Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Politics of My Body and My Art

As I worked on creating new routines and improving old ones, I had planned to write about some things I had learned on this burlesque journey.  They mostly centered on self-esteem and accepting one's body even if one doesn't always like certain aspects.  However, recent events have pushed those posts aside.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to skip dance class to go downtown and join a protest hosted by Mothers Against Police Brutality in response to the Ferguson grand jury's decision.  I've been keeping my burlesque Facebook page free from most political statements.  It's something beginners are advised to do, particularly when opinions are polarizing.  Not that I haven't touched upon politics— just looks at a couple of my posts in the past.

As I had gotten tired of just sitting around when I saw the invite to the protest, I have decided that I cannot stay silent any longer.  After all, a burlesque classmate was the one who invited me to the protests, and dancers like our illustrious Queen has made a post about Ferguson and the bigger problem at hand.  It made me realize that the burlesque dancer known as Hana Li is part of the same identity that includes the social justice warrior (I wear that label proudly although I consider myself more of a rogue).

The fact that I am a woman is political.  The fact that I'm a woman of color makes it more so.  Being a burlesque dancer means that I take my politics to the stage, and it's something that I have tried to include in all my routines.  Even something seemingly innocent "Black Glasses" has hidden messages addressing certain social issues (in that case, the politics of being a female geek).  I am constantly inspired by dancers who do tackle issues head on in their routines or are willing to openly speak about it, like Tangerine Jones, The Shanghai Pearl, and the ladies of Brown Girls Burlesque.  They push me to try harder to start a dialogue, and as happy as I have been with the local community, I think we should continue to keep the conversation going and let our audiences know that they are part of it.

I know that I have a good deal of privileges too.  It's become particularly evident in the past weeks.  Therefore, while many of my politically-inclined statements involve the racism I've faced as an Asian, I cannot let my darker-skinned sisters and brothers be overshadowed.  Their voices should be heard; their lives matter.

I'm linking "Race and Burlesque" again because if you want to know where to begin as a member of community, this is a start.  Learn the history, read the interviews, and know that we still have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Upcoming shows: Viva Dallas Burlesque presents DC vs. Marvel

I feel very fortunate to be performing at the Lakewood Theatre before Viva Dallas Burlesque moves to a new location.  Will I be DC or Marvel... or both?  Click here for tickets so you can find out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Queen of the Crime Council

A little over two years ago, a burlesque fan boarded the light rail in her cosplay, prop meteor hammer and camera in tow.  I was determined to check out the Quentin Tarantino-themed burlesque show in my Gogo Yubari costume.  Little did I know that it would play a huge part in getting me into the Dallas burlesque scene and set me on the road to competing for a crown.

Villains and Villainesses
By Mr. Photopix
When Appaloosa Red announced that there would be a sequel to the Tarantino tribute, Pulp Friction, I knew I had to submit an act.  I chose O-Ren Ishii instead of Gogo because I'm not a fan of the Asian school girl stereotype (even if Gogo is a subversion) and I wanted a challenge.  I decided to play upon her mixed heritage since I could relate.  As an American-born Taiwanese with Chinese ancestry and a love of Japanese culture that people mistake for being my ethnicity, I wanted explore the layers of identity and show that there's more than what meets the eye.  To make the concept more O-Ren, I decided to represent the cultural identities as personas she adopted for assassinations.  It helped tie all the looks together because regardless of what she's wearing, she's still a badass.

Of course, this complex idea meant another complicated costume—or rather, three costumes.  To my great fortune, Black Mariah had an old kimono and I was able to use the ties from my yukata.  I decided to get a real obi, which led to me having to learn how to tie it and figure out of it without being a tangled mess.  Equally questionable was my choice to use a G-string that I happened to have (yay lingerie sets).  It saved me from buying another costume piece, but I had my apprehensions about baring that much.  I reminded myself of the insecurities I had already overcome and went into Pulp Friction with the "Go big or go home" mindset that had gotten me this far.

Pulp Friction
By DV8Photo
I really have to thank Appaloosa Red for having this high maintenance routine in her show and the stage kittens for lending a hand.  Despite a little mishap, I had a successful performance and probably the best obi removal I could ever wish for.  I was happy to have been able to show a different side to Hana Li, and I was inspired by all these different interpretations of Tarantino films and characters.

The PistolettesA Go-Go were in Pulp Fiction as the Crazy 88s, and they wound up talking me into auditioning for the Texas Burlesque Peepshow's Villains and Villainesses show, which was also a competition for Evil Queen of Burlesque.  They had the idea of having me enter with them like in the movie and then do my solo after their routine.  I hadn't planned to audition due to a friend's wedding being the same day.  It was an afternoon wedding so with some help, I worked out a schedule that allowed me to do both if I was cast.  It sounded good in theory and The Pistolettes and I were selected.  Then I had a week of the worst luck ever— which included my bus to the Texas Theatre not showing up.
Villains and Villainesses,
with the Pistolettes A Go-Go
By Samuel Hsu
The Companion, who already skipped some of the reception by waiting out in the cold with me, came to the rescue.  The Pistolettes were also extremely helpful in getting me ready to go, especially Coco Dependent who worked magic on my wig.  Things seemed to be looking up, but the bad luck reared its ugly head again.  There was a technical error (it's theatre; it happens), but we made it work.  And I really do mean we since the stage kittens and The Pistolettes played big roles.  This was a test of my capabilities as a dancer, which could use some improvement yet I should not doubt.

