How did you get involved with burlesque?
My friend, BettyÂ Wannabang aka Tiffany Payton, had decided that she wanted to start a burlesque troupe. I knew her from roller derby. She had a vision to revive an art in the process of learning to embrace her feminine side. The arts scene where we live is not very receptive to new things, so she knew that success was going to be hard won, if it was won at all. She was very determined to do it, though. She is incredible in terms of her ability to make things happen. When I went to the first meeting, there were only two other girls there that were there that were on the plus size side. This little voice in my head said, “You can do this! Someone has to stop putting big girls in the corner all unnoticed. Here is your chance to do something amazing! Be courageous and go for it!” So I did.
What was your first memory of encountering burlesque?
My first memory of burlesque was from childhood. My great-grandmother used to watch documentaries a lot, and I remember watching one with her about burlesque. I always thought the women were so glamorous and beautiful with their feathers, pretty jewelry, and grand costumes. To me, that was the epitome of gorgeous women. I just always had that attraction to it. The human body is amazing, why not look at it the way it should be viewed in all its splendor?
Why do you do it now?
When I first started doing burlesque, I was around 300lbs. I went out, bought pretty clothes, and took them to a costumer. She said she could work with costuming bigger girls. Her sister-in-law, who she worked with, was a bigger girl. I met her. She was probably close to 400lbs. We were sitting there talking, and she looked at me and genuinely said, “Oh my God! You are my hero! I can’t believe that you are going to get out there and do this. I wish I could.” That was all it took. I have had lots of bigger girls who come to me after they see my pictures or a show, and they tell me how much I inspire them. They always say to me they wish they could do what I do, and I always tell them, “You can!” I will always do this to represent the big girls and show people, “Big women are sexy, beautiful, and amazing!Â Look at what they can do!”Â
The other reason is once I performed once, I was hooked! I got the bug. There is nothing like being onstage and having the ability to make people laugh, stand in awe, or cheer. It makes me feel like I have the power to sway the masses with my mass.Â It also allows me to embrace this ultra-feminine, gorgeous side of me that I never knew existed. Burlesque allows me to play dress up in the best of ways. Where else am I going to be able and allowed to pick my own sexy name, do wild things to my hair, wear different make-up, red lipstick, huge amounts of rhinestone jewelry, crazy accessories, the highest of heels, sparkly, fancy dresses, naughty lingerie, and not get picked on? Other than being a drag queen, which I don’t qualify for, this was my only option. Also, the creative freedom I am allowed in terms of doing costuming, set and stage designs, choreography, and critique. I love getting to work with all the people in my troupe to help their visions and performances come to life. It is like getting to build a dream. That is really one of my most favorite parts.
Is this how you make your living?
Unfortunately, I am currently unemployed. When I started doing burlesque, I was a Senior Corporate Guest Relations Specialist for a cruise line. I was able to make meetings and things, but once I lost my job, I was really able to focus on burlesque. That is how I learned so much about it, and how I started choreographing, costuming, critiquing, and doing all these crazy other things. I have learned so many skills from doing this. It allowed me a lot of freedom to do a lot of things and get close to the women in my burlesque troupe. I love it for all that, but I am ready to go back to work.
Tell me about training. What are rehearsals like? On a scale of 1 – 10, how physically challenging do you find dancing burlesque?
To train to do burlesque, you basically have to learn what burlesque is. It is “the art of the tease.” You have to watch videos and routines to figure out what classic burlesque moves are like taking off gloves, working with boas, and the better ways to take off clothing. I cannot tell you how many hours of burlesque routines I have watched. That is what helped me develop a passion for it. You have to practice movement and flexibility, those are two key things. Rehearsals are basically practicing dancing. What looks good or flattering and what doesn’t. What is the best or most creative way to do something. We practice concepts and ideas for routines. On a scale of 1 – 10, it all depends on how physical you want to make your routine. You have to learn to work within the bounds or at least test the bounds of your own physicality. I am very flexible and agile for someone my size, where as some girls half my size are not. It is all body manipulation, and how hard you want to push yourself. I try to keep myself physically challenged at a level 7. That is how I know I am giving a lot of effort.Â For larger women, working on the legs is an important part. Making sure you can move and support your body weight as well as keep your balance is important. We have more to hold up and being able to make it look elegant, saucy, sexy, sassy, and graceful is an art in itself. Beginner’s tip: Do not worry about dancing in heels! Yes, they are pretty and sexy looking, but if while wearing them you remind people of a moose on roller skates, take them off! People will forgive you for dancing barefoot and thank you for not breaking something or killing yourself onstage. Promise!
