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Miss Burlesque Is Magic

In 2010, I did something that would, all unknowing, change my life - I went to the Miss Burlesque NZ competition. Seeing the fun, creativity, and femininity, the fire of burleque was lit in my bosom - I, too, yearned to be on the spangled stage, Doing That. I was only distracted by a dapper man I saw across the crowded room at the event,  standing with the hepcat swing-dancing contingent. Why aren't I with him? I thought, with fleeting sorrow. Five months later I was floundering through burlesque dance classes and realizing that my 90s club-kid experiences might, unbelievably, be useful in a new sphere.  A year later, I had emceed my first burlesque show. And a year and a half later, I reconnected with that man in the audience, and...we had our engagement party last week. Now, in a glorious full circle, I am one of the emcees of the 2014 Miss and Mr. Burlesque NZ competition! It's the fifth annivery of the competition this year, and I have a ticket to give away - leave a comment to be randomly selected as the winner! The winner will be announced on Friday. You can also buy more tickets to Miss and Mr. Burlesque NZ 2014. And if you, too, want to take some first steps onto the stage, there are classes available with burlesque star Sina King over the competition weekend. As my experiences show, you never know what will happen! MsMrBPoster    
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Friday Follies: Reviving After Travel

At last, I'm back, after wrapping up my trip, followed by two weeks of jet lag and Extreme Busyness. Some of what's going on is very good, and some of it has made me very sad, and there'll be posts about that later. In the meantime: burlesque! I emceed a fantastic little show in Martinborough, and I'm emceeing Frolic Lounge this weekend. I'll also be extending some hospitality to a visiting performer next week - if you'd like to see her, check out The Burlesque Assassins.

FrolicPoster2013

It's the Winter Solstice here, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain. But it's a great moment to go back to our roots...here are 8 tips for developing personal style for us quirky types. After my trip, my feet were beat. I was walking four to eight hours a day, sometimes in 95 degree heat. I had blisters on my blisters! This great advice on preventing and treating blisters applies to both long hikes and high heels. Thanks to moleskin, I could still keep going, albeit with frequent gimpy breaks. Also: jewelry and taxidermy. TOGETHER AT LAST. Oh yusss.

Amy Shutt photograph of Digby and Iona ring on a taxidermy quail.

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Travel: New York, Briefly

Going to America, New York feels...somewhat mandatory. At least, it is if your father and brother live there. I stayed for four days and spent most of the time catching up with people. "New York is one of the most uncomfortable environments there is," says my Brooklyn-based brother. "You can get away with anything as long as you don't get in anyone else's way." It was frantic and crowded and sweaty and dirty and exciting and full of wonderful, high-energy people. Lovely Lolitas in NYCIn Bryant Park, meeting up with a friend, we ran into a fashion shoot and a separate Lolita meetup. By the carousel, of course! Their "Ho Ho" cakeBryant Park cafe cake. Very dark and rich. NY-EmpireState I stayed very close to here for three nights. Had some fabulous food in neighboring Koreatown.

Mi abuela Isabel NemirovskyRediscovered at my dad's place, this photo of my Argentinian grandmother, aged 22 here.

Mister Showbiz courtesy of Juleskill via Creative CommonsIt's not a New York trip without a dose of burlesque or cabaret. And I got mine from Mister Showbiz himself, Murray Hill! I saw him perform on May 18th, at Galapagos Art Space, with my "show date" being Judith of Unseen Censer. Such a pleasure to see the emceeing master at work. The show was flawless, too - unlike my excited, shaky photography. So this far better image is via Creative Commons, so you too can feel the love. A word about New York shopping. It's easy to get overloaded, jaded, bewildered, and overspent very quickly. If you have a strong interest in music, or crafts, or graphic novels, or some other highly specific hobby or subculture, you may get more pleasure out of spending money on the specialized items for these that you can find in NYC than on the chimera of "New York style." But many visitors to New York are convinced the chimera is out there... I find my best New York fashion return-on-investment comes from cosmetics. It is worth it to pick your favorite cosmetic counter and get some refreshing tutorials along with your purchases. My favorite is the boutique brand Paula Dorf, and their Henri Bendel counter is staffed by makeup sorcerers.  I went to them and said, "My eyebrows - can you help?" They did. Clothes were more hit and miss - I'm not the only one to find this season of clothing rather meh. Macy's on Herald Square was vast and confusing. I preferred the cleaner, more tranquil, and better curated Lord and Taylor at 38th Street - their sale racks had some bargains that matched items I was seeking. New Yorkers look like everyone and wear everything - the full cross-section of humanity, not the tooth-bleached actors in Manolos we get in the media. That said, this spring, the New York fashionistas got a memo that said "Wear a very, very simple black dress. And beige shoes, and a bag of an entirely different color. Top it off with a clunker of a necklace or a bracelet, but NOT both."
Unseen Things is on Etsy, most of her jewels get snatched up before they are posted.
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Steampunk Style Everyday