Villains and Villainesses
By Mr. Photopix
I hadn't really thought much about the competition aspect until I saw photos of the crown.  Then the reality of being a contender for Queen sunk in.  In a way, all the unrelated stresses I had to deal with kept me from becoming too competitive.  Being among such talented dancers was enough of an honor for me—a big congratulations to Blaze for becoming our first-ever Evil Queen of Burlesque.  I did my best with what is only my second solo act, and even if I'm not Evil Queen, I still got to be the Queen of the Crime Council.

More photos can be found in my "Performances" album.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Upcoming shows: Villains and Villainesses Burlesque

Big news!  I will be competing in the Texas Burlesque Peepshow's Evil Queen of Burlesque competition.

Other contenders for the crown include: Blaze, Femme Vivre Le Rouge, Goldie Candela, MayMay, Pashionata Fair, Siren SaintSin, and Vivienne Vermuth.  There will also be performances by the Dallas School of Burlesque Dancers, Pistolettes a Go-Go, and Iris Le'Mour as Maleficent.

Click here to purchase tickets.  You don't want to miss this!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Finding My Fire at the Latin Burlesque Festival

Joining Fuego de Samba was a happy accident.  One day I decided to try samba class at the Dallas School of Burlesque.  It was fun, but due to scheduling conflicts, I couldn't return for a while.  A month later I found myself with some free time and dropped in again, right in the middle of rehearsals for the Latin Burlesque Festival.  Suddenly I was a part of the troupe.  I felt like an interloper at first.  There was a lot of catching up to do, and I wasn't sure I could embody the fiery spirit of the dance.  However, Lily LeCroix put her faith in me and I pushed myself to master the fast footwork and convey more confidence.

After weeks of rehearsal and hours of costuming, we made our unofficial debut in the 2014 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.  I say unofficial because not all of the troupe was present and we didn't perform.  We were in full costume though.  It was good practice for getting used to the headdress and the feathery bustle.  I had a lot of fun in the parade, but I still had apprehensions about doing the troupe justice.  And the Latin Burlesque Festival was only five days away…
Fuego de Samba
By Samuel Hsu
To make things worse, a sore throat threatened to take hold of me that week.  I couldn't figure out if it was allergies, an on-coming cold, or too much exposure to E6000 (it's not fun being a perfectionist sometimes).  Thus performance day got off to a rough start, and work kept me later than intended.  As if that wasn't enough stress, I had a freak-out moment with my contacts that wound up being a lens needing more rinsing and my eyes more moisture.  On the plus side, I got some last minute make-up inspiration from a Sephora e-mail.

Thankfully everything came together for the performance.  Fuego de Samba was the surprise opener for the Latin Burlesque Festival, and everybody loved it!  The routine never felt exhausting until we were finished, and with adrenaline rushing, I was a bit winded.  Ali and I didn't have much time to chill or celebrate since we were the stage kittens for the night.

By Mr. Photopix
Unfortunately, that was when my bad luck caught up to me again.  I got a bit of glitter in one eye just as we were going to pick up for the following act.  As much as I tried to ignore the pain, it was too intense (any discomfort you get from having something in your eye is magnified 100-fold with rigid gas permeable lenses).  I rushed to the dressing rooms while Black Mariah stepped in.  The timing could have been worse, and I'm thankful I was able to fix everything without missing too much.  The rest of the night went smoothly, and it was such a pleasure to help out all these amazing dancers, including the legendary Kitten Natividad.  She was so sweet and humble. 

By Musico Roots
After the show, several of my troupemates were hungry for pizza so The Companion and I drove MayMay and Jay Scarlet to meet with everyone.  This little pizza join wound up getting a late night invasion of burlesquers.  Even though most of us changed into casual clothes, we still had our stage make-up so it must have looked odd.  After lots of laughter and nerdy discussions, we called in a night and prepared for Night Two.

I had wanted to take a couple of the workshops on Saturday, but that specter of a sore throat reared its head again and I opted to stay in.  Since The Companion had gone to a video game tournament, Jay was my seat buddy for the show.  It was competition night, and the judges had their work cut out.  I predicted that Eva Strangelove and Justin Credible's bullwhip paso doble and Fat Bottom Cabaret's energetic group number would get recognized because they're impressive no matter how many times you've seen them.  Then there was our dear MayMay who took drag to another level in an Addams Family duet with Buck Wylde (I look forward to more duets from them) and her Pan's Labyrinth solo routine.  That Faun costume blew everybody's minds.  I had no idea who was going to be Queen because everybody was on point.  It was cool seeing different forms of Latin dance be reinterpreted for burlesque from both competitors and the headliners.  In the end, Tiny D was Queen of the Latin Burlesque Festival with Bianca Dagga as Princess—double win for NYC!

