriot PAWS trainer makes a prisoner feel important and that they are making a difference in the world.”
Since the beginning of the prison training program in 2008, 11 women in the program have been paroled, none of whom have returned to prison. At least half of the parolees are now working in dog-related jobs, and one parolee, Rhonda Lee, is now a full-time Patriot PAWS employee. Lee says working for Patriot PAWS is her way of giving back to society.
Achieving the goal of changing lives certainly isn’t cheap. Training a dog costs between $20,000 and $30,000 and since the vets aren’t expected to pay for the service, donations of all kinds are extremely important to the livelihood of the program. Money is obviously very helpful to the cause and donations are tax-deductible. Patriot PAWS also needs volunteers to do everything from bathing and walking dogs, to organizing fundraisers, office work, and so on. While donations of family pets are not accepted, you can contribute by donating dog toys, treats, leashes, collars, gift cards to pet stores, and dog food (Pro Plan and Natural Balance brands). Fundraising on their behalf is greatly appreciated, and if possible, Patriot PAWS can send a trainer with a service dog to demonstrate their skills at your fundraising event.
Stevens is grateful for the assistance that her organization has received, but also knows that she needs more help to attain Patriot PAWS’ goal of helping as many vets as possible. “It is our goal to soon be able to place upwards of 25 dogs a year,” Stevens said. “Currently, we have 31 dogs in training and 40 plus veterans on the waiting list, so the need is always great.” Stevens says seeing the change in the veterans’ lives makes all the hard work worthwhile. “They find that they belong in the world again, and that the dog gives them the comfort and support that allows them that freedom,” Stevens said. “Seeing that, how could I want to be anywhere else?”
For more information or to see how you can help, please visit http://www.patriotpaws.org .
For interviews with women in the prison training program and an interview with a thankful veteran, see http://www.youtube.com/patriotpaws .
With summer travel season upon us, we decided it was the perfect time to start this Monthly Feature that we’ve had in our pockets for a while now. We will feature a new Burlesque or Pin-Up Haunt every month. Have a local legend of haunted theaters, celebrity burlesque ghosts, or the like? Shoot it over to email@example.com we’d love to hear from you!
Burlesque & Pin-Up Haunts
The Ghost of Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood
The Roosevelt Hotel was made infamous in the late 1920’s as a mecca and safe haven for Hollywood stars and starlets. The first ever Academy Awards was hosted in its Blossom Room and Shirley Temple took her first tap dancing lesson on its stairway. Yet what is the reason that most tourist come to check in at the Roosevelt in the summer? A chance to see the ghost of Marilyn Monroe; who is said to appear the most during the summer months between her June 1st birthday and her August 5th death.
At the height of her fame, Marilyn resided in room 1200, a poolside suite, and the legend of her ghost at the hotel centers around a mirror that was in that room. The claims of seeing her apparition in that mirror were so prevalent, that the hotel could not accommodate all of the booking for room 1200, and decided to move the mirror to the lobby, where more hotel guests could get a good look. Miss Monroe isn’t the only ghost reported to still frequent the hotel; it is said Montgomery Clift (appeared in The Misfits with Monroe) also prefers to hotel to whatever is on “the other side” and still frequents his old room- room 928.
Oddly enough, the Roosevelt Hotel is not the only place sightings have occurred. There are two more locations that have much interest and intrigue for Marilyn fans and ghost hunters alike. Her Brentwood home, the only home she ever owned and the site of her overdose in 1962, is also said to be a hot spot for frequent visits by the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. The house is located on Helena Drive, but the current owners to not take kindly to strangers flocking to their residence. They have surrounded the property with a high fence, and do not take lightly to folks snooping around. Apparitions, mists, and shadows are the reports from the few who claim to have been allowed to investigate. There are also claims of passersby and tourists seeing apparitions of her appearing on the front porch as well.
The final claims are from visitors to her crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery. Everything from sightings of Marilyn floating over her tomb and seeing her walking along the wall, to tiny green orbs darting around has been reported.
Tips for your trip: Due to the insane popularity of this ghost story, there is a lot of wacky information on the interwebs including a claim from one of Marilyn’s “ex-husbands” that the late Anton LaVey, Founder and former High Priest of The Church of Satan, guided him through a Dark Moon ritual that result in her resurrection. People are nuts about Marilyn. Stick to the Roosevelt Hotel for your ghost hunting trip. It’s your best bet as it has a ton of claims about all sorts of famous ghosts and it is the safest location to go snooping, as it is very public. When you make the pilgrimage to the Roosevelt, you’re going to want to check out the mirror located by the elevator on the first floor.
The Tape Dilemma
By: Black Mariah
How do you apply pasties?
