Cha Cha Velour, Burlesque Beauty and Tattooed Cutie talks Las Vegas Burlesque Festival, nursing, tourists, and more.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
1. You just produced the first ever Las Vegas Burlesque Festival! Please tell us all about the event. What were some of the most memorable moments from the festival? What were some of the biggest challenges putting it all together?
The Inaugural Las Vegas Burlesque Festival happened October 10th, 11th, and 12th. It was put together less than 6 months by myself and a small team of other members of the Las Vegas burlesque community. It’s been a project I wanted to do for many years and but never got the ball rolling on it. In May I woke up one morning and decided “It’s gonna happen this year” and it did. We learned a lot being this was the first year, but I also feel it went off very well for a first time event. The Festival consisted of three nights of showcases, a performer’s brunch, a special shopping trip/performer party at DuBurry’s Fashions, and a vendor fair.
My two main goals with this festival was to focus on making it the best experience for the performers in it and to expose burlesque to an audience that may have never seen it before. I’ve been in a bunch of festivals and all of them have had different positives and negatives. I wanted The Las Vegas’ Burlesque Festival to offer performers coming to perform in it fun and convince. And I think we met that goal from taking to many performers that were a part of it. The location of the Friday and Saturday showcases we The Plaza Hotel and Casino which is located in the heart of the Fremont Street area of Downtown Las Vegas. The showroom of The Plaza has a great vintage Vegas feel and is one of the last ‘Vegas Style’ showrooms that still exists in this city. We really pushed in our promotion of the festival that we were bringing the New Burlesque to a classic Vegas venue, giving audiences a vintage Vegas experience with a new twist.
There were many memorable moments during the festival. We were really excited to have Kalani Kokonuts (Miss Exotic World 2009) and Melody Sweets (star of Absinthe) as our headliners. Both are not only stellar performers, but they also both call Las Vegas their home. At the Friday night showcase, we had a “Happy Birthday” presentation to Burlesque Legend Tiffany Carter and the whole audience sung her Happy Birthday and we presented her with a cake on stage. Tempest Storm was one of our VIP guests and was in the audience at Friday and Saturday night’s showcases. The most memorable act for me of all three shows was Don’t Blink Burlesque’s Baby Got Back act. It was totally 90’s hip hop fabulous!
The biggest challenge by far was financial. Getting monetary sponsors was difficult with have such a short time to put the whole show together. I funded the majority of it out of my own pocket. We made a some wrong choices with the money spent on the festival and we did loose money this first year. We are already planning the 2014 show and making a few changes to the event. The 2014 show will be called The Las Vegas Burlesque Spectacular instead of The Las Vegas Burlesque Festival and will happen in November 2014 instead of October.
I went to an audition for a burlesque troupe called Babes in Sin in July 2006. At that time that was the only burlesque happening in Las Vegas. I got accepted at the audition and that’s how I came into this sparkly burlesque world.
Earlier in 2006 I was playing roller derby in Vegas as one of The Sin City Roller Girls. I had acquired a pretty serious knee injury in the Spring and was currently not skating and just managing the team. I was looking for another “hobby” at that time and saw the audition for The Babes in Sin troupe on MySpace. It started as a hobby, but in just a short time it became a lot more. I don’t make my living at burlesque, but it’s also way more then a hobby.
When I was a child I was always in dance class and took structured dance classes all the way through college. I did both school and community theater when I was a teenager. After college I didn’t have any dance or theater in my life until I got into burlesque.
3. In addition to burlesque production, performance and instruction in Las Vegas, you also have a full-time job as a registered nurse in the critical care field; how are you able to find the time to get everything done? Are you able to share any advice with others who may be struggling balancing day jobs with burlesque pursuits?
Nursing is actually a great profession for a burlesque performer to have. Full time at the hospital is working a 12hr shift 3 days a week. That leaves 4 whole days open for burlesque. Plus nursing pays really well, so there is money to pay for costumes and traveling to festivals and such. Currently the nursing job I have is only part-time, I don’t work any weekends, and it’s really easy for me to take time off. I’ve been fortunate enough to balance my nursing income and burlesque income to have a really comfortable life right now. I’ll never be able to leave nursing all together and survive on burlesque and I know I’ll have to go back to working full time at nursing some day. But for now I’m really enjoying my situation. Because of the way my nursing life and burlesque life are balanced I was able to open up a small burlesque dance studio called Las Vegas Burlesque Classes in Las Vegas in 2011.
