Friday, 11 February 2011

The Queen of Burlesque

I have a lot of respect for people that "do things properly". By this, I mean people that choose what they want to do with their lives and become the best that they can possibly be at their job, dipping their fingers in all the metaphorical pies of the workplace.
Take, for instance, my idol, Dita Von Teese, the ultimate burlesque icon of all time. Von Teese is a walking fantasy. She wears stockings, heels and red lipstick every single day, never raises her voices in public and is every inch the lady one hundred percent of the time. She is the Queen of burlesque. She doesn't want to be the girl next door when she is not onstage. She IS the fantasy, she doesn't embrace it when it suits her.
Not only has Dita single handedly revived the lost glamour that has come about in the past 20 years or so but she has choreographed every single one of her routines, designed all of her own costumes along with her best friend, written a book about the art of burlesque, manages a website and much much more. She is a fetish model, has appeared in numerous porn films and has graced the cover of Playboy, the ultimate place to be in the sex industry. She has also become well know for her frequent usage of elaborate props, her trademark being a giant Martini glass.
In addition to all of this, Dita remains an independent woman. She dyes her hair black at home, does all her own make up, and when she divorced Marylin Manson, she didn't take a penny of his money.
Dita Von Teese is honest and fiercely independent and it is her drive that has transformed her from a quiet teenager working in a small underwear store to a global superstar. She wasn't born rich, she isn't pretty and she's the first to admit that her looks aren't natural, from her breasts to her raven black hair and iconic beauty spot.
But Dita has a drive, an energy that refused to sleep until she had accomplished all that she possibly could. She's achieved more than any old-time icon, she's 38 years old and she isn't stopping anytime soon.
She is an inspiration.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lili St. Cyr

Born as Willis Marie Van Schaack (I can't imagine why she changed her name) in 1918, Lili St. Cyr is a burlesque performer I especially admire because of her sheer determination. Unlike a lot of girls, she didn't magically become a legend overnight, neither was she born with a wealth of opportunities. She had to beg her club manager to let her do a solo act after years of ballet training. She self-choreographed all her routines and eventually decided that the big money was in nude performances, so, being the entrepreneur that she was, she set about becoming one of the most recognised star in striptease at the time.
At the end of her trademark dance, a stagehand would pull a fishing rod attached to St. Cyr's G-string. It would fly into the balcony and the lights would go dim. This famous act was known as "The Flying G".

As far as causing controversy goes, she was dubbed the most famous woman in Montreal but the Catholic clergy stated that whenever she danced "the theater is made to stink with the foul odor of sexual frenzy."She was arrested and charged with behaviour that was "immoral, obscene and indecent". She also wrote a book, appeared in films, and after retiring, opened a lingerie business.
Lili clearly followed the rule, "If you're going to do something, do it properly", which is a rule I live by & consequently why I admire her so much.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Burlesque & Punk Rock

Some of you may question just how influential burlesque has been on punk rock: at first glance the two styles/movements whatever, could not be more different!
But, taking a closer look at some of the original punks, and moving on to the noughties (wannabe) punks, we can see that they have clearly drawn some of their inspiration from some of our favourite stars of burlesque...
Take a look at the picture above, showing Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless/Gossip Girl. She may not be wearing a corset or have a beauty spot tattooed just below her left temple but she IS wearing glitter and suspenders, two things a true burlesque icon would never be without. Personally, I've worn suspenders in public before and I don't see a problem with it, as long as you dress them down with a jumper dress or huge man's shirt they aren't inappropriate at all.

The woman in the picture above is Nancy Spungen, one of my all time favourite people. Ever. Yes, she looks slightly OTT in this picture but that was because she was a rock star and didn't give a fuck. So, ignoring the obscene amount of makeup, notice how she's wearing skin-tight leopard print, how her curly peroxide crop is suspiciously like an unkempt version of Marilyn Monroe's and how, if her makeup was toned down, it wouldn't just be similar to a burlesque star's, it would be identical to that of a performer.
So no, you may not see girls wandering down the high street wearing suspenders, furs, corsets, leopard print and red lipstick all at once, but it can't be denied that elements of it can be incorporated into just about any style, even punk rock.

Ann Summers

Now, the art of Burlesque is all about controversy, and most of the legendary performers were frequently charged with crimes of exposure.

Ann Summers, the high street store famous for it's sex toys, lingerie and parties, is a shop that has attracted more than it's fair share of controversy and this, combined with it's overt sexiness, makes it highly suitable for this blog.

