New Orleans burlesque performer, producer and instructor Bella Blue talks controversy, polyamory, New Orleans burlesque history and more.
Q: In early August, your boobs were the focus of local New Orleans news stations when a controversy arose over a poster of you outside your venue, The AllWays Lounge. You are topless in the photo, and the venue is located near a newly opened elementary school. Can you let readers in on the beginning of the controversy? Was it a surprise to you or was it expected? Was this the coolest publicity stunt ever?
A: Ya know, no one knew that they were doing a story on it at all! I feel like it was a terribly slow day in the newsroom and perhaps one person may have called up and complained about it–anything to latch onto right? Before Katrina, that was a school. It’s always been a school. And it’s always been surrounded by neighborhood bars (which is not uncommon in New Orleans proper). The school stayed closed after Katrina literally until this school year. The way that they perceived the photo is that I am completely topless–I’m not. I have pasties on. And the fact of the matter is, on any given day of the week, a child growing up in New Orleans will see way “worse.” Our city is notorious for its over indulgence. I mean, I’ll never forget my first Mardi Gras. It was the first time I ever saw an actual penis in person and it was attached to a man wearing a thong and a cape. We have so many traditions here and events that encourage sexual freedom and discourage the wearing of too many clothes. It certainly was some free promotion not only for myself but for the club which is truly a New Orleans hidden gem.
Q: What was the end result of the controversy? Is the poster still up? Are ticket sales up as a result of the media exposure? Do tell…
A: The poster is still up! I doubt it will ever really come down and if it does come down, it will be replaced with something equally as awesome. Ticket sales and interest are definitely up! As are website hits! There’s also been a little thing going around where people are taking photos of themselves with the picture and posting. It’s like “planking” but way hotter.
Q: You are also a single mother of two young boys. Have they seen the poster? What do they think? You tend to be naked a whole lot and make no apologies for being comfortable in your own skin, does this translate into teachable moments for the boys as well?
A: The boys haven’t seen the photo up on the door but they have seen that photo before. I don’t shield them from what I do and I’ve been doing it for more than half their lives at this point. They are very used to and aware that their mom is a performer. They’ve seen everything from drag queens to burlesque queens and everything in between. In our home, we don’t shame our bodies and encourage the kids to be comfortable in theirs. My oldest is definitely more modest but that’s just his personality. My younger one however is the complete opposite! We feel that if we don’t make a big deal about it, they won’t make a big deal about it. It definitely allows for open conversations regarding career choices, sexuality, and that the only acceptable way to be in life is accepting of everyone.
Q: You also are very open about your alternative lifestyle. Two years ago, after much research, your life partner and yourself decided to be polyamorous early on in your relationship. You have credited the lifestyle for teaching you a lot about yourself, as well as helping you heal after past abusive relationships. What is the most transformative lesson to date?
A: The most transformative lesson to date is that learning how to release fear based thoughts allows you to grow as a person exponentially. No matter what type of relationship you are in, there are challenges and issues to deal with. It’s natural to have fears within that. If you’re able to change your view from fear to love, you can change your world around. That love transcends from the inside out and bleeds out into every aspect of your life. Communication is also another huge lesson learned. I can communicate like a boss now!
Q: What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing polyamorous relationships? Do children complicate the issue and necessitate special accommodations?
1) Be conscious of your personal boundaries within your relationship and always honor them.
2) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. No matter what you think the outcome might be–you *must* talk about it.
3) Be good to yourself. Express your needs. Don’t forget to take time for yourself too.
Children don’t necessarily complicate our lives. We work around it and make sure that they aren’t exposed to anything they shouldn’t be. Again, we don’t hide the fact they we are poly. They are actively aware of who our close friends/lovers/partners are. They meet them and hang out with them. Those people are a part of our lives and any family functions or life events that happen. There are occasions where specific accommodations need to be met depending on the kids’ schedule. But mostly it just flows pretty well so that everyone is getting what they need–especially the boys.
Q: New Orleans has a rich burlesque history; one that you are very proud of and passionate about. What are some of your favorite stories from the early days and who are your favorite NOLA legends, or legendary venues?