I do find it difficult to balance dealing with the fun and fantasy of my burlesque life with my nursing life. I can easily get depressed and frustrated with my nursing job, especially after a burlesque weekender like BHoF Weekend or BurlyCon. It’s so painful to go back to the hospital after being immersed in a sparkly world for days. I love being a nurse and I’ve been one since 2002. But I’m also a bit burned out. When I have these emotional struggles about my nursing job I just remind myself that the nursing job makes it possible for me to have health insurance, pay my mortgage, and afford me more burlesque fun time.
4. I’m interested in the dynamic of producing neo-burlesque shows in Las Vegas, a town which is saturated with entertainment of all varieties, especially cabaret shows marketing themselves as “burlesque.” Is your show primarily a locals show or do you attracts tourists as well? How has your marketing strategy evolved over time as the local (or tourist) climate has changed? It must be such a difficult city to keep up with!
I produce a monthly show here in Vegas called Live Burlesque in Las Vegas and we are going into our 4th year. When I started it was the only monthly burlesque show happening and was still the only one until a little over a year ago. The home for the show has always been at a small bar called Boomers. I am fortunate that the bar owners love us and have an amazing relationship with the venue. There are some shows on The Las Vegas Strip that advertise being “burlesque” but really are just showgirl or cabaret show. It’s a word Las Vegas loves to use and not really get right in the big production shows in a lot of the casinos. The one exception being Absinthe at Caesars Palace.
My show does get some tourists in our audience. We come up search engines if you search “Las Vegas Burlesque” and if people know what they are looking for they find us and come see the show. It’s been difficult to tap into the “average tourists” population. But I’m not really sure if Live Burlesque in Las Vegas is for that population. Our showroom only has 75 seats and is in the back of a dive bar that is not that close to Las Vegas Boulevard. They show has a good reputation and we have a good crowd every month.
Now The Las Vegas Burlesque Festival/Spectacular is s different situation. My goal for this show is to attract an “average tourist” population. That was difficult with the 2013 show. But we are looking at ways to improve that for 2014. This is a very challenging city for anything DIY, fringe, or underground such as burlesque, art, and music.
5. I’d also like to ask about private event bookings. Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but being a tattooed performer, based on my experiences and what I’ve seen and heard, I would think that in Vegas – I presume most clients are requesting a very specific type of performer (ex – a “Showgirl” look) and in some cases do you find that having tattoos, etc. excludes you from performing in your own private events?
Being heavily tattooed and being plus size limits me from doing some of the events that are available in Las Vegas and also outside of Las Vegas too. I’m cool with it though. I don’t get upset when I don’t get a gig due to the way I look. It’s just reality. I do get contacted to book other performers for different types of private gigs. I have a reputation of being the “go to” gal in Las Vegas for burlesque. So even if I’m not what a client is looking for I get contacted to help them book other performers. I am very real about what type of look and performer is right for certain things.
My 1963 home is awesome. I love where I live and I love how my husband and I have transformed the house over the last few years. I live in a neighborhood called Paradise Palms and in the 1960’s the was THE place to live in Vegas. Many celebrities used to live here such as Phyllis Diller, Bobby Darin, Buddy Hacket, and Foster Brooks. The model my house is was designed my Palmer and Krisel who also designed a lot of homes in Palm Springs.
When I bought the house a few years back it was almost uninhabitable and had been empty for the previous 5 years. My husband is in construction and we felt we could take on the huge challenge of rehabbing this house. We’ve had a lot of fun designing and carrying out our visions for this house. The whole house has been brought back to the 1960’s. We have a pink kitchen, a kidney shaped swimming pool, and a butterfly roofline. We both love retro kitsch and our home shows this through our epic tiki bar room and our religious kitsch “Jesus” guest room.