After another night of celebrating with all the dancers, I thought about how fortunate I was to have stumbled into samba, as well as burlesque.  I was honored to be a part of something really important for the burlesque world.  I'd been going through a rough month where my insecurities got the best of me.  I'm more awkward and serious than wild and sassy, but I've learned that I can make it work even in a flirty, energetic samba number.  Now I'm starting to think about how to add some Latin flavor to my brand of burlesque because I definitely want to submit something to next year's Latin Burlesque Festival.

For more photos, check out my facebook album.  Also, if you think that cupcake looks delicious, you can usually find them at the Texas Burlesque Peepshow performances.  All proceeds go to Rowdy Rory's surgery fund.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Upcoming shows: Latin Burlesque Festival and Pulp Friction

Here's more info on my two upcoming shows that I mentioned in my last post.  The first is the Latin Burlesque Festival, which takes place next week.  I'll be dancing with my samba troupe, Fuego de Samba, and stage kittening on Friday.  Click here for seating info and ticketing links.

The other show takes place the following week on October 4.  It's a Quentin Tarantino-themed show, and I will be debuting a new act.  Click here to get your tickets in advance.  Act now before they sell out!

One last thing: weather permitting, Fuego de Samba and other members of the Dallas School of Burlesque will be marching in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sunday.  Keep an eye out for us!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Lithium Flower By Any Other Name

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, and I finally found time even with all the rehearsing for the Latin Burlesque Festival and Pulp Friction.  One's burlesque moniker is serious business even if the name itself is humorous.  Of course you can always change it, but I've found that once you're known by one name, it's hard to get people to call you by another.  You want something that pops and sticks while representing yourself.  While there are many helpful resources on-line, the process requires some deep introspection.  I went through a lot of deliberation before settling upon "Hana Li" even though the name has been with me for nearly a decade.

Before I proceed, let me clarify on the pronunciation: "Hah-nuh Lee".  There's no accented syllable and "Hana" rhymes with "wanna", not "banana".  I had been worried about mispronunciation, but the name had everything else I wanted: a reflection of my heritage as well as my nerdy side, versatility, and a connection that would help me actually answer by it.

As a writer and a cosplayer, I always have a list of names at my disposal.  I even considered using either my cosplay handle or my steampunk persona's name, but one was even more difficult to pronounce and both didn't feel completely like me (no wonder they didn't catch on).  It made me think I wouldn't naturally respond to them.

"Hana Li" was a blogging alias from college that also didn't catch on.  Later it became the name for a character who basically represented me in short story.  The name came from "Lithium Flower", the ending theme to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.  I absolutely love the woman described in the lyrics and the main character in the anime.

"Hana" means "flower" in Japan and "Li" is the chemical symbol for lithium.  "Li" is also a Chinese surname.  Therefore, "Hana Li" reflects my Chinese ancestry, my science background, and my love for Japan (where I wound up living for a year) and its pop culture.

Originally I wanted to use something based on my real name since that was how I originally made myself known in the burlesque scene as a fan and a student.  However, my first name is too common, and I have too many mixed emotions about how Americans have punned off of my surname (which has been butchered by Westerners for so long that my family and others who share the name just go with the mispronunciation).

I had thought of some other names, but they lacked the versatility.  Because people don't usually catch the science or anime reference right off the bat, "Hana Li" potentially sounds like a real name.  On the flipside, the other candidates were puns and made it very obvious that I wanted to be seen as nerdy and/or edgy.  While I liked having both of those qualities, I didn't want to people to automatically assume that I'm a nerdlesque or neo burlesque performer.  One was just straight up impossible to Google without drawing up porn sites, and as sexy and sexual as burlesque is, that was not something I wanted to be associated with.

None of them felt more right than "Hana Li", and because I used it for an author surrogate, there's yet another layer of myself in it (if only I could work in a connection with my love of action sports).  Even with the challenges in getting people to pronounce it right or call me by it, "Hana Li" has become who I am and is the name I want to be known as.  Hey, I even have it spelled out in rhinestoned letters now.  You can't get anymore burlesque official than that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Third Annual San Antonio Burlesque Festival

The trip to San Antonio began with a rocky start.  Running short on sleep, the Companion and I were tired and cranky.  He was probably more so than I since I had been the one pushing to leave early, only to be the one to run late.  As he was doing last minute errands, I thought I could do some last minute rehearsing…and finish packing.  On top of that, I had one more costume repair left to do.  Thankfully I could do that in the car, but it was a stressful morning.

By Raven Red Photography
Things didn't improve as we got closer because we hit rush-hour Austin traffic.  I messaged Pelvis Costello, one of the producers, about not being able to make tech, and he assured me that a lot of people were delayed.  When we finally reached San Antonio, I rushed to check in and get my contacts in.  At this point, I was glad I opted for a cheap motel that was on the way to the Josephine Theatre though later I would regret this decision.

