Sunday, July 15, 2012

*Ultimate* Self-Confidence

Thanks to Lawrence, Fyodor, Marcus, Rory, Sue-Yee and Charlotte, I got plenty of burlesque schooling as a birthday gift.  I was able to take the "Essential Burlesque" series at the School of Burlesque and had $25 left over on the gift certificate they gave me.  So I decided to take "Ultimate Self-Confidence! with the World Famous *BOB*" and paid a $5 difference.

This is going to be a short entry, because there's not a lot I can say about the class. (Well, I could, but I won't.)  This is because BOB (Yes, World Famous *BOB* is her real name... she legally changed it.) kindly asked us not to, and I agree on the reasons why.  I also believe every woman should spend some time with BOB.  If you can take this class, do it.  I've had a week to process, and I've come to the following conclusions:

1. If a self-described "female-female impersonator," a very tall, voluptuous, curvy (many would call plus-size) 40-something woman can have self-confidence and love her body and herself, so can I.

2. I can love my body and myself, because...

3. ...Like my face, my body doesn't look 42 years old either.  And that's amazing.

Maybe others could have said these things about me.  But *I* couldn't say them, because I didn't believe them.  At 22 I hid from mirrors.  But at 42 I can look at myself, naked, head to toe and appreciate what I see... and even love it most days.

*BOB* has the power... and if you meet her, you'll never be the same.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Essential Burlesque Pt. 4

A few days before my last class I received an e-mail from Jo, saying she regretfully wouldn’t be able to teach us on the 24th of June; she’d had a “family emergency” and also wouldn’t be appearing at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island the day before.  Bummer.  But, according to the e-mail, we’d be learning from burlesque performer and teacher Darlinda Just Darlinda, and this time I looked her up on YouTube to see what I’d be in for.
She’s a riot.

Darlinda Just Darlinda Femme Femme July 7, 2011 from Darlinda Just Darlinda on Vimeo.

The thing that stands out to me in every performance she does is the look on her face.  She’s very entertaining.  It doesn’t hurt that she uses some of that comedy in her body language and performance, and she can shimmy her ass off forever.
She wore gold hotpants to class.  And was all business when it came to teaching us a proper showgirl strut -- in heels and also bare feet.  A little harder than it looks, especially in bare feet.  We strutted back and forth in the studio, towards the mirror, away from the mirror, again and again and again.  As always, these things take practice.  We learned how to pivot, to move from one direction to another gracefully.  And we did it a lot.  Like Jo and Gal Friday, Darlinda has tons of experience and shared tips and tricks and dos and don’ts to make sure you look fabulous on stage.  As she put it, we shouldn’t create shitty burlesque as performers; if you’re gonna get up there and do it, make it good so you don’t drag the whole art form down.  Heavy responsibility.  
Darlinda then had each of us show off our strut to the “audience” by playing a piece of music and having us one by one walk across the studio to it, being sure to give good “face” while doing it.  Again, harder than it looks.  None of us are used to making eye contact to a group of people watching us perform.  We all seemed to have a natural inclination to tip our heads down, either to focus on our movements or it was shyness.  There were several girls who seemed to have it “down.”  They strutted, pivoted, and even gave booty bumps, hip sways and turns.  I am not an improviser.  I strutted, trying to keep in time with the music, pointing my toes and keeping my chin up, all with a showgirl smile.  No “tricks.”  The perfectionist in me has never been an improviser; any move I make will be rehearsed so that I can play that dialog in my head that Jo, Gal, and Darlinda spoke about.  The sexual/sensual storyline that plays through your head so you can project it.
We had been told beforehand to bring a cardigan, zip-up hoodie, or button-down shirt to class, because we were gonna learn to strip it off seductively.  Darlinda broke us up into groups of either 3 or 2, and she taught each group in front of the mirror and in front of the rest of us a mini routine to take off the article of clothing.  To keep things different, she had each group take off a different item of clothing, so rather than strip off the cardigan I brought, she asked if I felt comfortable taking off my tank top.  Sure why not?
Agh.  Note to self: never, ever, strip a tank top off on stage.  Why?  It just never looks sexy.  Yes, the perfectionist in me wanted to do it “right” the very first time... but still.  I’d watched each of the other groups strip off a cardigan... a skirt... and even leggings.  They did pretty well.  I could see that a few of these girls had performed burlesque before, because they gave good “face” and attitude.  I stood in front of the rest of the class, but faced the mirror, along with another girl.  Darlinda showed us a very simple routine in which we’d strip off our tank tops, making sure not to ever cover our faces in doing so.  But as I turned away from the mirror to face my “audience,” I was immediately unsure of the on-the-spot routine I was just shown.  Darlinda started the music.  Of course right when I went to bring my elbow through an armhole, I was stuck.  And I could feel my face contort in frustration.  Damn!  Darlinda tried to talk me through it, but no dice.  I was convinced it was always going to look clumsy, except maybe if a pro had at it.  I started to feel a bit annoyed that she wanted me to strip out of a tank top in the first place, because realistically, if you’re planning an act, you’re obviously not going to set up obstacles for yourself.  At least in the beginning, I really shouldn’t set out to make things harder for myself, especially since it’s gonna be hard enough to even take off clothing in front of an audience.  Let’s be real.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Essential Burlesque, Part 3

