Seattle’s Indigo Blue talks BurlyCon, Menorahs and miracles, pandas, Portuguese, education, and Wild Cherry. Miss Blue hosts BurlyCon this month, and performs in Dallas on Dec 3rd at Viva Dallas Burlesque.
By: Divertida Devotchka
Along with Jo Boobs Weldon, you are the mastermind behind Seattle’s BurlyCon, a burlesque convention which focuses on education and community-building, as opposed to performances or competition. This year’s BurlyCon is October 14-17, with workshops on topics such as costuming, history, business and ethics. What have you learned and/or changed about the event since the first BurlyCon in 2008? What aspect of the event are you most looking forward to?
I first conceptualized BurlyCon back in 2005, inspired by the Tease-o-Rama daytime convention classes organized by Alison Fenserstock and Baby Doe. These were a brilliant start at peer-based education and were the first opportunities for the community to have face-to-face conversations about issues that arose at shows and were discussed online. Unfortunately, at festivals we are often distracted by performance demands, and are unable to really immerse ourselves in conversation and learning. I now envision BurlyCon as part of the mission of the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s Education Program, providing ongoing professional development resources to the growing Burlesque community.
The first BurlyCon was organized by myself, Dane Ballard, and Dale Rio with Jo Weldon and myself as the Programming Chairs. The first Convention was really a proof of concept – that is, “if you build it, will they actually come?” The response was resounding and powerful, “just what the community needed” was heard again and again from attendees. In the second convention, we responded to feedback and had longer classes, more breaks between classes, and a wider variety of instructors. This third year, we’re adapting to accommodate three different class lengths, repeating popular classes throughout the weekend, and presenting a Saturday night Dance Party open to the public. I can’t wait to get my dance on with all the presenters and attendees!
We continue to evolve BurlyCon and incorporate our lessons-learned. Due to the increase in attendance each year, we are moving to a new fabulous location conveniently near the Sea-Tac airport. BurlyCon 2011 will be October 20-23 and we will even further expand our course offerings, including a track for researchers and academics.
You just competed for Queen of Burlesque at the 2nd Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival, as well as teaching your workshop “the Art of the Tease.” What was the best part of your experience at the festival?
It was a magical experience to be in New Orleans again. My first visit to New Orleans was the first Tease-o-Rama in 2001, which is essentially the undisputed galvanizing moment in Neo Burlesque History. What I most loved about the festival was seeing Bambi Sr. and Wild Cherry perform on Sunday night, and seeing Satan’s Angel perform on Friday night. It is always inspiring, moving, and thrilling to see the ladies do their thing on stage.
Well, as you know, I am Jewish – and one of my favorite acts to perform in the winter is my Chanukah Menorah act. I won’t say much about it except that A Great Miracle will happen…
What kind of an impact has “A Wink and a Smile” (the 2008 documentary based largely on your burlesque academy) had on your life (professional and/or personal)?
Being a part of the making of the film was an amazing experience. The filmmaker, Deirdre Timmons, is a former student and brilliant storyteller. I trusted her completely to handle the intimate and public details of the film. The film has had an incredible impact on both me, and the Academy. It is thrilling to receive the emails and messages from people all over the country who have seen the film in independent theaters or on Netflix, iTunes, and most recently on the Ovation channel. It’s gratifying to hear how inspired people are by the experiences of the students.
The Academy has definitely received an increase in attendance since the release of the film. Many newer students have already seen the film, and thus have that as their framework and expectations.
You founded the Academy of Burlesque in Seattle in 2003. How has the academy evolved over the years?
When I first founded the Academy, I was teaching dance classes in a small studio run by a local feminist self-defense organization, and teaching the 6-week workshops in my living room! Thanks to the incredible generosity of Seattle’s Century Ballroom, last fall we were able to move into one of their stunning 2,000 square foot mirrored studios with wood floors, a gorgeous stage, and blue velvet curtains in a 1908 historic building! Having a centralized and public space for students to dance, learn and perform has been so wonderful for the Academy. We now offer classes year-round including the famed 6-week performance workshop “Burlesque 101”, Bellydance and Bump & Grind dance classes, and specialty classes like “The Art of the Tease”, “Tassel Twirling”, “Walking In Heels”, and “Burlesque Makeup.”
