We here at Luna Luna… well… ok, me. It’s me. I have a rip-roaring obsession with burlesque dancers. I think some of the other Luna-ites do, as well. But I know I’m smitten by these courageous, smart, gorgeous, and sassy people who take off their clothes for art (and sexy fun time). In particular, I’ve had a major crush on Stormy Leather, “the Naked Girl of Burlesque,” for years. Ever since I saw her strip out of an already-provocative cowboy outfit, tie herself up in shibari, and then traipse around mostly-naked at Galapagos Art Space, I’ve been ga-ga. I got to thinking recently that although my fair city, New York, is packed to the gills with burlesque artists, they rarely get much press. So I sought out my burlesque heroine and asked if she’d like to chat.
I was a stripper for many years. Once I got sick of it, I went back to bartending and waiting tables. I enjoyed stripping on the stage but was sick of hustling men. I found a club in Chicago that hired me to go-go dance for their “Ladies’ Night” (Berlin—still one of my favorite places to go clubbing in Chi-town), and I met a lovely lady named Cherish there that introduced me to burlesque. I did a couple of shows in Chicago but still had no idea what I was getting into. When I came to NYC, my eyes and heart were opened and I found an industry/community that was ready and willing to educate and inspire.
How long ago did all this happen?
It depends on which leg of my journey you’re speaking of! I moved to NYC in the spring of 2006 and by the end of the summer I did my first NY performance at Kitty Nights.
I’m going to say it unabashedly: you are New York City burlesque royalty. One of the most sought-after performers in the city, and you’ve been all over the world performing recently. What’s been your favorite spot?
You make me blush. I can’t say that I have a favorite. It’s like deciding on a favorite song or movie. NYC hands-down has some of the best venues. My favorites are the Slipper Room and the Box. I perform at both regularly and they feel like home to me. Mind you, the Box isn’t quite burlesque, but more shocking performance art. Not for the prude or squeamish. You will see things there that you might wish to unsee, but it’s in there… forever.
But I have been to some amazing cities around the world this year. As diverse and different as each place was, I was met with so much love and hospitality. One thing in this world we all have in common is that we all want to smile and have a good time.
I think I’d like to be part of the scene in NYC in the late ’70s. Disco. Club 54. I’d totally bust out my roller skates.
Do you call them routines? Or numbers? Or what? Am I fucking this up?
I usually call them acts or numbers. “Routine” sounds so, well, boring and redundant. It’s anything but that. Not to mention that no matter how in rote you are with an act, something different happens every time. Wardrobe malfunctions alone keep you on your toes.
Well, so tell me about your “numbers.” You’ve got a few that I’ve seen that have absolutely blown me away, from simple-yet-beautiful to really complex. How long does it take you to prepare a routine? Make a costume?
It really depends on the number. And I don’t think that you’re ever really done preparing them either. They are either constantly evolving or being repaired. But to be more specific, it took me about 24 hours to create my Blondage number (Stepford wife does rope bondage). On the other end, it took us 3 years to complete the CYLON.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Music. Sometimes a song will haunt me for years until I do something to it. My fellow performers are an inspiration. They are all unique, strong, and supportive. I learn by watching and listening to them, and collaborating with them. I’m also inspired by movies and TV, obviously. Hello! CYLON!
And, okay, holy shit, we have to talk about the Cylon routine. I know where the inspiration for that came from, but the execution? Can you tell our readers about the act itself and how you made it happen?
I teamed up with Joe “Greystone” from Starknaked Industries. I’m actually dead serious here. He builds techie props and costumes for performers in his free time.
I really loved the new Battlestar Galactica series. It kinda got me back into sci-fi. Plus, I have a fascination with robots. I wanted to be one! I’d seen robot numbers before but they were like tin foil boxes. I wanted to look like a machine. I wanted to break out of it, evolve, and become the skin job, Six. I had the entire number planned out before anything was built. Joe took my idea and went to his 3D printer with it. He then made his own circuit boards and programmed all the lights on the costume. It is way more complicated than that but he’s the genius here, not me.
Have you gotten hysterical excitement from fans over it?
