The Original Ruby Rockit of Austin, Texas will perform at Hot Rods and Heels next month. Here, she chats about Children in Heat, zombies, Red Light, merch, and Smooth Operators.
Interview: Bubbles vonBonBon; Photos: Courtesy of Ruby Rockit
Q: One of the first and most important questions we face as performers entering into burlesque is: what is in a name? What does your name communicate? Can you describe it as it relates to your dance style, fashion sense, or personality?
Well, to be honest, I picked Ruby Rockit because at the time I started I had ruby red hair, and I rock it on the stage! I had a really hard time choosing a name and choosing Ruby Rockit was as simple as that. I wanted to convey an “out of this world’ red haired bombshell….though I only rock blue hair at this point!
Q: Although you started your career in Austin, you have traveled extensively along the west coast performing. What are the differences between west coast audiences and Texas audiences? Are there extensive differences along the west coast as well, say Seattle versus LA?
Yes, I saw huge differences in the audiences within the West Coast. Seattle has so many wonderful places to perform and it seems the community has really embraced burlesque, so the crowds were amazing. In LA I didn’t get that same vibe, but honestly I haven’t performed there enough to really compare. It was a lot of fun going to some of the smaller cities like Chico and Modesto where they don’t see a lot of burlesque. The audiences were wild and enthusiastic and I sold a ton of merch. But all in all, nothing beats my crowd here in Austin. The people who come to our shows at Continental for Lone Star Round Up are a blast. Every time we perform at Continental, Alamo Drafthouse, or the Highball, we always sell out- Austin has been so very supportive and the burlesque fans here are fantastic!
Q: How do you differ as a performer within each of your roles—Red Light Burlesque, Dolls from the Crypt, and your dual position of performing and producing in Ruby Rockit Presents? Beyond the costumes, how does your style change?
Since I am the head of Red Light, my role goes beyond performer- I am in charge of booking, merch, organizing meetings, practices, photo shoots, etc. It’s my biggest responsibility and I am still trying to master the balancing act! I do sometimes wish I had more time to focus on just dancing. We are traditional bump and grind burlesque and go down to pasties & g-strings, so within Red Light I often use fan dancing, gown and glove routines, and wear a very classic glamour look.
Dolls From the Crypt is a horror cabaret troupe. It’s more theatrical in the sense that we have much more props and heavy choreography. It is not burlesque, though it is risqué, there is much less stripping involved and does not usually go down to pasties and g-string. Because we are horror themed, our costumes can be all over the board! I wear “zombie” contacts and my make-up is much more extreme. I do incorporate some of my traditional moves into some of it- for instance I do a vampire routine that starts out a classic fan dance but ends with blood spilling out of my mouth and instead of revealing my boobs I reveal that my heart has been ripped out. In addition to our regular shows, we also go-go dance for Children in Heat. They are a Misfits tribute band and we get to go crazy with that! Fringe, blood, and lots of shakin’ it! I have far less responsibility with the Dolls, so it really it’s nothing but fun!
With Ruby Rockit Presents, I try to bring in a variety of talent to each show. Girls with all different styles, so I feel that I can be more open with my style as well. I’ll throw in a black vinyl clad number I do to Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine in addition to a classic fan dance to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Night and Day.” It’s whatever I feel like! There’s a lot of work to be done getting the shows together, but so far they have exceeded my expectations!
Q: You recently took charge as head of Red Light Burlesque. What direction are you hoping to carry Red Light Burlesque into? What sort of dynamic do you feel works best for troupes? For instance do you prefer similar styles and methods? Do you have an opinion on duets versus full group numbers? What do you think works best to still allow each girl to shine individually while still performing as a cohesive whole?
Red Light has been performing in Austin since 2001, and over the last 2 years our light dimmed a bit. With some girls retiring or needing a much deserved break, RLB laid low for a while and in my opinion got lost in the now crowded burlesque scene. We have remained a traditional burlesque troupe throughout the almost 10 years we’ve been around, and I feel like my goal is to keep classic burlesque alive in Austin. I have refreshed the troupe with new girls (who will be debuting at the Round Up!) and we are going to do more shows and be much more involved in the burlesque scene.
I prefer for everyone to fall in to the category of traditional, but I don’t care how they want to express themselves within that. I encourage all the girls to do whatever they feel comfortable with, whatever they feel their strong suit is. I want them to stand out as individuals within a troupe using their talent whatever it may be. In our troupe there is the freedom to do what you want.