I think the only real point that will never have one answer between burlesque dancers is “how do you keep your pasties on?” The answers will range from Flash tape, eyelash glue, spirit gum, toupee tape, and the list grows every year I spend in the world of burlesque.
I have attended many shows, many conversations in the dressing rooms, many “pastie rescue efforts”, and one thing I do know, is as many answers as exist to the pastie dilemma question, whatever choice a dancer uses, they stick to it. (no pun intended. Ok it was intended)
I have only decided that the reason for the variety in adhesive usage is A) availability of products and B) skin types and their reaction to adhesives.
Liquid adhesives like Liquid Latex (which is also known as eyelash glue) and spirit gum, and medical glue are favored by many dancers. The disadvantage to these is the drying time. In the need of quick pastie changes, drying time cannot be an issue for a dancer’s changing regiment. Another point to consider is skin allergies. Although people can be allergic to virtually anything these days, a latex allergy is a very common allergy, and must be considered when choosing an adhesive.
The other types of adhesives are the tape style adhesives. These are adhesives that come in a solid double sided sheet type form, and are applied to the pastie, then a wax backing is removed to expose a sticky side which adheres to the skin. The tape style adhesives vary greatly in their adherence and composition. Flash tape, toupee tape, carpet tape, medical adhesive (the tape form), and many others are all adhesives used to apply a pastie. Testing products to see what works best with your particular skin type is essential to becoming a happy pastie wearer.
Make sure that whatever adhesive you choose does not take skin off when you remove the pastie, (think cheap bandaids! OUCH!) look for swelling, itching, hives or sever redness while wearing the adhesive, as all of these are signs of skin allergies or sensitivity to the adhesive.
When you apply your adhesive, apply the adhesive to the outer ring of the inside of the pastie that makes contact with your skin. Make sure your skin is clean and dry when applying the pastie, free from lotions or body oils as the adhesive will not stick when oil is present. The nipple area is sensitive and thin skinned so avoid placing adhesive where it may make contact with the nipple itself (center of the pastie). Those of you with nipple piercings will also want to avoid adhesive that will make contact with your jewelry. Pulling off the pastie when it is adhered to jewelry could cause trauma to the pierced skin. If you have exhausted every possibility of adhesives and your pastie is still coming off, then resort to putting tape adhesive all over the pastie. Do not try this method with liquid adhesive as the center of the pastie will not dry while the outside will dry. Also avoid liquid adhesives if you have piercings as wet adhesive can seep into the piercing and cause lots of issues and even infection. When removing the pastie take care and gently pull the pastie off starting on one side and pulling towards the opposite side. If the adhesive requires a remover (spirit gum) be sure to use that to remove your pastie. If you should receive battle scars or irritation from pastie removal (this will happen with repeated pastie changes in a short time) apply Neosporin or some type of triple antibiotic cream to the area that is irritated until healed. And certainly don’t cover it with a band aid!
Here are some brands you can look for to try their adhesives.
Braza bra “Flash Tape’ comes in a 30’ roll of double sided tape.Can be found at local dancer shops as well as online.
Top Stick Men’s grooming tape- toupee tape this can be found at beauty supply stores and wig shops. Top stick comes in 1×3 strips. Top Sol which is made by the same company comes in a roll, and is virtually the same product.
Double sided tape from TheBreastFormstore.com This tape is pressure sensitive and heat sensitive, becoming more secure the harder it is pressed into the skin and the longer it is worn.
Duo lash glue- get clear, the dark tone will dry black. Can be found at beauty supply stores and drugstores in the beauty supply section.
Liquid Latex- can be found online as well as local sex shops in various sized containers.
Spirit Gum/ Spirit Gum remover- sold by Ben Nye or any theatrical supply company. This product can be found online or at local costume or theatrical suppliers.
Medical adhesive/removers- can be found online through medical suppliers. Searching locally could prove to be a hard sought adventure.
Want to get the dramatic smokey eye look in just 5 minutes? This video starts with explaining that the holidays are coming, but burlesque starlets and glamour gals don’t need to wait for the holidays for dramatic make-up!
Fourth of July Cocktail
- 1 ounce watermelon schnapps
- 1 big splash cranberry juice
- 1 very thin slice jalapeno or serrano pepper
- 1 slice lemon
- 1 slice lime
- 1 1/2 ounces tequila
- 1/4 ounce blue curacao
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- Watermelon wedge, for garnish (optional)
Mix the schnapps and cranberry juice in a shaker; pour into an ice-filled glass.
Muddle the jalapeno pepper, lemon and lime slices, tequila, blue curacao and simple syrup (to make a batch, dissolve sugar in equal parts hot water and chill) in the shaker. Slowly strain into the glass over the red layer. Garnish with watermelon, if desired.
Photograph by Kate Sears