Please talk about the thought process that goes into putting together a dance costume. What do you have to consider?
Coming up with a good costume takes a number of things. The first is that you want it to fit with whatever you are performing. Be it sexy, funny, sassy, dark, etc. You also want to make sure that it can be seen. What I mean by this is that if you have enough color, beads, rhinestones, sequins, glitter, or blingy anything to be seen from space, you are probably on the right track. Lol! Burlesque performers have to be flashy. That is part of the draw. Also, you have to consider what you put on, you have to take off. If you can’t get it off easily, you probably shouldn’t wear it. Mostly as a plus size performer, the more important things that you think about is “What am I going to use to hide things that may be considered unsightly?” There are tons of things to use. People where are live can be pretty body critical. So here, I will not go out on stage without an underbust corset! I’ll admit, my mid-section is a little scary. To keep that sexiness, mystique, and allure to my body for the crowd, I wear the underbust. The mid-section is my main concern for me.
Any wardrobe malfunction stories you’d like to share?
If I don’t get my underbust corset cinched up the right way, sometimes, I will get a roll peeking out. That doesn’t look good in pictures. It is my body, though, and I love it anyway. I have had things not come untied properly, and I have had to rip them. I once lost an outer shell to a costume, and I had to perform onstage in street clothes. I also had one show where once my performance was over, I was walking off stage, and I noticed half a pastie hanging off my nipple.Â I just put my hand over it, and held on. One of the most common tricks that burlesque performers use to avoid certain malfunctions is wearing 2-3 pairs of panties onstage. You definitely do want to run the risk of having “that” showing. Wardrobe malfunctions happen. Do what you can to prevent them. Deal with them as gracefully as you can. The show must go on!
What has been the most challenging part of dancing burlesque for you?
Learning to be graceful and move around in high heels! I am actually a little bit of a klutz. I am big and awkward. Learning to look sexy and elegant has been a challenge for me. Also learning to accept and embrace becoming a quasi “sex symbol”. Until I started doing burlesque, very few men looked at me as an object of desire or told me I was beautiful. The things I hear from men now are completely different! It makes me feel like a super sized centerfold from Playboy. Lol! I don’t think I will ever get used to that part. As a person, I am really kinda shy. It is also nice that when I am Lola, everyone knows me, but when I am just plain old me, I hardly ever get recognized as the person who plays her. Being able to still maintain that kind of anonymity is so peaceful.
Have you ever had to handle hecklers, etc?
No, thankfully! If I did have a heckler, I would probably tell them “If you think you can do any better, and you’ve got the guts, get up here and start taking it off! The stage is all yours!” Ha! Ha! There were some “concerns” supposedly about bigger girls in the group performing. I guess someone had said to one of the girls in our troupe that he did know if “Seeing fat girls take their clothes off was going to make him queezy or not.” When I heard about this, I decided I was going to push the envelope at the next show we did. I ended up wearing a thong onstage. Lol! When I took off my dress and the audience saw the bigger majority of my large, and I’ll say lovely, derriere, they went NUTS!!! Ha! Ha! I just kept thinking, “If Mr. Queezy is in the crowd, I hope that either did him in or changed his mind.” I walked off stage a proud and happy woman that night, and I got many compliments for being so bold.
What do you tell other plus size women that want to pursue burlesque?
Go for it! Burlesque is one of the few places, in my opinion, that plus size women are accepted and adored. I would honestly say that the plus size burlesque performers in our troupe get more attention than the smaller girls do. Why? Men don’t ever get to see bigger women in a sexy light. We are unique and different. We give them something to consider. I think a lot of men are attracted to bigger women, but it is kind of a social taboo. Burlesque allows them to view us without the stigma. They want to look! Trust me! Don’t be misled or believe everything that you hear. I have a ton of admirers that I am kind of their dirty, little secret. Don’t be afraid, just do it! One day, if you do, you will be glad that you did. I have convinced a lot of plus size women to give burlesque a look. Even if they haven’t decided to do it, most of them developed a sort of love for it.