The third part of the Essential Burlesque class taught us some isolations -- which is basically the art of moving one body part to highlight it when taking an article of clothing off -- and basic fan dance techniques.  When I’m talking about fans here, I’m referring to large, feathered ones, and Jo brought out two sets of very large, ostrich feather fans, one in red and one in pink.  She noted that she likes to curl the ends of the feathers because they have a nice look in performance.
Each of us were given a set of small marabou fans in bright colors (I jumped for purple ones, of course), and after Jo asked us whether we’d ever seen anyone fan dance, she then explained what it is to actually do it.  It’s a routine which consists of concealing, concealing, concealing... then finally revealing.  The idea is to reveal yourself in little bits, with the flutter of each fan until you are exposed in artistic and creative ways.  It’s more of a series of poses, actually, because these ostrich fans are so large.  It’s much harder than it seems; it’s easy to reveal yourself accidentally, between the staves of the fans or over the tips of the feathers.
The small practice marabou fans gave us an idea of the fluttering movement needed, with the flicking of the wrist, and also hand/finger placement to keep the fan open while moving it.  Tricky.  And it became painfully clear that it’s necessary to get right and left handed fans.  Jo pointed out this difference, and holding a small, cheap, right-handed fan open in my left hand was certainly challenging.  The moves seemed simple enough, and Jo was honest with us: she hates fan dancing.  But it can be an impressive act in your arsenal of performance if you can do it well.
After showing us some basics with the small fans, Jo wanted each of us to come up front with her, solo, learn a move with the large ostrich fans in the mirror with her, then face the “audience” (fellow students) and perform it.  Once facing my “audience,” I had no idea if what I was doing was right, but if the expressions on people’s faces were any indication, I wasn’t doing half bad.  Of course, a lot of it was expressions of support and sympathy.  I realized in that moment that once again, it would take practice, practice and more practice, and in the case of fan dancing, getting to know the “poses” that work.  Meaning, memorizing how it feels in each pose -- the placement of my hand near the small of my back, for example -- to achieve the desired effect with the feathers.
It was facing the group with the fans that made me think again about whether I’ll actually get on stage and DO this.  It’s one thing to think you might be able to do something, and in those private moments when you think you’re ballsy enough to do it, and another to actually DO IT.

There is so much work that goes into performing.  And I’ve never performed before.  Karaoke in front of drunken strangers doesn’t count.

Here's an example of fan dancing.  This is Nasty Canasta, performing to a rather unique choice of "music"... (excuse the moron who blocks the camera with his head mid-way)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Essential Burlesque, Pt. 2: Lemme See What Yer Twerkin' With...

