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Cabaret birthday for Cabaret star

Scottish star Alan Cumming is much better known on the other side of the Atlantic than here - but the actor who is currently starring in “Cabaret” and has been winning plaudits for his role in “Good Wife” has just celebrated his half-century in style. His husband Grant Shaffer hosted a surprise party for the actor at Duane Park, New York. The keynote act was Amber Ray, who bills herself as a ‘professional sensationalist’ and who shook her tassels to help Cummings and his guests commemorate his fiftieth birthday. Also in the line-up were a hula hoop artist who apparently managed to pull off a burlesque act with 27 simultaneous hoops!

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Posted By Rowena Yee

Plastic People

Hard on the heels of the threat of redevelopment at Madam JoJo’s* comes the news that Plastic People has gone. Shoreditch has never been the most exciting location, Plastic People was handling considered to be a high class venue, but its focus on electronic music made it a clubbing mecca for those who loved music. So what’s that got to do with burlesque?  Well, nothing to do with the classic, often vintage-themed burlesque that most of us recognise as the genre, but the much more challenging and transgressive forms of burlesque that have pushed the boundaries of role-play, mime and sexual expression wore born in small clubs like Plastic People and London Bridge’s Cable (also sadly defunct) where dance forms evolved and died rapidly and where a form of purity, based around both music and self-expression, became a testing ground for new ideas about performance and audience interaction.

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Posted By Rowena Yee

Another burlesque legend passes

Gloria Dillon, famous in the golden age of burlesque as Tajmah, ‘Jewel of the Orient’, passed away in December, aged 77. Her mother, Tina Marie, was a cocktail waitress in a burlesque club and the teenage Gloria decided to take to the stage after watching the dancers perform as she did her homework!

Tajmah’s signature act was performed with her mother, who also became a burlesque dancer, and was called ‘The Spider and the Virgin’ with Tina Marie as the spider and her daughter as the virgo who becomes ensnared in the giant spider’s web. It was a powerful and athletic performance which many of today’s burlesque dancers reference in creating gothic interpretations of ‘classic’ burlesque. As many of the burlesque legends of the previous generation leave us* reconsideration of their legacy is going to turn up in more and more homage acts, and Tajmah’s Spider and Virgin is one we think is ripe for a revisit!

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Posted By Rowena Yee

Pin-ups for heroes

Los Angeles has been home to many firsts, and Pin-Ups for Vets is one of them. Gina Elise started the organisation in 2006, aware of the shortfall in health funding for US Veterans because she had relatives struggling to receive good care after serving their country. Because her grandfather had served in WWII and because she loved the 1940s pin-up style, she decided to create a pin-up calendar for ill and injured veterans which would also be sent as gifts to troops deployed overseas.

That first idea has blossomed into pin-ups volunteering at veterans’ hospitals and treatment centres and fund-raising events, the latest of which is ‘An Evening with Bettie Page’, featuring the Calendar Girls, a vintage fashion show and a screening of Bettie Page Reveals All. In the New Year, the intention is for monthly shows to take place for hospitalised veterans and troops being sent overseas - all as the result of a calendar!

If you’re a fan of the pin-up era, we’d recommend adding our gorgeously vintage red-hot bow panties* to your shopping list. As the basis for a burlesque costume they add a touch of Hollywood glamour and they can’t be beaten for comfort and versatility.

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Posted By Rowena Yee

Battle for Madam Jojo’s

One of the biggest battles in British burlesque is quietly talking place in London - and yet it’s perhaps the most heavyweight contest the UK burlesque world has ever seen. Lined up on the one side: Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry and Roger Daltrey. On the other side - property developers. The subject of the dispute? Madam Jojo’s - one of London’s most established (and establishment) burlesque joints, in Soho.

Soho Estates, which owns the venue, has received planning permission to demolish the property and convert it to a complex of shops, offices and flats. The issue is complicated by the fact that Madam Jojo’s closed in November after an ‘unruly customer’ was attacked by club bouncers, with a baseball bat! So it’s definitely unsavoury, but for those trying to save the venue, that’s the point - they fear that Soho in general and Jojo’s in particular, is being sanitised, whilst those who visit are seeking the authentic experience of a rough, transgressive, counter-culture in the heart of London’s naughtiness. What they are likely to get is a disinfected version of late night life in London’s red light district, according to campaign’s organiser, Tim Arnold. Arnold is not just an aficionado of burlesque, he’s known as the Soho Hobo and writes and performs songs dedicated to the seedy side of life. And it’s not just his preferences - Arnold’s His grandmother was a circus performer whilst his mother was a Windmill Girl - a long history of eclectic living!

Soho Estates is fighting back, claiming ‘We recognise the rich and creative history of Soho and the importance of venues such as Madame Jojo’s,’ and offering to created two new nightclubs to replace the one they are demolishing. But those who want the original Jojo’s are asking London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to intervene and save the venue.

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Posted By Rowena Yee

Burlesque background

Welcome to FKA Twigs! The singer/dancer actually named Tahliah Debrett Barnett, now FKA (standing for formerly known as) Twigs, is a British born performer, currently dating Robert Pattinson, and she’s just outed herself as a burlesquer. Not just any old burlesque performer either, but she’s put on turns at The Box, one of London’s most transgressive (and upscale) venues, frequented by Prince Harry, amongst others.

Her work, which has recently been lauded as ‘feminist dancing’* by cool and hip publication, Pitchfork, is based in part on her experience in cabaret, or, as she put it herself, ‘I’ve been in front of … a room full of drunk rowdy men who came … because they think they’re going to see naked girls. But when they get there, they see me singing jazz … you have to be able to control that crowd, to hypnotise and captivate them on stage.’

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Posted By Rowena Yee