I made it in time to tech but did only do a minute of my song to keep things moving along.  Suddenly I found myself with some extra time, not wanting to get into that fleece onesie just yet.  I felt a little out of place since I didn't know that many people.  However, everyone was nice, and I found out that there were a lot of geeks backstage.  Later in the evening, I completely flipped out when I realized that Caramel Knowledge was a Rule 63 Nick Fury.  Pelvis and I also had a conversation about how non-burlesquers should be known as Mundies after he spotted Fables as one of the comic books in my act.

There were a lot of geeks in the crowd too.  The audience response was amazing!  It's funny that while I was anxious in the days leading up to the festival, I acted like I did this on a daily basis once the show began.  I think reminding myself that I'm just going to have fun helped.  My routine went by in a blur, and the adrenaline was still pumping after I exited.  I had to sit in just my pasties and panties before putting on some clothes to settle down... although backstage shenanigans made that a little bit harder to do.
I got to enjoy a lot of stellar performances before curtain call and the award for Future Legend, presented by Shannon Doah.  Big congrats to Tifa Tittlywinks!  There wasn't an after-party or even a group outing for food, but The Companion and I did run into Pystol Whips at the taco stand.  She was the one who brought up tacos backstage, and it was nice to wind down the night with yummy food and talk of random things with a fellow performer.

After waking up much earlier than desired, the Companion and I began our Saturday with brunch at a diner.  Since I had two workshops, I opted for a salad, but that turned out to be chicken with cheese all over and some lettuce and tomatoes.  I was very worried that I would not survive Michelle L'amour's "Booty Lab".  It was intense, but according to Black Mariah (who had the best spot in the house being behind everyone), I fared pretty well.  I used muscles that I didn't know existed.  Next was "Dynamic Staging Techniques with Waxie Moon".  His enthusiasm made me forget about my shyness or my exhaustion.  I came away with a better idea of how to choreograph routines.

Showgirl pose in front of the Alamo
The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to a bit of sightseeing.  Then it was dinner with a couple old friends I knew since college.  The heat must have gotten to me because I felt totally drained by the time Saturday's show began and actually took off my button-up shirt to cool off (thank you burlesque for making a vest and push-up bra totally appropriate to wear).  Nevertheless, the performances were great, and I was super stoked to see two friends take home sparkly taco awards, Blaze for Most Classic and Mary Lynn Mayhem for Best Solo.  The Companion decided that he owed the producers drinks for putting on two fantastic shows and just being awesome overall.  

We were sad we couldn't stick around for the Sunday brunch, but it was nice getting to chat with Jasper St. James and Shelby Mine (yay for Tumblr friends meeting in person!) and Eaton Johnson of Queertini Time.  I much prefer the chill atmosphere of a brunch versus an after-party, and Foxxy Blue Orchid was such lovely host.  I hope next time I can hang around San Antonio long; you can bet that I'll be applying for next year's festival.

More photos of my performance can be found on my facebook page.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Letdowns and Ladies of Power

Upon returning from BHoF, I had zero time to recover.  As I mentioned in my previous post, an audition deadline wound up being a month earlier than expected, and while I didn't have to have a completed routine, I had to get my point across.  I could have waited for another audition, but video game-themed shows don't crop up very often and I had an idea for a Metal Gear Solid act brewing in my head for a year.

The other surprisingly difficult part was finding a box
that I could fit under. 
Sorry, you only get a peek of the costume.
Prior to leaving for Las Vegas, I ordered my main costume pieces.  When they arrived, I realized my error: I was thinking more like a cosplayer rather than a burlesquer.  Authentic BDUs make very awful tear-away pants due to all the layers and the cargo pockets.  Fortunately, my friends Radha and Ramon offered their sewing expertise and equipment to come up with something that could work.

I stressed like crazy for about two weeks, and when I filmed the routine, I felt like a badass.  Thus I couldn't help but be extremely bummed to find out that I didn't get in the show.  I tried to remind myself that competition was tough and that I still had made it into the San Antonio Burlesque Festival.  After a week of moping, I started to see where I could improve.  Just like the routine I submitted for the Moulin Rouge show, I rushed into this.  Even though the idea may have been in my head for a while, I needed to take time to let it develop.  Rejection is tough, but I have to move forward... and quit jeopardizing my day job to meet a deadline.

If the stress of putting together a new routine wasn't enough, I also signed onto do a photoshoot for Ladies of Power.  The wonderful Callie Calypso decided to create a cosplay calendar to benefit a local women's shelter while simultaneously promoting feminism in all its different forms.  To learn more about the project and help us meet printing costs, please visit our Indiegogo.  Fundraising ends in a couple of weeks!

