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!