Our 2017 Sparkly Devil Memorial Scholarship recipient, Raven Virginia, shares her experiences studying with the legends of burlesque at the BHoF Weekender.
I arrived in Las Vegas in the blistering heat ready to take on the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. It was exciting, daunting and totally amazing! Sparkly herself made one of the best guides for surviving the weekend and drinking lots of water was top of the list so I made sure to stock up before doing anything else.
I got back to the hotel and checked in as well as getting my weekender bracelet to get into the shows. Standing in line I saw some familiar faces including Canada’s Grand Beaver of Burlesque Judith Stein and legend Val Valentine who I escorted for the weekend. She is all class and sass! That woman almost never took her sunglasses off all weekend – even indoors. We had a quick hello before she glided away (because I swear Val glides when she walks) and it was time for dinner and prep time for the Thursday night showcase.
I got to take my seat in the VIP section of the theatre (one of the benefits of the scholarship) and enjoy a mesmerizing showcase of talent, artistry and individuality.
After the show I hit the hay. I had to be up the next day to take Viva La Music with Viva
La Fever and be ready to attend Val’s tech time for her performance Friday night.
Viva’s class on Friday was fantastic. She approaches her performances from a musician’s perspective and gave some really great advice about choosing music with dynamics and how that can inspire our movement. The other GREAT advice she gave was to be considerate of breath. How can our breath enhance anticipation and tension and tease the audience more? She played some music for us and helped us visualize the music so that we can move to it. She broke it down into sections for us so we could really analyze the flow of the song. Viva said this was her first class and it was an absolute hit!
Now it was time to head to tech to watch Val rehearse her number for the evening. I felt like a total nerdy fangirl for her as I watched her absolutely kill her rehearsal. When I say I “escorted” Val, that isn’t really the right term. Val needs no “escorting”. She does her own thing and she does it with style. She was planning to sell some things at the bazaar but had a friend come with her to Vegas to spend time with her there so she insisted I enjoy the weekend and not worry about her. I did get to have a great talk with her after the tech rehearsal about the business, dance classes, performing and saving money. Val started in the business young, traveling with her aunt who was a showgirl and entering the business as soon as she was legal. She is a real veteran of the stage and is so smart. There is a reason she’s a legend.
I decided to skip over to the bazaar after tech and I bought a few 8×10’s of Marinka, Val, and Gina Bon Bon. MONEY WELL SPENT!
Now it was time for arguably the best night of the weekend: The Titans of Tease Showcase! Holy heck was it an emotional night. The performers were unreal and I really felt like each of them gave their all. I was so blown away by how committed and passionate they were. What an honour to get to experience their art! Tears were flowing and feet were sore from so many standing o’s! After the show I got to have a lovely dinner with Jo Boobs. We ran into April March in the restaurant and got to congratulate her on her ravishing performance and meet her (5th?) husband.
Next class up on Saturday was Working the Stage and Loving the Curtain! with Marinka. This legend’s star power and presence is undeniable. She told us about how she started in the business as a belly dancer and eventually moved her way up to feature dancer. She exudes sexiness and mixes it all up with a good sense of humour. She did a really great tutorial on how to grind a boa and gave us some perfect tips on how to really embrace the boa as a prop and show it some love. She was very honest about her signature move – grinding the curtain – and how it really just came to her in the moment because the band was playing her off and she needed something else to do. But she told us if we choose to do something, do it 110 percent.
Next up was Bump and Grind Boot Camp with Penny Starr Sr. and boot camp is NOT an exaggeration! Penny started class by telling her story of the biz and how important it is to save your money. She described her signature classic bump and grind style and then taught us basic moves to put together. Grapevines, step bumps, grinds and some super fun moves on our knees. Then she drilled us for an hour putting the moves into different combos and having us do them over and over and over until there was no way we were forgetting the basics. She had us all panting meanwhile Penny barely broke a sweat!
Finally it was Poise and Polish ReDux with Val Valentine. Val glided into the room with her sunglasses on and gave a brief history of her time in the biz and once again told us to save our money (see a theme here?). Val took some individual time with each of us to ask about our name, our style, what burlesque we like to do and then got us each up on our feet to practice entering the stage. She offered some wonderful individual advice to each performer based on the information they’d provided and how Val felt they could make a more impactful entrance. It was so valuable to get that one on one time with her and I couldn’t believe how well she fit all our needs into a one hour class.
I got to walk away from two days of classes with some amazing advice, information and tips for how to move forward in my career all thanks to the Sparkly Devil Scholarship. I also got some cool as cola certificates of completion which is just the bees knees! After class, I headed to the bazaar again to buy one of Val’s specialty poker chips, have a really nice talk with Viva and Dusty Summers and then it was time to eat – the legends had worked us hard!
After supper it was the competition night of the weekend. The theme of the night was nude so I went pantless! Before the show started I got to have a nice chat with Rubberlegs and Bambi Jones, The Garter Girl. The company I am a part of in Calgary are The Garter Girls so I was able to tell her we are proudly carrying on her tagline!
The show was just fantastic. So many strong, enthusiastic performers left their heart on the stage. Poison Ivory gave a riveting step down performance that had the audience on their feet for ages. All the winners were so well deserved and everyone was really a winner for having the courage to perform for their peers!
Sunday morning was the free legends panel which was one of the best events of the weekend. This was a chance to hear from many of the legends that didn’t perform or that I hadn’t had a chance to talk to. I asked a question about the politics of burlesque because my community faced government backlash for years before we won the right to perform semi nude in bars without strict rules. It was interesting to hear that many of the legends from the 40’s and 50’s didn’t consider their art political but they knew
consequences could include being arrested. Val did proudly assert that she was a feminist! Judith stepped in and said a lot of the burlesque of the 60’s and 70’s was definitely tied to the feminist movement and that she also proudly considers herself a feminist. Throughout the panel, we got to hear a wide range of stories and opinions – some that were also problematic. As a burlesque mentor of mine Beau Creep said, it’s up to us to shape the future of burlesque and we look to our legend’s to understand where we came from. That’s something to consider as we move forward together.
The final showcase was the Icons and All Stars and it was blast to take my seat again and witness all the genius that each person brought to the stage. What a blessing to share this remarkable art form with a packed house and to learn more about the people who founded it. I got to have an amazing chat with Dee Milo at an intermission. She looked me in the eyes and told me I seemed sensitive. As she lovingly held my face she told me not to be concerned with what other’s think of me. What a beautiful moment for the final night of the weekender.
I was up bright and early Monday morning to catch my flight back to Calgary and lucky for me, Judith and I got to share a cab (she even paid for it like the caring Mama Beaver that she is) and we caught up on how the weekend was for us. We were both leaving with our hearts full but totally homesick for our Canadian homeland. What a perfect way to end the trip!
The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender team did an amazing job and BurlyCon ran a brilliant finishing school schedule. I got to be a small part of it all because of the generosity of the Burlesque Hall of Fame and the legacy of Sparkly Devil!