If I hadn't made it clear in my previous posts, I hate sewing.  I wound up putting the task of finishing my Wonder Girl cosplay off until the night before, which led to panic and my poor partner having to save my butt.  The Companion had already spent his precious time working on my Snake costume for the aforementioned act, and now he was drawing out the "W" for me.  It hit me that I don't actually enjoy making costumes, making me question my involvement with cosplay.  That night, I decided that with the exception of a couple of dream costumes, I was going to stop all my future cosplay plans.  I'd still do cons in my complete outfits (because I do like wearing cosplay), but I was going to spend the time and money elsewhere (i.e. burlesque).

By HendrixHunter Photography
Make-up by Meghan Palla

In spite of that revelation and the additional horrible time I had trying to get a specific haircut for the shoot, I had a blast at the Ladies of Power shoot.  I had brought together different friends, and it felt good to be a part of something that was going to help others.  My fellow Ladies of Power started talking about group cosplays, and I desperately wanted to join.  However, I reminded myself about how unfairly I had been treating The Companion in making him be my tailor for both burlesque outfits and cosplays.  I needed to reprioritize and refrain from rushing into new cosplays (are you sensing a theme too?).

Ironically I've decided to work on one of the exceptions to my "No New Cosplays" rule because my hair is the perfect length after having had most of it chopped off to fix the botched cut.  I will also be performing in the Latin Burlesque Festival with Fuego de Samba (more on that in a future post) and at a Quentin Tarantino-themed show.  The later has me working on a new act.  You can bet that I'll be taking my time on this.

You can also catch me stage kittening at Nerdvana, a celebration of Taffeta Darling's birthday and the anniversary of Fangirls: Dames of the Round Table.

By the way, if you like my seeing my cosplays, check out my posts to Tumblr.  I've shared my favorite costumes of all time: #1-5 and #6-10.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My First BHoF Weekender - Day 4 (and 5)

Sunday was the final official day of BHoF, and in spite of the desire to sleep in, I wanted to make the most of it.  Carmen and I went to the Legends Q&A which was one of my favorite things of the weekend.  The legends had so many great stories.  I was shocked to hear how young some of them were when they started.  When I was 14, I didn't know what to do with myself.  I mustered up the courage to ask them a question: what is something we have today that they wish was around back then?  Although some of the legends misinterpreted my question to be about what they missed from the past—the general consensus being live music—, I appreciated the insight.  It made me feel lucky that we have the internet, mp3s, and cell phones.

Photo from Carmen St. Cloud
After the panel, I spent a long time looking for the right souvenirs to bring back home and called The Companion.  I got down to the pool just in time for the fashion show.  The nice thing about being short is that I can slip in between people without blocking their view.  Then it was time to hit the water, where a bunch of us gathered for a burly conga line.

For Sunday night, Apple Angel had gotten together a My Little Pony group.  Since she was doing Twilight Sparkle (the pony that I had already cosplayed), I spent the week before BHoF trying to figure out whether to do Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.  The former suited my tomboy style, but the latter was more my personality, especially among the bold and outgoing burlesque crowd.  I settled for Fluttershy since I had a pink wig and an outfit that, though made me feel under-dressed, would suffice.  Had I known Kay Licious had put together a Fluttershy ensemble, I would have gone for Rainbow Dash.  However, the nice thing with cosplay is the more, the merrier!

Photo by Ed Barnas
I could easily see why the Icons and All-Stars won their titles.  There was so much attitude, fierceness, and creativity.  My favorites were Tigger! whose clever take on a classic strip made me disregard my dislike of phalluses, Dolls of Doom who had me fangirling over their high tech costumes and Heelys, and Perle Noire who always brings 110% to her performances.  I also enjoyed Dusty Summers' magic act; it was simple but much better than what I saw with Criss Angel.  Even though awards and speeches dragged the night out, I understood the importance of recognizing influential individuals and key players.  They worked hard to help make burlesque what it is today.

how you do BHoF
with no checked bags

Carmen and I decided that this was the night to party it up, but most of our friends had either turned in early or were M.I.A.  Since I had congratulated Mr. Gorgeous during intermission (he's so sweet), I went looking for Midnite Martini.  I found her and was able to give her my praise (she's so sweet too).  Then I came across Carmen who had found Blaze by the slots.  We decided that we would go play a little bit since most people were chatting and smoking outside the party venue.  I wound up breaking even and decided to head upstairs to pack.  A part of me wished I had stuck around the party and danced a bit or at least tried to talk to more people, but I think I did good for an introverted noob.  Maybe next time I go I'll socialize more.

Heading up early to pack turned out to be a good idea since I somehow figured out how to cram everything into my two carry-ons.  My flight was in the morning so there wasn't really time for good-byes although Carmen kept me company after I found out there was a long delay.  I was able to get standby for an earlier flight that was also delayed.  Boy was that an anxiety-inducing wait.  I was sad that BHoF was over, but I wanted to go home.

Especially since I had a lot of things waiting afterward…like a routine to finish and submit.  I thought the deadline was a month later than it actually was.  On top of that, I came back to news that I was accepted into the San Antonio Burlesque Festival.  These couple of months after BHoF have been crazy, but that's a post for another day.  In the meantime, see you in San Antonio this weekend!