In the early days I taught all the classes myself and handled the administration. The Academy has grown so much that we now employ 6 additional instructors and an administrator. My extraordinarily talented staff and faculty are invaluable, and all of them are lauded working Burlesque professionals in the Seattle and National scene. Regular instructors include The Shanghai Pearl, Waxie Moon, Fuchsia FoXXX, Ruby Mimosa, Inga Ingenue, and Ernie Von Schmaltz, most of whom you can also see in the film “A Wink and a Smile”. It would not be impossible for the Academy to have grown without my Administrator (and Sexy Secretary) Polly Wood, as well as my assistants Lydia McLane and Verilee Faux. It gives me great pride to provide employment opportunities for working professionals and for graduates.
Your performance “Temptation” is a stunning take on New Orleans burlesque legend Wild Cherry. What do you find the most inspiring about Wild Cherry and how much research and preparation did it take before you felt you could do a tribute properly?
Thank you for that wonderful compliment! I absolutely adore Wild Cherry (she just made me a delicious breakfast of fried eggs this morning before I left New Orleans!) and have fawned on her since I first learned the Burlesque Walk from her at Tease-o-rama in New Orleans in 2001. Her style, grace, and power just blew me away. To tell the story of that act, I have to tell you a few other things: I have been a member of the Atomic Bombshells Burlesque Troupe since 2004. The founders, Kitten La Rue & Fanny n’Flames were taught their moves by Wild Cherry and Kitty West when they were part of the legendary Shim Sham Revue in New Orleans. Now, I have admired Cherry since I first met her. And along with Trixie Little & The Evil Hate Monkey, I have the privilege of being one of her Legend Minders at the Burlesque Hall of Fame reunion each year. But I got to be close with Cherry when she was in Seattle for an Atomic Bombshells show. She stayed at my house and we just talked for hours that weekend. She is the feistiest, fiercest, most determined and powerful woman I’ve met, and she has the most tender, generous heart.
What I find most inspiring about Wild Cherry is her absolute commitment to her fierceness. She will never back down from a fight, and in fact she’s been known to instigate one or two. When I very first saw her do the Burlesque Walk in that class back in 2001, and saw the delicacy and fluidity of her handwork, I was instantly impressed with her dance ability. This is even more impressive when you know that she learned her dance moves while on the carnival circuit – she peered through curtains and watched exotic dancers and performers from all over the world, and imitated them. This combined with her personal style, seething fiery sexuality, and stunning features, made her absolutely riveting to audiences.
The preparation for the act was long. Kitten La Rue, the Artistic Director of the Atomic Bombshells, asked me to perform a tribute to Cherry in our show “Nightfall in New Orleans”. I asked Cherry and she agreed. Cherry had taught her “Temptation” act to a Shim Sham Revue member in the past, and Kitten translated those movements to me. We evolved the choreography, and then I showed the piece to Cherry for her approval and feedback. Cherry was extremely moved to see it. Her daughter said “you look just like Mom when she used to practice in the kitchen!” I performed the act in “Nightfall” and then was honored to be accepted to perform it at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. I evolved the act further this last year by adding a prologue to it that references the snake armband Cherry used to wear. I think of the prologue as “the snake that bit Cherry and made her Wild!”
To properly do a tribute act, I believe it’s important to collaborate directly with the subject of the tribute (if still living) and realize that it is an enactment of THEIR vision. When I perform Wild Cherry’s act, I feel that I am doing her act – as Kitten de Ville said this weekend in the Contemporary Performers Panel, to do a tribute to a legend is really a humbling dedication of devotion to their talent and their work. We want it to make their legacy shine, which is a tremendous responsibility and honor.
You’re the co-director of education at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. What exactly does that entail?
As the co-Directors for Education at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, Jo Weldon and I coordinate the Legend Classes each year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame reunion. We are also developing standards for curriculum and certification for instructors of Burlesque, authorized by the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Building BurlyCon into a self-sustaining educational event is part of our long-range plans. Jo is also working on paper archives.
Please share some of your fondest memories in your performing career.
Well, I feel like my performing career is just starting, but here are some of my favorites thus far: I loved travelling to Shanghai with the Atomic Bombshells; I never thought I’d have the chance to traipse through a bamboo forest like a panda. I also adored the opportunity to perform in Portugal with the Atomic Bombshells; it was so fun to speak Portuguese, my favorite language! Other highlights include the incredible show produced by Gurlesque Burlesque in Chicago with Margaret Cho, and the opportunity to perform my Ricci Cortez tribute act at last year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends night.