A: One of my favorites was told to me by the late Kitty Twist is that there was a saying during the Storyville era that was “From Basin Street to Bourbon Street.” A lot of performers started out as prostitutes in the elaborate brothels that lined Basin Street. If you made it off Basin Street and onto Bourbon Street as a performer and no longer working in the brothel, then you “made it.” Bourbon Street now is a mere shell of what it used to be. But, when I go there and I’m toting my drag bag and feather fans through the muck of Hand Grenades and Hurricanes, I feel like I’m actually paying homage to the women who were so brave back then to pursue what they loved regardless of the social shame that was associated with it. It’s because of them that we all can do what we do today.
Q: Do you think the New Orleans burlesque community, which is very extensive, gets enough recognition on the national scale? Why or why not?
A: I think it’s getting there. When I first started performing, New Orleans wasn’t really on the map as far as notoriety among the national burlesque community. When I started performing there were a total of eighteen performers for the entire city. That’s not very much, and certainly isn’t enough to draw any national recognition to a tiny community. However, as the popularity of burlesque has grown and The New Orleans School of Burlesque continuing to teach and encourage women to get out there and perform, New Orleans has become one of the most flourishing communities and is getting lots of attention now which is well deserved. Amazing performers like Perle Noire travel the world and represent New Orleans. And despite the varying degrees of support around it, the development of the annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival has definitely drawn more people to New Orleans to gather as a community in a city that is so rich in burlesque history. I’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
Q: For burlesque enthusiasts visiting New Orleans, what are your 5 must-dos/sees?
A: Ohhhhh this is the fun stuff!!
5) Go to 80’s night at One Eyed Jack’s. It happens every Thursday at 11pm till 3am and only a $5 cover
4) Go eat at a restaurant that ISN’T listed in every travel magazine. They tend to be full of hype and tourists. Go eat at places that are more off the radar like Maurepas Foods in the Bywater. McClure’s BBQ which is Uptown. Satsuma Cafe in The Bywater. Dig around on Yelp and get suggestions from the locals.
3) Go to a second line [Brass Band Parade]! There’s usually one every weekend!
2) GO TO A BURLESQUE SHOW! There’s plenty to pick from!
1) Relax! We move at a slower pace here. And enjoy your to-go cup!!
Q: What are your three favorite numbers in your burlesque arsenal to date and why?
A: Oh man. This one is tough. I have about 40 acts in my arsenal all together!!!
“Send in the Clowns”–It’s a piece that was developed during a really painful time in my life. I was transitioning out into the world more as a solo performer and I was also going through a lot of loss. I really connected with the song and the lyrics and always felt that when things are rough, you send in the clowns to distract from the pain. It starts off as a sexy classic strip and then evolves into a somber and moving fan dance.
“You Are So Beautiful”–an act that involves very little! A mirror and a very simple costume. It’s a message about loving yourself and your body. But, most specifically about loving your vagina! I went through a period for a long time where I felt very critical about the appearance of my vagina. I feel that the porn industry has been especially critical in feeding the sense that unless our vaginas don’t look like perfect little coin purses, then they must be weird. This act was developed as an encouragement to women to love all their parts and how they have been built.
“Bird Girl”–this is a duet that I do with The Lady Lucerne. We start on the stage completely nude. We start off with very big showy movements. As we travel to the front of the stage, we realize our nudity and begin to attempt to hide our bodies. We come together at the front of the stage and our striptease is actually the removal of our wigs, makeup, eyelashes, etc. It’s meant to represent that as artists, sometimes being naked isn’t really when we are completely vulnerable, it’s when we have no makeup to hide behind. It ends with us making out and “bleeding” from our hearts with fake blood.
Q: What’s next for Bella Blue? Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
A: Well, so much going on! I don’t even know where to start! The New Orleans School of Burlesque has its own space in development which will be located in the Treme of New Orleans. I currently have 4 running productions in New Orleans which I feel SO LUCKY to have accomplished. Back when I first started doing this whole crazy strip thing, I never would have imagined! I’ve also accepted a position as show producer and talent coordinator at a new club opening on Bourbon Street called Lucky Pierre’s. It’s set to open in early September and will be New Orleans’ only club offering burlesque shows 7 nights a week. Very exciting stuff for the community and for the city! As for the rest, you never know. I’m open to anything and everything that comes my way!