Jo Weldon

Photo: Bettina May

Jo Weldon, Founder and Headmistress of the New York School of Burlesque and author of the Burlesque Handbook, talks devil dancers, biting off more than you can chew and the Pink Light Burlesque project.

For the complete interview and more beautiful images of Jo, pick up your Winter 2012 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available here!

Interview: Divertida Devotchka

Q: September of this year was the 10th Annual New York Burlesque Festival. Care to share highlights from the festival? What were some of the most memorable moments for you?

A: I always love this festival because I get to see people from all over the world in my hometown! It was particularly exciting this year because it was the tenth anniversary. I saw so many people I loved I don’t want to name them for fear of leaving someone precious out by accident. I will say I loved seeing Tara Pontani perform with The Pontani Sisters. I used to perform with them at Marion’s a decade ago and that was amazing! I also loved getting to do my big Queen of Hell number with my devil dancers retinue. Super fun.

Q: I’d like to hear more about the Pink Light Burlesque project. The New York School of Burlesque began a program last fall in which you offered free burlesque classes to breast cancer patients and survivors, in memory of Jennie Lee, the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s founder who succumbed to breast cancer in 1990. I was really struck by Pink Light’s mission to “address the particular needs of women in treatment and recovery, especially women seeking a rock-n-roll way to reclaim their bodies after experiencing a negative body image or a loss of femininity.” If I’m not mistaken, Pink Light started in October 2011 and was dedicated to Diane Naegel, who tragically passed away from breast cancer one week prior to the start of the program. Pink Light Burlesque happened again this fall, and I would like to hear your take on the effect the classes and/or subsequent performance has on its participants, both students and the instructors.

A: Different students have had different experiences, but many of them have said that they had renewed sexual and social confidence. They also said it was fun to meet other survivors that shared their adventurous sensibilities. In some ways it is a very serious project. I hope that this will restore quality of life for some people. And of course it can be a very difficult project emotionally. Losing Diane Naegel and Lotus Eyes was deeply saddening.

Q: In an August interview with, I was delighted by your refreshingly honest response to a question about how you manage to get everything done being involved in so many projects. You said, “I don’t – there’s people mad at me right now about something that I didn’t get done.” You went on to say, “I love being a part of so many things, but sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.” I know a lot of gals in this industry have more irons in the fire than they can count; what is your advice to those who, like you, have a tendency to spread themselves too thin?

A: I don’t really know how to stop saying yes! I admit it! My advice is, don’t do as I do, do as I say: choose your work only when you’re as sure as you can be that you can deliver. People deserve your best.


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