“Daisy Gruy√®re.”
That’s what I came up with when asked to pick a burlesque name for myself, using the formula of the name of a flower paired with a kind of cheese, or vice versa.  Not bad, for something I only had 30 seconds to think about.
It was Jo “Boobs” Weldon’s exercise to get us thinking about stage names.  This second class in the “Essential Burlesque” series, offered by The New York School of Burlesque, was meant to be the first.  But Jo is a very busy lady, traveling to burlesque events around the country and running the school she founded pretty much by herself.
This time, the class felt more like business, because Jo shared stories from a professional point of view, with a bit less humor than Gal Friday did.  But this one was no less enjoyable than the first.  It’s just I felt I could identify with Gal much more in her attitude.  Jo’s no-nonsense approach is necessary for anyone planning to pursue burlesque.  I haven’t decided yet.
Jo looked to be about 5’ 2” and possibly just a hair over 100 lbs.  The nickname “Boobs” (she didn’t pick it, but it stuck) is apt; her ahem, bodacious rack is prominent on her petite frame.  That, and her striking bottle red hair.  In her book, “The Burlesque Handbook,” Jo says that neutral, natural hair color can get lost under stage lights.  So obviously I’ve got an advantage having bottle red hair too.
Jo proceeded to teach us some old-school, classic moves, starting with the ever-important “Showgirl pose” and following with opera-length glove peels and boa combinations.  Using our teeth to loosen the fingers of each glove, we learned two peels: “Teeth, Cleavage and Collarbone” (page 44 in “The Burlesque Handbook”), and “The Glove Stand” (page 45) -- which uses a transitional move from standing to squatting to slip off the glove.  Accompanied by some traditional striptease music, we toyed with a pastel-colored boa, stroking it like a beloved pet or at times, like a beloved person, and tossing it to the floor with a satisfied smile.  Then the bump ‘n‘ grind.  Jo shared nuggets of knowledge she’s gotten over the years, given to her by legendary performers at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend events.  Many of these women are senior citizens, but make no mistake -- they’ll blow you away with their bump ‘n‘ grind.  And that’s what’s pretty awesome about burlesque.
Little by little, a routine was forming, to be capped off by The Big Reveal and tassel-twirling.  Now, it’s not that I didn’t think I could twirl tasseled pasties, it’s just I didn’t think the move would be all that exciting on boobs the size of small plums.  But I’m not a man (or a gay woman), and I should remember that the sight of any size boobs can be pleasing enough.
Jo fetched the large, rolling, leopard-print suitcase filled with everything a naughty dancer needs and pulled out a bag spilling over with an assortment of sequined, tasseled pasties.  She sat on the floor, in front of the studio mirror, sorting them all out, pairing them and making sure they all had double-sided tape in the right spots on the insides of each, and bestowing more of her vast knowledge upon us.
Inside I was a little nervous, only because I was painfully aware of my tiny breast size in that room; I’m definitely the smallest in the group.  And although I knew what she was gonna respond with, I still asked Jo whether twirling was possible with my itty bittys.  The answer?  “Yes.”  Duh.
We locked the studio door, covered the small window on it with burlesque show postcards, and suddenly it was boobs-fest as we all chose pasties, adhered them to our flesh, and carefully re-strapped on our bras.  We ran through our newly-learned routine, and I only looked like a bumbling idiot through parts of it.  I definitely need practice.  For “The Straptease” and removal of our bras, and The Big Reveal, Jo wanted us to follow her in the mirror rather than tell us what to do beforehand, which wasn’t so bad.  Everything happens rather slowly (that’s the point!), so it isn’t too hard to follow.  It’s the finesse and grace I need to work on.
We did an “Arms-Up Bounce” (page 76), and my tassels twirled -- in opposite directions, mind you.  Oh well.  Apparently with practice that can be worked out as well.  But really, when flesh is jiggling and all eyes are on your sequined globes of joy, does it really matter what direction the tassels are twirling?  Jo demonstrated a few other tassel-twirling moves, and I was admittedly a bit discouraged that only that one move worked for me.  But hey, she said I could twirl tassels and I did!      

