Texas based performer Donna Denise talks gentleman’s clubs, competition, drama, and motherhood.
Q: You are relatively new to the world of burlesque, nominated Texas Newcomer of the Year in 2011, but are not new to the world of professional dance, as you began your career years ago as a feature entertainer in gentleman’s clubs. What brought you to burlesque?
I have always been a fan of burlesque. I had collected VHS tapes for years, long before I had ever done a burlesque show. While touring the gentleman’s club circuit, I didn’t know of anyone doing burlesque or even where to go see a show. I had always hoped to someday do burlesque or a show stylized like a burlesque show.
Q: Your long break from the stage was due to the birth of your first and only child, whom, it is very apparent to any observer, is truly the love of your life. How did motherhood change your life?
Motherhood is the best thing to EVER happen to me. My daughter is the most amazing person I have ever met. I have never felt love, happiness, and joy like I do when I am around her and when I think about her. Being a mom put me in check. Meaning, all of the negative people and influences that I allowed to be in my life, I let go immediately. All of the things I was gonna do, I didn’t actually do until she came into my life. I guess she is my motivation to do better and be better.
Q: Your daughter has special needs; what additional challenges does this present? Do you have advice for parents in the same boat?
My daughter was born with a neurodevelopmental disorder which has lead to her having speech and learning disabilities. (In some cases, children born with this condition develop autism and other more severe disorders.) Luckily, her case is not as extreme as it could be.
The only challenges are it takes longer to complete school work because the information has to processed differently for her. I also give her extra work as repetition helps her to understand what she is learning. The school system allows her to have more time to finish her work which is a blessing. Another challenge is keeping her motivated and positive when she feels like she everyone around her knows more than she does. I constantly remind her how great, smart, amazing, beautiful, sweet, and loving she is. I remind her that there have been times in the class when she knew the answer when the other kids didn’t (that makes her just as smart as anyone else). I also let her know that she doesn’t have to be the best, just do your best. And that no matter what, I am always proud of her and love her. For any parent in this situation, I can only advise patience and acceptance. Be encouraging and positive to your children. They look to us to feel and know that they are ok, and we have to instill that in them.
I just took a chance one day. I saw an opportunity to audition, and in my mind I decided it was now or never. I thought if I gave it one more chance to be on stage, I will have proven to myself that I could do it.
As far as “mommy time” and “me time”, when I am with my daughter, I give her all of my attention. I need for her to know, feel, and believe that she always comes first. I do take her with me when I go to fabric stores and craft supply stores. She loves being artistic and creating art (painting, drawing, sculpting) so for her she always gets something out of it. I also use these opportunities to teach her how to do things like how to sew and decorate her own things. When she goes to bed or goes to play with friends; that is “me time.” That is when I get the bulk of the work done, and I am ok with that. I like my daughter; I genuinely like being around her and hanging out with her.
Q: Who are your top three burlesque role models and why?
I adore Catherine D’Lish!! She is beautiful, graceful, sensuous, glamorous, and super nice. Lily St Cyr is another role model. She too was an incredible performer; I love watching her. Her movements and expression…. (deep sigh). Dirty Martini. She is beautiful, confident, sassy, and really nice also. (Please believe there are so many more who inspire me.)
Q: With a background as a feature entertainer you must have a wealth of great tips on competition. In addition, you recently earned the title of “Most Glamorous” at The Great Southern Exposure Festival in North Carolina; what are your views on competition in burlesque and what advice would you give to gals who are competing?
I enjoy going to the different competitions. You get to meet and see some many great performers. I try not to see it as a competition but more as an opportunity to showcase what I can do.
1)Just do your best; that is all you can do. If you bring your “A” game and give it your all, then crown are not you are still a winner.
2) We all do this to entertain so don’t lose sight of being an entertainer. The audience came to see a great show; you came to do a get show, so give it to ’em!
3) Have fun and be fun.
Q: You have an amazing grace and humility about you that is incredibly endearing, and your kind and generous nature makes you so easy to love. In fact, you recently earned the award for “Sweetest Lady in Burlesque” at the Dallas Burlesque Festival. With a day job of managing an all female staff and your evening burlesque gigs; you spend the majority of your time in worlds full of women competing for the spotlight. How do you manage to always steer clear of conflict, and what advice would you give to ladies struggling with “drama” or cattiness?
I simply cannot have drama in my life. It will affect everything if I let it. I understand people have conflict, I understand some people do not get along; I understand that sometimes it is just a bad day for someone. I try to counsel and console if I can. I offer a hug if needed. I also know when a girl just needs to be left alone.
For people who find themselves involved in drama ALL the time, they have to realize that in all those situations, the one common denominator is them. They have to be willing to accept their role in the drama, change their behavior, and move on, hopefully avoiding future problems.
Not at all. I love burlesque more and more because color and ethnicity don’t appear to be an issue. The people who like burlesque just want to see a good show. They want to be entertained. And as long as you are giving the audience your best, they will love what you do regardless.
Q: If you could have dinner with any five people living or dead, who would they be and why?
Jayne Mansfield– She was beautiful, funny, and smart; I’d like to watch her work a room.
Janet Jackson– She is an all-around entertainer and I would like to know what advice she could share.
Mae West– She had so much sass, intelligence and the best wardrobe ever.
Jesus- Because it’s Jesus.
And my daughter-She just makes me happy. (Luckily, I get to dine with her all the time.)
Q: What’s next for Donna Denise?
I’d like to travel more. I would really like to perform in Italy, France, Spain, well, all over Europe. I hope to do more pin-up modeling also. Outside of those things, I’m very happy with my life. If I don’t get to do those other things, I think I will be ok. I’ve done a lot and seen a lot already, so if this is it, I’m ok with that.