To read my previous BHoF posts, click on the links: Days 0-2 and Day 3
To see more pictures, visit my facebook album

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My First BHoF Weekender - Day 3

The one must-have item from Burlesque Hall of Fame wasn't even official merchandise; it was a rhinestone necklace spelling out one's stage name from DuBerry's.  There was a practical function: it made the perfect burly name tag.   Lily LeCroix and I didn't have one so we, along with Black Mariah and Carmen St. Cloud, made it our mission to hit up with the indoor swap meet.  I kept an eye out for potential costume pieces or a nicer dress to wear to one of the shows, but I kept a tight fist around my wallet.  I did, however, get my "name tag", an eyebrow pencil, some hair clips, and a belt—for a total of less than $15.  After a sketchy ride back, we hit up the Burlesque Bazaar again, where I did find a costume piece from Booty and the Geek.

Our pre-show dinner became a battle
between the blues and the reds.
People were not kidding when they said I would overdose on burlesque by the end of the Tournament of Tease.  Two performances in and I already had two of my favorites for Best Debut.  Lisa Fa'alafi gave a huge middle finger to Polynesian stereotypes and managed to make leaves look chic.  Then Jeez Loueez brought so much attitude to the stage as Rufio, dancing to Michael Jackson.  Rounding out my top three was Bonnie Fox who Charleston-ed faster than anybody I'd ever seen and into the Best Debut and Most Dazzling Dancer titles.  I was also rooting for Dallas' own Missy Lisa who was the obvious pick for Most Classical.

The next three categories sped by due to fewer competitors and a lot of high energy performances.  Since I considered Japan my second home (I lived there for a year), I was eager to see Circus de Moccos in Best Group.  They did not disappoint, and I truly appreciated their whimsical and silly take on sexuality.  The Land of Sweets won the category, and while they stuck to more traditional dance, I had to give them props for their technical skills and the homage to my favorite ballet, The Nutcracker.  Although Best Troupe had me biased with the Ruby Revue competing, the ladies really were on point in every little aspect.  Even looking back at the photos now, I'm impressed with how everybody's legs were extended to the same height.  I was super stoked for them.

Ruby Revue also gets my pick for cutest dress theme,
as they matched their gowns to their costumes.
King of Boylesque was my favorite to watch because all four contenders had such a different aesthetic.  They represented all forms of masculinity—from graceful and androgynous beauty to "Macho Man".  I couldn't pick a favorite…except that Mr. Gorgeous did win my heart by building his act around one of my favorite things in the world, ice cream.  He won the judges' hearts too, as he got the crown at the end of the night.

Finally the Miss Exotic World/Queen of Burlesque competition came.  It wasn't as diverse as some of the other categories, which was a little disappointing, but everybody was dancing at such a top level that I was still in awe.  The ones who did stand out to me were the ones who took a different approach.  Iva Handfull rocked her suit and giant mohawk; she brought the fierceness that I've admired since I knew who she was.  Melody Mangler's transformation from a devout Puritan to a fiery enchantress was unique and well thought-out— I always love a good narrative.  The two I was cheering loudest for were Midnite Martini and Ginger Valentine for obvious reasons.  The former epitomized grace, innovation, and boldness with her mix of aerials and classic burlesque while the latter displayed the perfect balance of elegance and raw sexuality.  I was super stoked when Ginger got second runner-up with the gorgeous Medianoche getting first runner-up.  Then I became even more elated as Midnite Martini took the title.  Very rarely do we have a woman of color as Queen of Burlesque (especially an Asian), and Midnite Martini's ability to take the most classic moves to a new level is inspiring.

I helped Carmen her mission
too: getting a pic with the
handsome Trojan Original.
After that marathon, I didn't have that much energy to party.  However, I did want to congratulate the winners, particularly my classmates and teachers.  I also made it my mission to tell Circus de Moccos "Otsukaresama deshita", which translates as "Thank you for your hard work" and is something you say to performers afterward in Japan.  Sometimes I wish we had a standardized phrase like that in English because "I loved your performance" feels repetitive after a while and "You were awesome" sounds corny.  I don't know where to find the middle ground between expressing appreciation and coming off as a super fangirl.  Being overly self-conscious of being the latter kept me from talking to more people.  There was one more night left so I didn't stress about it too much, especially since I had a lovely day and evening with friends and great performances.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My First BHoF Weekender - Days 0 to 2

aboard The High Roller
Last year I had passed up the invited to go to BHoF because I had already committed to A-kon.  Before the anime convention was even over, I had made up my mind to go to Vegas the next year.  Despite my determination, I was apprehensive.  I knew BHoF had the potential to make my social anxiety skyrocket the same way A-kon had.  I arrived at the airport wondering what I had gotten myself into, but then Carmen St. Cloud, my BHoF roommate, showed up and I saw the sun.  We were going to have a lot of fun that weekend.

Since we arrived a day earlier, we explored the Strip and saw Criss Angel's Believe.  The show was entertaining but not the best I've seen in Las Vegas.  Afterward, we rode The High Roller, a new attraction that took us over the entire city.  The view was gorgeous and a good way to cap off a night of doing non-burlesque things.