Monday, June 4, 2012

Essential Burlesque, Pt. 1

Still not sure what I was getting myself into, I made my way to 440 Lafayette Street, the location of the first class in the series “Essential Burlesque,” offered by The New York School of Burlesque.
A sign in the lobby said the studios were on the 4th floor, and nothing else, so once I exited the elevator I wandered the halls of the plain, typical old New York building.  I peeked into the small window of each generically marked door, but all seemed the entry to what looked like typical dance classes.  When none of those classes looked like they featured a feather boa or at least satin gloves, I started to fear I’d wandered into the wrong place.  I finally asked the only man I saw, sitting behind a small desk in an equally small office where the burlesque classes took place, and walked into 4C, where I found a petite redhead lying on the floor, stretching her legs.
“C’mon in,” she called out when I opened the door.  “I’m just stretching.  You’re right on time.”
I surveyed the room.  Other than the redhead on the floor, there was one other woman there, seated in a metal folding chair against the wall, in the far opposite corner from me.  There was a piano behind me, a few other metal folding chairs nearby, and directly in front of me, mirrors encompassing the entire wall.  This was very obviously a dance studio.  The woman I assumed to be my classmate was older, a bit frumpy, and wore a bandage on one knee.
As other women slowly filed into the room, I noted the group was pretty varied.  A few were older, a few looked pretty young, a couple were skinny and one or two were heavy.  Of course I was the palest one.  At least two women there fit my definition of “rockabilly” style, with even stronger Bettie Page bangs than mine (I’m growing mine out for the time being).  One woman wore lush false eyelashes and heavy eyeliner on an otherwise nearly bare face.
The redhead rose to her feet and introduced herself as Gal Friday, as she sipped her large iced Starbucks coffee, and I was instantly relieved when I noted that a) she’s a member of the “Itty Bitty Titty Committee” like me, and b) as my mother would say, she “curses like a sailor” in ordinary conversation.  I immediately liked her.  She taught the way I would teach, and spoke the way I would about her subject: honestly, and with humor and real-life experience.  Sometimes that means you say “fuck” a lot.  Sounds like me, all right.  Gal Friday has apparently performed a lot, because she had great tidbits of information about what actually happens on stage -- what’s important and what’s not, and what you can get away with as well.  Out of the nearly 12 women that were in the room, at least two had never even seen a burlesque show, when Gal asked for a show of hands.  One woman said she’d seen the movie, to which Gal replied that the movie is nowhere near what real burlesque is.  This I knew, without ever seeing that piece of crap Cher and Christina Aguilera was in.  In her overview, Gal confirmed a few things I knew about burlesque: It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you think of your body, you can still WORK IT OUT.  You also don’t have to be a dancer.  In fact, dance moves can look kind of odd in burlesque.  She gave us an overview of what we’d be learning in the next two hours, and explained that the class we were having today was actually class two or three in the series, rather than the first.  School of Burlesque headmistress Jo “Boobs” Weldon is out of town, and she usually teaches the essential burlesque moves as well as tassel-twirling in the first class.  We would be skipping ahead and then going back, meeting Jo next week. 
We began with glove peels.  Gal opened one of her many bags of tricks inside a large, leopard-print rolling suitcase and produced opera-length, satin gloves in multiple colors.  She tossed a pair of jade green gloves at me (which I caught), and said she’d be throwing out pairs of gloves to each of us in colors contrasting what we were wearing.
“Don’t be shy,” she told us.  And she made it easy not to be.  This is supposed to be fun, damn it.  And it had only just begun.