My faves include:

  • A Halloween ad being banned due to "fairly overt sexual references in terms of sound effects".

  • One ad being banned for including a nursery rhyme, as it would apparently attract children to the brand. (Oh come on, as if most kids aren't hardcore porn users by the age of 12 anyway, it's banning sex that gets them interested if you ask me.)

  • In 2006, Muslim groups complained about the release of a blow up doll named Mustafa Shag, claiming that the doll was offensive to Muslims as Mustafa was one of the names given to the Prophet Mohamed. (Fair enough).

Here's the full article about the blow up doll:

The founding father of Burlesque...

Aristophanes was a playwright, poet and reformer in fifth century BC athens, and, while he didn't "invent" burlesque itself, he set in motion the attitudes and ingredients that would later become the skeleton of the art.

He was famous for his powers of ridicule, comic, puns and satire (the word 'burlesque' actually comes from the word 'burlare', which means 'to laugh at, to make fun of'). In his plays, he made fun of real-life enemies and, although all actors in classical Athens at that time wore masks when they performed, Aristophane's masks were not of stereotypical characters but of real people, thus all the easier to make fun of due to the fact that they could be easily identified.

Just as in burlesque today, the audience was often drawn into the action, whether with seductive involvement or mockery. Dirty jokes, teasing and music were also implimented in his plays.

But the one play which many, including the current Queen of Burlesque, Dita Von Teese, believe to be the one to watch, is called 'Lysistrata' which tells of the wives of Athenian soldiers hiding away in the Acropolis, refusing their husbands sex until the execution of the Peloponnesian War. The play is notable for its exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society and for its use of explicit obscenities.

Not only is this a fine example of female power in ancient civilisation but, as Dita mentions in her book, these woman are teasing their husbands, guiding their minds towards sex and then locking it away, just as a good burlesque performer does.

It may be a primitive form of burlesque but, just as Calvinism gave societies the attitudes needed for Capitalism, Aristophanes gave the world the attitude it needed for the birth of burlesque.

Further Reading:
Burlesque, The Art of the Teese - Dita Von Teese

Monday, 7 February 2011

Gypsy Rose Lee

I thought it appropriate to start this blog with a little tribute to one of the most iconic burlesque performers of all time, and the femme fatale that this blog is named after: Gypsy Rose Lee.

Now, you may have noticed, in the URL, I have spelt "Lee" incorrectly. This is intentional, as some of you may already know, my name is Danielle Rose Leigh, so I had a bit of a play around with it to make the blog feel a bit closer to home.

Anyway, many people have heard of this girl, but few know just why she was so special. Here are a few reasons:

  • In the 1930's & 1940's, when she was at her prime, she spent obscene amounts of money on her costumes, paying a couture designer, Charles James, who also designed for royalty and film stars, to make her clothes in exactly the way she wanted them.

  • She insisted on Louis Vuitton trunks for her costumes and a custom-designed Rolls Royce in which to arrive at her bookings, and all because for her, burlesque was about creating a fantasy and not being the girl next door.

  • Whenever she performed, she received an enormous basket of flowers over the stage lights from "Anonymous", while everyone else suffered booing and hate mail. It wasn't long before Gypsy found out that her mother was behind the flowers and the hate mail: it was at this point that she discovered the art of publicity.

  • She was also famous for chatting her punters up directly, but at the same time mocking them, teasing them by only showing a flash of bare hip bone before giggling and running behind the curtain. Word has it that she got the audience so riled up, she didn't have to strip.

Why do I admire her? Because she didn't blend in. She didn't indulge in opium, as many of her peers did, as she felt that it would make her lose her sparkle and fail to stand out. She was also savvy about becoming a household name, what with the publicity stunt of the flowers and wearing the occassional floor-length cape made entirely of real orchids to attract even more attention to herself.

Gypsy knew how to get what she wanted and cast a spell on the audience, turning the dribbling gentlemen into her toys, rather than succumbing to being their plaything.

(I gathered this information from Burlesque and the Art of the Teese by Dita Von Teese.)

She was even special enough to have her name in lights.

New start

To satisfy my growing obsession with the world of burlesque, I've decided to set up a seperate blog so that the 'voodoo child' one can remain personal. This one will be far less about me and more about the stars of burlesque that I look up to, fashions I adore, as well as books and films that inspire me and whatever else I may find.

I'm not trying to educate anyone else about the art of burlesque because I'm no expert, this is simply a record of one of three things that interests me (the other two being literature and psychology). xx