It’s really a fun number to do because of the fan base. Sometimes folks don’t get it but it’s still a great spectacle to watch even if you don’t know the reference. But real fans get it. And they cheer! One night in Vegas last year I was performing this piece, and as I took off the helmet (I’m basically blind in that thing, by the way) I could hear a girl screaming, “It’s SIX! Oh my god! It’s SIX!!!!” That was everything to me in that moment. As I turned around that night to show my spine lighting up, I thought, “This one is for you, sweetheart.”
Speaking of hysterical—you were part of the Hysterical Literature project (which asks performers to read aloud from their favorite book while someone uses a Magic Wand vibrator on them under the table)! What was that experience like? Nerve-wracking, fun, or both? And what did you choose to read?
It was definitely both. I had never done anything like it. I was curious. I wanted to see how far I could get. Trying to concentrate. Trying to continue reading. Wondering if I’d get off or if I had the control I thought. I chose Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. I read the Whitney Houston chapter. Well, part of it.
I’m loosely a sci-fi fan. I pick and choose. Some things can be too campy for me, but generally I love the genre. I love the exploration of human curiosity and the question of “what if?” But I mostly live vicariously through other sci-fi fans.
Ok, so… Star Wars or Star Trek?
Definitely Star Trek! Come on, Star Wars isn’t really sci-fi.
Heinlein or Asimov?
You got me! Again, I’m loosely a sci-fi fan.
Blade Runner or Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?
I love Blade Runner! I have not yet read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. [Editorial note: did you see that? She just schooled me on the title! And was super polite about it.] Now that’s added to my pile of books I need to get through.
Lovecraft or Poe?
You’re called “The Naked Girl of Burlesque” and I can say I’ve seen you naked at the end of a few shows. So what is the deal with that? How do you get away with nakedness? Isn’t it not technically allowed? Or do most burlesquers just prefer not to take it all off?
That tagline actually came from performing with my friend, Melody Sweets. She would sing and I’d be her naked girl.
But as far as what is allowed, it really depends on the laws and the venue or license. Or on what the owner or producer deems appropriate.
I don’t always go full nude though. I think that the word naked has a broader meaning and I feel it fits with my persona.
I’m a girl. I’m a woman. I’m proud of that, regardless of how difficult our society makes it. I like gender bending because I have a masculine side that I like to get out and express. I don’t want to be a man but I enjoy acting like one sometimes.
You told Curve Magazine earlier this year that you identify as bisexual. Do you think that your orientation plays into your performances?
I do display my sexuality on stage. I have duets where I kiss other women and simulate sexual acts. I do drag. But I also do numbers that I feel will appeal to both sexes. As a true bi, I want everyone to be turned on by me.
Ok, let’s wrap this up. It’s getting ridiculous. For aspiring burlesquers: advice?
Go to as many shows as you can to get inspired and learn. Don’t steal, do your own thing. Nobody likes a sourpuss or a snob backstage; leave your drama at home. Research and read up on the history of burlesque; you can learn a lot from our queens of the past. Also there’s The Burlesque Handbook by Jo “Boobs” Weldon: get it. Have fun and entertain, that’s your job.
Where can our readers see you next?
I’m regularly at the Slipper Room and I also host my own show there with Clown Kong called Debauchery on the first Wednesday of every month. You can sometimes catch me at Nurse Bettie or Hotel Chantelle with Calamity Chang. I pop up in many of the Wasabassco shows around the NYC area. And if you can get in, you can catch me at the Box. If you stalk me on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll always let you know where I am.
IMAGES: SANTIAGO FELIPE, ALEX COLBY, THE ACT NIGHTCLUB
Lynsey G is a writer, reviewer, interviewer, columnist and blogger writing for and about sex, feminism, and porn since 2007. Formerly a smut scribe for Fox, Juggs, and Tight magazines, she’s also written for xoJane, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Corset Magazine, TOSKA, MadisonBound.com, and WHACK! Magazine. She’s still on a high after winning a 2013 Feminist Porn Award for her short film, “Consent: Society,” and is now at work blogging at her own website and working on a few books of various types.