I was told Saturday night that there was a chance a friend of mine would be joining me in class.  She and I used to work together, and she performs rather regularly as Stella Chuu.  Sure enough, Stella joined the class around 15 minutes in, and I was happy to see her.  The feeling was mutual.  She whispered in my ear that she wanted to learn classic burlesque moves.  I think she’s a great performer.
Removing long gloves in a sexy manner is harder than it seems.  But assisting us were those tried-and-true tips and tricks Gal shared with us... within minutes I’d removed and tossed aside my right and then my left glove in what I thought was kinda a sexy way.  At least my reflection in the mirror looked a bit like what I’ve seen on stage at burlesque shows.  Gal demonstrated a few different ways to cast off gloves -- all of which accent your body and build anticipation of the Big Reveal.  If you’ve got ample boobs, one way... if you’ve got no boobs (like me!), BAM! Another way!  Hot move!  Gal even shimmied a glove off her Itty Bittys... I was impressed.  I appreciated the advice for being able to peel gloves off in a sultry manner, even when you’re sweating and the gloves are stuck to you.  “It’s always too warm when you’re performing,” she said.
Speaking of warm, the studio wasn’t very cool, and it wasn’t because of the shimmying.  Gal said she had to unplug the air conditioner in order to plug in her little boom box for music.  I was definitely shvitzing.
Next was stocking peels.  I’d had quite a bit of trouble finding stockings, not thigh highs, which can even be found in a Duane Reade.  I’d spent my last day off wandering around the East Village in search of stockings, which are hose you wear with a garter belt to keep them up.  And then I spent $15 on a pair I found in a tiny lingerie boutique.  Of course by the end of class I’d gotten ideas on where to buy stuff -- for much less money -- in the future.  I think I did well with the stocking peels.  Again, there was a little trick to it -- because it’s a little harder than it seems to peel those suckers off in a sensual way.  My first peel sprang off my big toe like a slingshot... not exactly sexy.  (I’m such a dork/not sexy)  But I could see that with practice I could do much better.  Gal reminded us that some burlesque performers never do stocking peels, and some never do glove peels either.  She said that if gloves and/or stockings don’t work with your act, then don’t use them.  She emphasized creating your own routine, using moves that make you feel most confident and sexy.  You’re never going to look good trying to move in ways you’re not comfortable with.  This was proven to me when we moved into learning about chair dancing.  I figured out how to slink into a chair pretty well, and even one of the squat-like moves was difficult for me, but I could see how I could make it work.  But at one point, Gal showed us some moves on the chair that involved raising both legs off the ground, and in that moment I realized I have absolutely NO core strength whatsoever.  These bitches have to be a bit in shape to pull off some of this shit!  But again, can’t do that particular move?  Don’t do it.  These were ideas and some basic moves, meant to get our minds to think about what‘s possible.
It was with the chair dancing that we finally had some music to accompany what we’d learned so far.  It was typical classic burlesque “bah-dum-bah” stuff, and it made me think about choosing music in general for an act.  I asked Gal Friday about it, and she said you could choose nearly anything and WORK IT.
We even ran through our chair “routine” at this point, using all the moves we’d learned thus far, and with music.  I liked Gal’s verbal “coaching” during it, as she bumped to the music and shot a look to her “audience.”  Things like, “YEAH, BITCHES, FUCK YEAH!”  She was really cracking me up.  I think these may be the things she’s saying to herself in her own head when she performs.
My natural clumsiness came out when it came to transitioning from a seated position on the chair and rising to my feet in a graceful manner, and I felt myself getting a bit discouraged.  But I really have to remember how unrealistic it is for me to expect that I’ll master something after the first try.  I’m a perfectionist, and far too hard on myself.  And this may be the most forgiving class I’ve ever taken or will take.      

