What her fans are saying:
"My favorite moment in any burlesque show, anywhere, anytime, anyone. Time stood still for about 15 seconds while my brain tried to catch up with my heart and, well, other things. It was like the first time biting into a really really hot wing. I'm not sure I will ever be the same." - Greg, Pittsburgh
I have been performing pretty much since I could walk. First born grandchild, raised in a Mexican-American household in an extremely small town in Northern Ohio, my earliest memories were of me, about four years old, forcing my aunts and uncles to watch me put on "shows" in the living room. (I thought I was Shirley Temple.) Throughout my life I was influenced by beautiful big screen performers. My mom loves old black and white films, and as a child I formed a quick appreciation for the old Hollywood musicals of the 1940's - especially anything with many gorgeous girls dancing in unison a la Ziegfeld or glamorously synchronized swimming with Esther Williams. My all-time favorite actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood was and still is definitely the most beautiful actress in history, Elizabeth Taylor. Then, growing up in the 1970's, I fell in love with the leggy and top-heavy icons of the day - especially my most favorite idols Charo and Raquel Welch. In fact, I think Raquel Welch might have been my first femme-crush ;) That animal-skin bikini in One Million BC, come on!
As a young girl and throughout high school, I was very active in choir and swing (dance) choir. I began singing competitively when I was about twelve, and took vocal lessons throughout most of high school. I briefly considered majoring in opera or musical theater at The Ohio State University. But, I found that regimented music took all of the fun out of singing. I put my musical and performance aspirations on the back burner for, oh, about twenty years.
After graduating from OSU in my early-20's, my ex-girlfriend and I moved to the Bay Area. The West Coast was something I was not mentally prepared for. Working in Silicon Valley was an education in and of itself. I loved the fast pace of life in San Jose / San Francisco. The excitement of living in the "big city" was what I needed to help me eventually get back to my performance roots. Unexpectedly, I returned to the stage in an unorthodox way - as a bellydancer. Not sure what inspired me. Perhaps it was the exotic nature of the danse orientale. Perhaps it was the sultry movements. Perhaps it was the gorgeous women. But, what ever it was, at the youthful age of 30, I put on my first shimmy belt. And, as it would happen, dancing half-naked in front of people came pretty naturally to me.
As a child I was always in tune with my sensuality. Growing up in a household of Latina women, and having a grandmother who was a bit of a "dirty old lady," made me consider my own desirability early on. I remember knowing what pornography was while still in grade school. I developed pretty ample breasts as a girl, and even got bullied for it in grade school. I inevitably attracted boys (and girls) at a very young age. Though I didn't quite know why, I enjoyed the attention. Reveled in it, really. Though I certainly wasn't sexually active at a young age, I knew there was something to this... I quite enjoyed expressing myself sexually, even if it wasn't exactly overt at the time.
You can take the Small Town Girl out of the small town, but you can't take the small town out of her. After nearly ten years in the Bay Area, I missed the corn fields of Ohio. The fast pace of Silicon Valley eventually made me miss "home." I returned to Columbus in my early 30's. Luckily for me, there was an excellent bellydance school in Columbus where I continued studying. Habeeba's Dance of the Arts was my home away from home for nearly ten years. I started as a student, but quickly began performing and teaching under Habeeba's watchful eye. I loved everything about the art form. I loved the history, the passion, the romance, the magic of it. And, I especially loved being on stage.
Eventually I came to discover a burlesque performer in California named Princess Farhana. She was a bellydancer, as well as a burlesque performer. I was immediately intrigued. Not shy about my lusty performance style, having grown up very much surrounded by the suggestions of sex, I was immediately drawn to the idea of burlesque. I loved bellydance, but I wanted...something that was more representative of me. So, my friends of the bellydance duo Raks Jahanni allowed me to perform a burlesque-inspired bellydance number in their Halloween show in 2007. Of course I didn't strip down to pasties or a g-string in that first test run... but just taking off a few layers of clothing, I knew without doubt from that very first jacket-peel... I was hooked!
By New Years Eve 2007, I had given resignation at Habeeba's and decided to pursue burlesque with abandon. At that time, there were no burlesque troupes in Columbus performing as regularly as I hoped. My sisters of the Ooh-La-Las had shows a few times a year and invited me to participate in their shows... but I wanted MORE. If I was going to start my burlesque career at the ripe age of 41, I wanted to do it ALL and I wanted to do it IMMEDIATELY. So, having been a professional event-planner as my "day job," and having produced events for Habeeba's, I decided to just take the bull by the horns and produce burlesque variety shows. Selfishly, I put together my own shows so that I had a place to perform. I immediately put together a monthly gig at a place called East Village in Columbus' Short North. I recruited my bellydance, drag and musician friends to perform in my monthly which I called "Viva!'s Red Light Girlie Lounge." My first organized 2-hr show was in March 2008 (a fundraiser for my dear friend's top surgery). I learned quickly that putting together burlesque shows came pretty naturally to me.