Hustlin' that bustle

Steampunk costume. Note the hat, the voluminous sleeves, and the deep bustled skirt. Photo courtesy of the steampunk event, Aethercon, and Paradox Photography.

Steampunk and me: we were meant to be. My love of science history and natural science "wunderkammers" - my lifelong vintage clothing + jewelry collection, which began at about age 14, when a British great-aunt left us her miscellaney of Victorian jewelry, laces, and photographs - my naturally prim face, which can be traced back to those Victorian photos. Steampunk ties it all up with a bow and a couple of gears, just for the looks of it, and encourages us to tell stories about the fantastical fictional worlds where tech-friendly, remixed clothes of yesteryear would be everyday wear. As a science-fiction/fantasy genre, steampunk has refreshed the fun of being a sci-fi fan, revitalized steam-technology museums, and even increased interest in Victorian architecture. Steampunk is a delightful Victorian manse in the air, with many rooms, but is it possible to rifle through its wardrobes for every day? I wish to debunk three huge fallacies about steampunk style:
  • Steampunk style is for costuming only. Not so! I incorporate steampunk items all the time. My more "everyday" steampunk-flavored looks set aside strong costume elements - long skirts, hats, and ray guns - and give normal garments a twist.
  • Steampunk style is based on a muted brown/gold palette. Like these looks here.- It's often said that "steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown." My everyday steampunk look is, admittedly, exhibit A. But steampunk can be done up in any color palette you desire. Club-room Victorian colors seem like naturals (navy, hunter, burgundy, amber) but the Victorians themselves loved what artificial aniline dyes could do for their wardrobes. And there's no reason that the pastels of the late 1800s and the Regency aren't steampunk. So if you aren't an "autumn", you can still get steampunky.
    I can get in and out of cars by myself in this and I don't get caught on furniture. Yay modernity!

    Steampunk flavored for a night out. This survived an 80-km Wellington wind...can't say the same for my hair in this picture!

  • Steampunk style is hard to find. - Granted, not everyone has a great-aunt who empties the lumber room for you, but most of my key steampunky pieces were thrifted or second-hand. Victoriana and "the military look" come and go.
You can steampunk it up by adding any of the following to your style, with some basic polish as a foundation.
  • Outerwear/The "Third Piece" - A button-and-buckle laden coat, a nipped-waist jacket, or a tailored vest.
  • Detail and Richness - Pattern and texture, quality and patina. Brocade, stitching and fabric layering. Tweed and leather. Buttons. More buttons. All the buttons! Perversely, I like mixing Arts and Crafts patterns into steampunk looks, even though the Arts and Crafts crew were entirely against 19th century industrialization. Brocade jeans are having a moment, by the way.
  • Jewelry - Steampunk rewards those who love good bling. A simple outfit framing steampunk jewelry is a great way to evoke steampunk 24/7.
  • Victorian/Edwardian Looks - Buttoned gloves, buttoned or laced footwear, lavish blouses, a purse with embellished silver hardware, a hat or headband, even some real vintage in a scarf, fur, bag, or jewel.
  • Bump Up The Quality - Speaking of jeans, it is indeed possible to have jeans and sneakers as the backdrop for all these steampunk accoutrements - if the jeans are trim-fitting and fresh, and the sneakers are smooth dark leather or brocade fabric. Be thoughtful about your foundation wardrobe - quality never hurts. It's my experience that people who like steampunk are smarter than average, and I'm confident that you can extrapolate on this.
My next post is going to showcase five successful "everyday steampunk" looks that I snapped at Aethercon, the New Zealand steampunk convention. So you'll see all of this in action tomorrow.
Unseen Things is on Etsy, most of her jewels get snatched up before they are posted.