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fuck cancer! R.I.P. MCA

This is gonna sound so sappy, but being a Brooklynite, MCA's passing really sucks for me. And I usually don't get torn up over celebrity deaths... But I remember wearing out my Licensed to Ill cassette tape when I was 16, and Yauch skateboarding past me one afternoon many years later on Houston Street.  Much, much later, I interviewed him, along with Ad-Rock and Mike D while I was at MTV... They were complete goofballs, and refused to answer any of my questions seriously.  It was an audio-only interview, and at one point, while Horovitz and D were horsing around, Yauch made eye contact with me and mouthed the words "I'm sorry."  I smiled at him, laughed my ass off and had a ball, even though I couldn't use one bit of the audio I recorded.

R.I.P., Adam Yauch. To say you'll be missed is an understatement. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

;o) for the old man

There was a time when you couldn't talk my father into using the Internet.  My extremely tech-savvy dad -- who builds his own computers -- really resisted, saying there was nothing the Internet could offer him.

Fast-forward years later, and my 65-year-old Pop not only surfs the Web happily daily and nightly, occasionally sending me links to things he likes, but also downloads TV shows he likes to watch from Amazon.

So we were discussing the British TV show "Sherlock" via e-mail (something else he resisted initially, BTW), and he tells me I should also be watching the crime drama "Luther."  When I ask him whether he has these episodes on DVD or electronically, he responded:

"My copy is an Amazon download. DVD's are so yesterday. :-P



How far he's come.  ;o)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy 65th David Bowie, and memories

David Bowie's 65th birthday has me watching a lot of his videos and also reminiscing about two occasions when I was in the same room with him and in rather close proximity.

For both occasions I was working at MTV, and lucky enough to go to a press conference to announce the lineup for his 50th birthday party concert at Madison Square Garden January 9, 1997. Bowie was also about to release a new album in February called Earthling, and he wore the long, Union Jack printed coat on the cover of the album to the press conference.

Not sure how I managed to score a seat in the front for the press conference, but I did, and gazed upward at him, in complete awe. His hair was short, blonde and in a pushed-back style. He wasn't particularly tall (famous people rarely are), but he appeared long and lean, and looked incredibly happy. The glow that radiated from his body is not something I'm likely to forget. He grinned from ear to ear, and had a true sparkle in his one blue and one brown eye, which are so much more startling in person. When I'm 50, I want to radiate the energy he did then.

The second time I found myself close to Bowie in a room was purely coincidental in September 1999 when I went to cover a press conference to announce the lineup for the three NetAid concerts at the Millennium Hotel, across the street from MTV. I got there ridiculously early to set up, but I was really so early that I had nothing to do, so I just sat in one of the seats towards the back. If my memory serves me, Bowie had been announced as a performer at Wembley in London for the NetAid concerts that October, but I don't remember whether I knew anything about him being in New York for this press conference.

I was just sitting there, killing time, when I could just sense a presence behind me. I turned to find him standing directly behind me, and it was only later when the shock wore off that I realized I cowered in reaction to his greatness, much like a servant bows to his king. I think my heart literally leapt out of my chest. His hair was longer, dark, straight, with some layers in his face. Those eyes.

I got lucky… twice. But I've also been blessed to have seen Bowie 3 times in concert, each performance dramatically different from the other. My first boyfriend Steve - a huge fan - got us tickets to see him in New Jersey during his Sound & Vision Tour in 1990. It was a life-changing moment for me, seeing Bowie put on a show. He had recently announced his new band, Tin Machine, and that's part of what made this tour so special: Bowie was not only performing many of his most-loved music, but also threatening to never play his older stuff again. This show was a literal blend of sound and vision. I was mesmerized.

Start this one 1:07 in.

This is just a great performance of "Fame" with Adrian Belew on guitar.

I went to his 50th Birthday MSG show, after that press conference in '97, which included performances with Robert Smith of The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, and my favorite, Foo Fighters. But in another life-changing event, in October of '97, I was able to score a ticket to his intimate set at the Supper Club in NYC, thanks to his publicist. Seeing Bowie perform effortlessly in a small venue ruined me. Ha! It really was amazing.

But then again, anything he does is special.