How has dancing burlesque changed you/affected your life?
If someone had told me a year and 6 months ago that I would ever have been a burlesque performer, I would have laughed in their face and told them that they were ridiculous! It was not something that I ever imagined myself doing. However, now, I will tell you it is the greatest and most amazing thing I have ever done that I never knew I was good at. I always wanted to be onstage. Singing, dancing, acting, whatever! I had the talent, but with society’s current standards, not a chance to do the things I loved and dreamed. People now a days are more concerned about what you look like than what you can do. Burlesque gave me a door to my dreams. I just had to have the courage to walk through it. I did, and I don’t regret it. It has transformed my life. Sometimes, I still can’t believe all the wonderful things that have come from it. It really actually seems to have opened a hallway full of doors for me now. When I am a little old lady sitting in a rocking chair, I will now be able to look back on the friends I made, the things we did, and the time we shared and say, “That was the best time of my life, and I am so grateful that I was allowed the opportunity to do it!” I have become a bright, beautiful, lovely, happy person, I have so much more faith in myself and my abilities now. The experience has been phenomenal!
What do you think the rest of the world should know about you, burlesque, or what you do?
I wasn’t born a burlesque performer. It took time and effort to get to where I am. I am always learning and getting better at what I do. I created Lola as someone to hide behind. Lola is her own person. She is part of me, but I am not her. I her to be an inspiration to people. Since I started doing burlesque, many people have told me I have, and I am. Lola is about having the courage to love and embrace yourself for who you are. Stop hating yourself for what you are not. She is bold. She allows me to portray my ideas to the world, and she is pretty popular and convincing person. When I am her, I have the power to make people believe anything is possible. She is like my own personal Wonder Woman costume.
I am not some perfect beauty. I have stretch marks, saggy skin, cellulite, fat rolls, and all sorts of other imperfections, but it is all part of who I am.
Learn to love yourself, and others will follow. My whole life I was made to feel that because I was overweight, I was insignificant, and I did not matter. For a long time, I bought into that, until I started to rebel against the idea, stopped being afraid of my body, and of myself. Now, I consider myself just as lovely as any other woman. I am not competing for a prize, but if I were, I would give the little girls a run for their money.
I always remind myself beauty is not a contest, no one can compare to you, because they are not you. Love and appreciate them for who they are, and love and appreciate yourself for who you are.
My favorite quote is from director, Baz Luhrmann, “Enjoy your body, use it every way you canâ€¦donâ€™t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, itâ€™s the greatest instrument youâ€™ll ever own…”
There were never truer words spoken in my opinion. If you are looking for beautiful, large, and lovely women to inspire you, look to burlesque. Dirty Martini is amazing! The woman is a modern day, thick Marilyn Monroe. She is much more popular in the burlesque world than Dita Von Teese, and she is at least twice her size. They call her “Miss 44″ with a whole lot more.” She has got it all! Looks and talent to boot! I marvel at her. She is honestly my burlesque heroine.Â Alotta Boutte is another of the big beauties. She is very curvacious and unafraid!
Rubenesque Burlesque is an eye opening experience. Those girls let it all hang out, and people love them for it! That is just to name a few. There are many more!
Most of the women and men in my burlesque troupe do burlesque as a form of therapy. We are not stripper or exhibitionists. A lot of us are shy, modest, or reserved, but that little eccentric part of all of us is what sticks out. That yearning to do something different that will make us happy. We are the motley group of people, but you will never find a group of people who love and care more about each other than we do. They are all like my second family, and I would trust them with my life. They are supportive and encouraging in ways I didn’t even know people could be. I am so proud to know all of them. They are all so gifted and talented. The most astounding collection of people I have ever known.
I am here to convince people to dare to do what they dream, to make people laugh, and to try and put a little bit of Lola in everyone. She has taught me SO much! She has been an amazing friend, and I don’t know what I would ever do without her.