At the time I started, I was hungry for burlesque inspiration and guidance. I decided to take a few trips to NYC to attend classes at Jo Weldon's New York School of Burlesque. Jo was such a pro, so savvy and polished. I know she meets hundreds and hundreds of aspiring performers, and would never remember my starstruck awe. But, to me, she was IT. She easily became my first bona fide burlesque crush. After classes with Jo, I also took lessons from the woman who started it all for me, Princess Farhana. And then, I also took classes with, and later attended a week-long "burlesque camp," at the home of past Miss Exotic World, Michelle L'amour. Since I was from a small town that didn't offer any burlesque instruction, it was very important for me to get a solid foundation from well-respected people in the business. I believe strongly that performers should know their history, respect their fore-mothers, and never be disrespectful to their burlesque "mothers" (or "fathers"). Coming from a Latina background, I believe in appreciation, esteem, allegiance and devotion to a fault. I'm old school. I feel that if you don't acknowledge and show commitment to the ones who brought you up and nurtured you, you just weren't raised right.
Being a very open and "out" lesbian, I was proud to represent small-town queers in burlesque. There were very few queer solo burlesque performers when I started. However, I did find a local inspiration in Miss Ginger Jones who was regularly performing back when I got my start. I sought her out and asked a ton of questions about burlesque. She was always very supportive and sweet to me. At that time, there was also a very popular drag king troupe, the Royal Renegades, who were integrating "girls" into their shows. A few of the Renegade ladies performed burlesque numbers. But, outside of drag king events, there was no notable queer burlesque presence in Columbus or Ohio. I wanted to help nurture queer burlesque in the Midwest.
After Pride 2008, I decided that I wanted to recruit others to perform burlesque with me. I put together a troupe of queer-identified ladies who could share the stage with me during my Red Light Girlie Lounges. In October 2008, my Velvet Hearts! hit the stage for their very first performance during IDKEX (the 10th International Drag King Extravaganza), where I was given my own burlesque show during the weekend festivities. It was a packed house, and my Velvet babies kicked ass. It was the beginning of the creation of a family that would persevere until this day. I'm proud of the accomplishments of my Velvet Hearts! over the years. Velvet family members may come and go, faces (and tits and asses) may change, but the Velvet Hearts! brand remains strong in Midwest. I'm eternally grateful to all of the Velvet babies I've ever had in my family, and all of the Velvet babies I ever nurtured to their own burlesque successes that might transcend beyond my Velvet nest. I count the ongoing success of my Velvet Hearts! as a one of my most hard-won efforts. (Keeping a successful performance troupe together ain't easy, folks!)
Luckily for me, over the years I've had a handful of wonderful burlesque accomplishments. I was named "Columbus' Favorite Burlesque Performer" in 2010 by Outlook Magazine. I have performed as a soloist or with my troupe in many festivals, such as the Boston Burlesque Expo, the Windy City Burlesque Festival, and Queerpocolypse. My most proud festival performances have been being invited to perform in the New York Burlesque Festival three times, and bringing home a coveted NYBF "Golden Pastie Award." In addition to festivals, I was also asked to be part of the cast of my friend Fever Blister's "Queerly Yours" burlesque tour in the spring of 2011. I had an idea brewing in my head, and being part of this tour helped me put it all together. I wanted to produce a large-scale queer-focused event.
As I sat at a coffee shop in Madison, WI in the spring of 2011, I shared an idea with my caste mates that I had in the back of my head since 2009. I wanted to put together a queer burlesque festival. After being on the road and connecting with other Midwest queers who perform burlesque, I knew there was a market for it. I tossed the idea around. At least one producer from NYC told me that it wasn't a great idea... because "it's not a big deal." Obviously that producer wasn't queer. So I started pitching my idea around to other queers in burlesque. I pretty much decided quickly that I wasn't going to give up on the idea. So, as soon as I got home from the Queerly Yours Tour, I immediately started planning.
I decided to call my festival FIERCE! I thought it was a fitting adjective for the beautiful queers in my community who dare to perform the beautiful art of burlesque, for those who embrace and advocate for the queer burlesque performance community. My goals were (and still are): to celebrate queer community, to highlight the talents of openly-queer performers, to bring "big city" burlesque to smaller towns, and to promote queer businesses when ever possible.
To begin to promote the festival, I put together a tour of my own, the "Fierce! Queer Burlesque Tour" in the spring of 2012, to sell the idea to other Midwest performers, to get their buy-in and support -- to build excitement and community around my idea. My Fierce! Tour cast included Crystal Swarovski, Crimson Kitty, Geegee Louise, and Akynos. We traveled that spring, evangelizing Fierce! I was building the groundwork. Then... in the spring of 2013... the very first FIERCE! International Queer Burlesque Festival happened in my beloved Columbus, OH. I wanted to introduce my festival with the biggest, queerest names in the biz - Miss Exotic World 2011 Indigo Blue and The Godfather of Boylesque Tigger! were my very first headliners. 2014 Fierce! was in Madison, WI (which is quite fitting since that's where I first formulated the idea of my festival), and 2015 Fierce! will be in my new hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. To date, I am proud of Fierce! and hold it as my greatest burlesque accomplishment. My dream is to keep producing Fierce! as long as queers continue to want to gather and celebrate!
Let me emcee your next event! I'm a singing, strip-teasin' hostess!
I'm based in Pittsburgh, PA and also perform often in Columbus, OH. But, I love to travel and I'll go anywhere!
Images not for public use.