In the past Red Light has always danced to a live band and had duos, trios, and a group number at the end of every show. What that meant was a whole lot of meeting and rehearsing. We all have day jobs with conflicting schedules, meeting with a live band adds 5 more people to the mix of schedules, so for now it’s become too hard for us to meet often enough to make amazing group numbers. I’d rather have a really polished solo to recorded music than a half assed group to live music! I do encourage any of the girls who have the time to do a duo or trio to do it! I miss them and I wish we could- but I’d take quality over quantity so to speak.
Q: How many routines do you keep in your repertoire, your sparkle dance bag if you will? What helps you to decide whether a routine becomes part of your collection or only serves as a one time performance?
I have about 5 regulars and rotate them out, with a handful of specialty acts built for specific shows. I don’t always come up with new routines for every event, as that can be costly and inefficient, but once in a while I’ll make something for a specific event and it just ends up being a regular! My “Night and Day” fan dance came from a Casablanca themed fashion show that I danced at last summer. I loved it so I’ve been using it all year! I like to keep a variety of routines on hand to meet the needs of any show I may be in.
Q: Describe your process for us. Each of us has our own method for what comes first. When you begin to envision a routine do you approach with your music, costume, or concept first? Once you begin, how long does the preparation take? Does anyone get a preview or is when you step on stage the first time anyone sees what you’ve been up to?
I have done it every which way! Sometimes I’ll just see fabric at the store and start envisioning some wonderful costume. I usually try to start with the theme or concept, but it seems my best costumes I’ve made on a whim! I prefer to find my music first whenever possible. There is nothing more frustrating to me than an awesome costume idea with no matching music to be found! I’m having that problem right now with a routine I plan on using this spring. Awesome costume pieces, amazing prop already built, and can’t find the perfect song or songs!
I have taken a month to finish some costumes, but I have also made some in one night! My red and black cha-cha dress that I use for “Smooth Operator” by Dorothy Dandridge I made in one night after I had changed my mind completely on what I was going to do! I think I may work best under pressure, but maybe that’s because I always seem to be under pressure. I will sometimes show the girls if I’m stuck on choreography, but I prefer to video myself and learn from watching myself what I need to change. I like keeping it a secret and revealing a new act to the audience!
Q: Like all burlesque girls trying to make it full-time in the business, you are very well rounded in all things surrounding your art. That I know of, you are a stylist, makeup artist, dancer, model, and costumer. What percentage of your time and energy would you say you function within each capacity? What percentage of each would you like to see yourself doing as your career progresses?
Well, I am a hairstylist and make-up artist first and foremost. That is my calling and what brings me joy- and money every day! I have never had the disillusion that I could do burlesque full time. I love burlesque and go-go, dancing is a major passion of mine, but I need more stability than being a full time performer would allow. I will hopefully always be able to keep dancing as a part time job, and doing hair and make-up gives me the flexibility to do so. And funds the money for traveling and costumes! Modeling I feel like I have neglected a little bit lately, so I hope to do more shoots in the coming year. I enjoy it so much! So I think the order would be hair, make-up, burlesque, modeling then costumes.
Q: There are fifteen million different ways to define burlesque. As a performer who personally participates in more than one style of striptease, how do you describe burlesque to people outside of the community?
I would describe burlesque as the art of the tease. The art of seducing the audience with just a wink and a smile! But then I’d have to follow that sweet little cliché with “We don’t get naked and no, we don’t give lap dances.”
Q: People who have never attended a show are often surprised to learn that the audiences consists of an equal if not more numerous amount of women. How do you feel that burlesque contributes positively to women embracing both their sexuality as well as their bodies, both for performers and spectators?
People who have never attended a show are often under the assumption that it’s similar to a strip club experience in some ways- they think it’s mostly men, or think we accept tips, etc.. Then when they come see us they are always so pleasantly surprised at how almost PG-13 so much of it is! We have so many female supporters which makes me feel like I am doing my job right. I think a lot of girls come and realize that we are all different shapes and sizes, we aren’t perfect, but that we OWN our bodies and our sexuality.. it makes them feel like they can do it too, like they can love their body for what it is and be sexy just the way they are. Burlesque shows women that it’s ok to be whatever size as long as you own it, and love it! I know that myself included, many burlesque performer friends of mine have come quite a long way with their body issues through the art of burlesque. I don’t even think twice now about being scantily clad in front of 800 people. This is me- and I have no apologies!
Q: Burlesque requires a definitive level of self-promotion in order to garner attention. What has served as your most successful means of self-promotion?
I am a merch girl! I have t-shirts, stickers, photos and koozies for sale at every show. I also take advantage of all the networking sights out there, and for shows I always have an amazing poster made for both print and web to be plastered everywhere. I’m a firm believer in shameless self promotion.