Steampunk necklaces by Unseen Things.

Some links for steampunk and vintage inspiration...
  • Aethercon - New Zealand's steampunk convention. Held last weekend in Wellington, it was absolutely fantastic and you should come along next year!
  • Steampunk Oamaru - The delightful Victorian town of Oamaru in New Zealand hosts twice-annual steampunk festivities.
  •  Brass Goggles - A very fine blog for the steampunk aficionado.
  • 2D Goggles - Amusing web comics about a version of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage...who fight crime!
  • Gail Carringer - Her Parasol Protectorate series is engaging steampunk romance/comedy, complete with awful millinery. And Gail Carringer herself, when I met her, was a lovely person, even when being mobbed at a Worldcon. Her retro style blog is separate from her author blog.
  • Vintage Textile - Do not stop, proceed directly to the Victorian/Edwardian textiles.
  • The Three Graces - Estate jewelry, and how.
  • Vintage Skins - Again, check out the Victorian/Edwardian section - authentic bags from the period that often look surprisingly contemporary.
Thank you very much! I'm here all week! Try the veal!
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Diary of a Burlesque Emcee

Burlesque emcees are curiously cagey about their dark art. And...there's something to that. Not least that emcees are often saving their voice, their persona, their best lines, for when they perform. For one post, I am drawing back the veil. Join me on a performance day and night!
They're Ed Hardy "Madrid" shoes.

Glorious orange sequined shoes. Like the sunrise, on my feet!

6:00 AM - It's a Friday, and a show day.  I'm up and at 'em this early to redye my hair. While the dye sets, I spend some time with the run sheets for the show, reviewing performer introductions. Then, I read a bit of Clive James' autobiography, The North Face of Soho. This has some great tips for both performers and writers in it, and I recommend it highly. 7:30 - I tuck the run sheet into my show bag, which is already packed.  A new pair of glorious sequined heels, from two friends who just visited the USA, will be on trial. The show team is also planning a new in-between act that required some props, so I was busy with the glue gun last night. 8:30 - Guess who's got a full work day followed by a show tonight? This gal. Ah, the glamor of being involved in burlesque in a medium-sized city! Behind the cut: makeup, costuming, and the show itself...[Read more]
Ooops, was this your skirt?
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Producing A Burlesque Rainbow

Burlesque dancers at an LGBQT pride event. How cool would that be? Holding that thought led me to produce a burlesque act for the first time. Wellington, NZ's Out in the Square LGBQT pride event wanted acts. Wellington's burlesque community has lots of talented dancers.  As the producer, what did I do to bring them together? First, I  developed the concept for an act. Second, I contacted local dancers through a mailing list. Once we had dancers interested and available, I contacted the Out in the Square committee with our proposal. They wanted to know how long the act would be and what it would entail, and I was able to tell them. To make the act relate to LGBQT pride, the concept was based on a human rainbow flag. We decided to have a pink dancer to fill out the rainbow, and found out later that pink used to be included in the rainbow flag, but was dropped when the  fabric became unavailable for producing rainbow pride flags!
Dress rehearsal with our Burlesque Rainbow

Dancers left to right: Salacious Sugar, Scarlett De'light, The Deity Dollicious, Penny Pins, Atomic Ruby, Winnie Chester, Fanciforia Foxglove, and Allegra Valentine

Back to production. Once the wheels were rolling, I did a lot of communicating about what would happen, when. For the act, I framed up base choreography and music concepts and sourced props. On the day, I picked up 32 helium balloons, and liased with Out in the Square to get the dancers  and music where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. The support of local burlesque dance teacher Miss La Belle made all the difference - she hooked us up with rehearsal space, provided one of the music pieces (a perfect fruity 1950s instrumental) and helped us refine the choreography, along with all the dancers. Crystal Mischief edited the music together just right for us, and Honey Suckle helped with dancer wrangling and stepped out as the stage kitten. This involved retrieving the stage items for 8 dancers in front of a crowd of hundreds of strangers, outside! Thank you, ladies, it couldn't have happened without you. We kept the act modest, on the chorus-girl side of burlesque, to meet the event's "family friendly" requirements. This last one may be why there isn't more burlesque at LGBQT pride events in the USA that I can find - it seems more common at events in Europe, even in Asia.
Ooops, was this your skirt?