The official first day of BHoF began early due to the time difference and us being early risers (for burlesquers).  I had bought an afternoon ticket for the Shimmy Shuttle to the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum so Carmen and I staked out a spot by the pool.  The Shimmy Shuttle was fun although I wish I had a travel buddy since everyone else seemed to have one.  Tiny as it was, the museum was wonderful.  The featured exhibit outlined the history of burlesque, beginning with The Black Crook and Lydia Thompson's British Blondes.  Having researched the history for my All-con panel, there wasn't much I hadn't all ready known, but it was cool seeing those flyers and photos in real life.  Plus we got to admire the exquisite details of the costumes up close.

I don't think I've been as excited
to see a G-string.
By the time I returned to The Orleans, the pool had been taken over by burlesquers.  Again I couldn't stay for every long because Carmen and I had to change, get dinner, meet up for the Texas photo op, and find our seats.  Sadly we couldn't really enjoy the buffet due to the time crunch.  At least we had a decent sized group for the photo op.

Photo by Ed Barnas
Day 1's show was Movers, Shakers, and Innovators which highlighted dancers at their most creative.  My three favorite acts were: Sizzle Dizzle whose tribute to her friend with cancer brought tears to all our eyes (never thought that would happen at a burlesque show), Rubensque Burlesque who fiercely embraced their curves and gave a big F-U to modern day beauty standards, and Ray Gunn's Jabberwocky which made the English major in me squee with delight.  His attention to all the aspects of staging is really admirable.  I was super inspired by everyone that night.

The highlight of Day 2 was the Finishing School class, "Latin Moves with Tai Ping".  I was nervous about not being skilled enough of a dancer, but the class turned out to be easy-going and fun.  Tai Ping and Kristina Nekyia made a great team, and I came away with more knowledge of Latin dance and how to create drama.  A bonus was our mini Q&A session with Tai Ping and learning how she got started in burlesque.

Photo by James Lester
After browsing the Burlesque Bazaar, Carmen and I wound up checking out the Barecats Bowling Invitational because we knew it would be wild.  Some of the Ruby Revue ladies were participating so we got to cheer them on.  There were a lot of fun costumes and wild moments.  It made me want to participate even though the game ended so close to when the doors for the Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase would open.  Maybe one year…

Blaze, me, and Carmen
Being a newcomer, I know my opinions don't carry much weight.  However, I shared The World Famous *BOB*'s disappointment at the number of empty seats.  This was the legends' night!  I thought that was what BHoF was about, and the competition was just a bonus.  I felt terrible that my exhaustion and an increasingly upset stomach (most likely from dinner) prevented me from being less attentive than I could have been because the legends deserve all the props.  It was hard to pick a top three, but mine were: Lovey Goldmine who made us green like our outfits with her rockin' body and then shocked us by going down in her splits (and this was her return to the stage!), Holiday O'Hara whose commanding seated performance culminated with her standing (and the rest of us followed suit), and Gabriella Maze who impressed the belly dancer in me by fiercely moving to Beats Antique.  Toni Elling received Legend of the Year, and she was the embody of grace both on- and off-stage.

World Famous *BOB* told us to "become what you see tonight".  Seeing all the legends on-stage really hammered that message home.  Regardless of the fact that this is really a hobby for me, I wanted to work harder and be someone worthy of carrying on the legacy of burlesque.

Carmen, the legendary Dee Milo, me, and Lily LeCroix
Photo from Lily LeCroix

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Upcoming shows: San Antonio Burlesque Festival

As I'm writing up my BHoF recaps, I would like to announce that I will be performing in the Friday Night Showcase of the San Antonio Burlesque Festival.

Click here for tickets

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spectacular Lessons with Penniless Writers and Pink Feathers

My recap of Texas Burlesque Peepshow's Moulin Rouge- inspired show actually starts two months before the show.  That was when I decided to put together a routine.  Plenty of time, right?  I failed to realize that my "Black Glasses" act had been brewing in my mind much longer than the month it took to put it together.  There was also the issue of making a complicated costume, which I couldn't have done without the help of my wonderful friend Mandy.

This is the face of a tired
penniless writer.
The premise of my act was inspired by Christian at the beginning of the movie and "Nature Boy".  While I liked the song, I thought I would go with something less obvious and more adaptable.  I'd been wanting to dance to "Hurricane" by MeByMe, an old music project from a college acquaintance.  That must have been a strange facebook message for him to have received.  With the time crunch, precise choreography, and monster of a costume, I started to become distracted from other aspects of my life.  In a way, I was turning into my character with the frustration and lack of sleep.

When I first considered performing, I read a lot about needing to have a thick skin.  I've never handled rejection well, but being a writer and constantly reminding myself that I was doing burlesque for fun steeled my soul.  Nevertheless it still hurt to learn that I wasn't cast.  What really got me was knowing that I could've done much better had I not procrastinated.  To regroup, I decided to put that routine to rest for now, but I did continue to go to dance class.  There, another opportunity presented itself.

