In honor of Women’s History Month, and inspired by the #5WomenArtists project led by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we are asking burlesque artists to share with us their thoughts on their art form. Today, we hear from 2004 Miss Exotic World and BHoF Board Member, Dirty Martini. Dirty has toured around the world, been the subject of two documentaries (and appeared in many more), and been voted in the top 10 in 21st Century Magazine’s annual worldwide poll every year since it began in 2009 (including 4 years as No. 1).
BHoF: Why did you choose burlesque as your art form?
When I moved to New York City to be a contemporary dancer, I struggled to find a place in the world of dance as a woman with generous curves. When I found the Irving Klaw film Varietease and 1950’s style Uber-bombshells in The Can Can Follies, I had the idea to use burlesque as a dance language to put my body into context for the 21st century. In doing so, I hoped to connect with that generation of showgirls to help highlight their past for this generation. I wanted to show their importance to theatrical history. I consider what I do to be a form of living dance history from a feminist perspective.
BHoF: What do you want to get across with your work?
Originally, I set out to perform burlesque as historical repertory resetting Lily St. Cyr’s acts for a modern audience. I found however that the spirit of individuality, combined with shorter attention spans made it imperative to create a new way to communicate with audiences. I found that I had to make more compact and action packed pieces. Most of all I wanted to showcase a body that society deemed imperfect and revel in its beauty. By lauding this body and showing it off as glorious, I make other women and men question beauty norms and notions of self-worth.
BHoF: What is your process for putting an act together?
I start with an impossible concept and work at it narrowing it down to digestible pieces. Once I have a sketch of a costume cobbled together, I like to workshop my ideas onstage in a structured improvisation. If I feel the number is coming together and feels successful, I will start to refine the costume and small moments within the piece until it feels done.
BHoF: How do you know if an act is “working”?
When I feel the right response coming from the audience and I can keep their attention away from other nightclub distractions, I know that I’m on track. I also listen to audience feedback after the show. I feel that part of my job is creating atmosphere at the party surrounding the show. I take much of the feedback about my numbers and incorporate it into the work.
BHoF: What makes you feel best about being a burlesque performer?
I like the satisfaction of being a total creator. I’m the director, producer, actor and total creative initiator of what is seen on stage. I love also that I have inspired so many women to recreate themselves through the theater.
BHoF: What has been your greatest challenge as a burlesque artist?
The greatest challenge is constantly trying to reinvent myself and continue creating fresh new ideas to keep myself engaged. I still love performing classic burlesque. Finding new and interesting ways to keep it fashionable and fresh is exciting and difficult.