Note the midriff coverage, skirts and boas, and the colored stockings making the dancers more modest.

Before this, I had been to a burlesque event staged in daylight, and the effect was...cruel. Instead of dancers being overwhelmed by space and sky and daylight, I wanted them to interact with it. The solution was helium balloons, which turned the whole sky into part of the show.
You can't take the sky from me!

Very, very, VERY popular with the photographers.

On the day, we were blessed with the best possible weather - sunny or a bit overcast, with minimal breeze (almost unheard of in Wellington, but it happened.) The Out in the Square staff surrendered a dressing trailer to us, folded our music into the show, and courteously read out the names of each of the dancers. The act had the best possible reception, with a cheering crowd and the emcee calling the dancers out for an interview.
Getting interviewed

Salacious Sugar fields a spontaneous interview from an Out in the Square emcee.

Offstage, I was asked some questions... Wait, what were you doing? I started out as "the person who thought this would be a good idea", and it was easier to say "producer," despite the visions of Max Bialystock I associate with that word. In the end we had a 4 person production team for 8 dancers, and we had 2 long group rehearsals. I know the dancers practiced at home, too, on top of arranging their costumes. All this for a 4-and-a-half minute act. I'll buy that. Those dancers were amazing. Can I get them to dance at my event? You sure can, the main contact is Miss La Belle, here. Why weren't *you* on stage? Out in the Square had talented emcees aplenty. I may make my burlesque dance debut at some point, but this time around, the act came together well with the talent that stepped forwards - and either had the colored costumes available, or were willing to put them together. Costuming is a big issue for a troupe! Were the dancers on TV? Yes, they started the segment on TVNZ 1. Click here to view it - their part begins at about 12:44. Their beauty had a purpose, too: the rest of the segment used the Pride event to stage a discussion about school bullying of queer youth and queer rights in NZ. And maybe more people watched that segment than usual, because it began with a spectacle of dancing women?    
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Frolic Lounge Burlesque for October!

Fonts are Little Black Dress and SpaceGun Eight months ago, I emceed the first Frolic Lounge show. Since then, both the burlesque scene in New Zealand and the ventures of Miss La Belle's House of Burlesque have expanded tremendously. One thing remains the same: Frolic Lounge is the FUN show. Look at that line up! Eleven dancers plus Miss La Belle, for two nights in the queerest bar in town, S&M's on Cuba Street, only 40 seats per show. I can't wait to emcee.  
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Friday Follies

NZ “new vintage” purveyor Oops Oh My seems to be a local distributor of Chic Star, a popular Chinese "new vintage" manufactory. And that's good – I just wish they’d sell the full Chic Star range. The clothes have good reviews online. On Oops Oh My, prices are good, delivery/returns for those of us in NZ are easier with a local distributor, and they have regular and plus sizes. Oops Oh My is looking for NZ models wearing the clothes, too. Mineral makeup divas Dollface Mineral Makeup  have created an eyeshadow color to honor Wellington burlesque teacher, dancer, and leading light Miss La Belle. Ask them about it at their web site: http://www.dollfacemineralmakeup.co.nz/ The New York Times hosts a cerebral discussion about "wild nail polish". A reminder that Frolic Lounge is on tomorrow, and I'm the lucky emcee. After the dress rehearsal, I can tell you this is one naughty and different burlesque show. Can it be, another burlesque event in Wellington, so soon? Yes! Next Saturday, July 9th, at Mighty Mighty bar on Cuba Street,  is Dr. Sketchy. I doodle and sketch myself – just finished a cartooning class– so I am WILDLY EXCITED to be helping out as the hostess for a Dr. Sketchy featuring Belle’s Beauties! There are three beautiful girls, who will be dancing, then posing for drawings and paintings. Plus chocolate, plenty of tables, and prizes for Best Dressed and for the victors of two drawing contests. The bar staff at Mighty Mighty is happy to provide water glasses for brushes to gouache and watercolor artists. All that, and this may be the best-lit burlesque event you’ll ever attend. Dr. Sketchy Wellington July 2011, with me! I'm not the poster artist for this one; the girl on the poster, the lovely Chantal, is one of the models you can expect.