Black Mariah had been putting together a fan dance for Spectacular Burlesque!  Since I wanted to focus on my solo act, I wasn’t sure about joining in.  However, the routine, which was set to Valeria's "Rhythm of the Night", was too irresistible to not learn.  It gave me a chance to work on my fan dance technique, and I finally was motivated to buy proper ballroom shoes.

Las Tentadoras Plumas Rosadas

I was stoked at how our routine had come together by show day.  We had different experience levels with both the dance and performance in general, yet we all came together on-stage and backstage with putting on costumes and make-up.  I did almost have a meltdown two acts before ours because one of my false eyelashes had started to fall down.  I had been struggling with them all day and with another pair the night before.  Since there wasn't enough time to reapply, I ripped the other one off and got ready to step out.  With all the gorgeous fans and even more beautiful ladies, I don't anybody noticed.

I think the false eyelash failure was a sign that I'm not really classical at all.  That's not to say they're not a staple for all of burlesque, but I had struggled to come up with a pink and black costume too.  Then there was the realization as I watched the other performances that the routine I submitted really did not fit in with the show at all; that is, my vision of the Moulin Rouge— the free, bizarre Bohemian spirit— wasn't the vision of Spectacular Burlesque!  Although I've had the inkling for a while, I didn't want to pigeonhole myself as only a neo or nerdlesque dancer.  Now I know I shouldn't force things to happen.  Group numbers can be where I get my taste of classical, and I have an idea of how I can improve my writer routine.  At the after-party, Jay Scarlet did a Tarot reading for me that told me to stick to my guns with whatever I'm working on.  I think that summed up the major takeaway from this experience pretty well.

For more photos, visit my facebook.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

#YesAllWomen Means Burlesque Dancers Too

I haven't talked much about feminism and burlesque because it's a tired conversation that has gotten nowhere (the link reveals truly how long the debate has gone on). However, as an unapologetic hardcore feminist and overall social justice rogue, I can't avoid the topic. This past week, the #YesAllWomen movement has really taken off, and it really warms my hard heart to see burlesque dancers use the hashtag to share their stories and stand in solidarity.

my second cosplay ever:
Umi Ryuuzaki from
Magic Knight Rayearth
It's about damn time. A year ago, the "Cosplay Is Not Consent" movement began, uniting cosplayers all over the world against harassment. Many were already sharing their stories before then, but this helped bring the problem to the mainstream. I remember the second time I cosplayed, the first time I attended a convention, almost resulted in me quitting. Thankfully there wasn't any unwanted physical contact or too lewd remarks (though what kind of world do we live in when we're thankful of that?), but it was obvious that the people did not even consider that the group had underage member.

 I bring up my cosplay experience for several reasons. The first is that Elsa S. Henry proposed a same movement last year for the scene. Before reading article, I had only dealt with minor incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. How naive of me to think that burlesque was "safe". To make things worse, when I talked about it to non-burlesque friends and how I didn't know if I wanted to go to BHoF anymore, a couple said, "Well, what do you expect?" Cosplay and burlesque are not the only scenes subjected to rampant misogyny. It's everywhere, and that is why #YesAllWomen was created.

With burlesque though, there is more cause for outrage. Dancers using the hashtag have been accused of being hypocritical and told that they "deserved" to be harassed or worse due to what they do and what they wear. What bullshit. I got harassed in my Umi Ryuuzaki cosplay which covered every inch of me except my face, neck, and hands. I've been harassed while wearing business casual as much as I've been harassed while in a bra and panties. It's especially hurtful when feminists turn on dancers because it weakens the movement. Yes, burlesque has bawdy origins and you can catcall the dancers on-stage, but like cosplayers, we are still people. We are people who work hard at what we do and are proud of it. Those who enjoy the fruits of our labor but can't stomach our humanity, who won't accept the brains and heart that comes with the beauty, can head out the door; slut shamers are not welcome here.

Respect shouldn't depend on what you're wearing
or whether you're working press or stripping.
Obviously I did not quit cosplay because I wasn't going to let a bad experience get me down. I still am incredibly frustrated at the misogyny, whether it's my sexy cosplay sisters getting accused of being "attention whores" or dealing with a guy who does not understand that "You're a cute Asian" is not a legit reason to take my photo when I'm not in costume. I'm equally frustrated at burlesque shows when guys try to sneak behind the merch table or when drunk women say they'll pay me to bend over like I do on-stage. Sometimes I wonder if I should speak up, but there's always a fear that the perpetrator will freak out and make a scene (and that's not the worst that could happen). Then that just looks bad for me and the show.

This is why the solidarity I saw this week is so important. Knowing that we have each other's backs makes me feel a little safer. On top of that, seeing male dancers share articles in support reveals that we are being heard by the guys. I know that there is an element of fantasy in both burlesque and cosplay. However, as I've said before, we are real people. We deserve nothing less than the respect shown to co-workers, family, and friends. We deserve to have our voices heard because #YesAllWomen includes us.