You can't talk about
the neo-burlesque movement without mentioning Jo Boobs (AKA
essayist, activist, and photographer Jo Weldon). Not only
is she a top-notch performer and teacher, but she also runs one of the
most extensive burlesque websites out there. This gal is passionate about
burlesque and it shows!
Pad recently sent off a set of questions to her asking about how
she started doing burlesque, her website, and what she gets out of dancing.
(Interview from July 2006)
Java's Bachelor Pad: Your website, G-Strings
Forever, has to be one of the most comprehensive burlesque websites
out there. It has just about everything for neo-burlesque gals. How did
the website come about? What inspired you to do it?
Jo Boobs: I created the site after I had stopped working
in strip joints. People kept saying terrible things about strippers in
front of me, and I was deeply offended, not just on my own behalf, but
on behalf of the amazing women I'd known over the decades, women who had
shown brilliance and character and talent and entrepreneurship and good
parenting skills and more. It started as a collection of links to strippers
who had websites about five years ago, when there weren't so many, to show
how those women perceived and utilized stripping in their lives. Then for
awhile I was one of very few photographers with a digital camera and web
access at burlesque shows, so I started posting photos to promote shows.
The photo sets were designed to give an impression what it was like to
be at the shows, rather than to show off my photography. The consumer-level
cameras were much more primitive about five years ago! So now it has become
more about the burlesque than the strip joints. But I never want to put
down my past job, especially since it paid my rent every single month for
over 200 months.
Tell us a little about your history as a dancer.
JB: I was a stripper from 1980 til the mid-late 90s, and I've
been doing burlesque (themed and costumed performances aimed at the entire
audience instead of to just the individuals who were tipping me) from high
school until now.
JBP: Where do you see yourself on the burlesque spectrum? Where
do you see yourself on a line where traditional burlesque is on one end
and edgy avant garde on the other?
JB: I don't think we invented irony or comedy striptease in
the past ten years; I think when you talk to older performers and watch
films of their shows, you see that doing skits, questioning expectations
and finding comedy in sexuality were always elements of burlesque shows.
Our cultural references may be different, and our audiences may be different,
but our ideation is probably similar. I do both--deadon traditional, and
dead-on avant garde.
JBP: Explain your Godzilla and gorilla routines to me.
Why would a women as beautiful as you want to hide behind a grotesque mask
for a routine?
JB: Of course I don't think of myself as being all that beautiful
(laughs). I don't lack for confidence though! It's important to me to have
fun, to be willing to be silly, if life is to be worth living. I'm an absurdist
and a surrealist as well as a lover of glamour. I think lack of focus was
probably the biggest impediment to my becoming a mainstream exotic dancing
success--not that I regret it, but I think people like to know what to
JBP: During this most recent Exotic
World (2006), you did a tribute to Hot Honey Harlow.
Tell us how that came about.
JB: I saw this awful, awful, deeply offensive, shallow, judgmental,
incompetent, editorial, bigoted, and distressing presentation about burlesque
in film at Lincoln Center. The only upside was that most of the clips were
beautiful. They showed the clip from Lenny, which I had always found inspiring,
and I went and read Honey Harlow's autobiography again, and as a
red-headed bisexual former drug addict who's obsessed with freedom of speech,
I really identified with her in most ways. So when I was asked if I would
consider doing a tribute to any of the women who'd passed away recently,
I didn't even have to think about it. I have to say it was very strange
and difficult doing someone else's number, since I did a near-recreation
of the scene in the movie, and I really feel like the spirit of Honey
carried me through it. I wanted to present the number in an environment
where it would be seen as a form of dance, rather than as it had been presented
at the hideous Lincoln Center event, where the dancers all seemed to be
viewed as tragic or trivial sociological specimens rather than as artists
JBP: Besides performing, you are also very active in teaching
burlesque. I'm sure you've seen lots of gals take classes for all sorts
of reasons, but from what you've seen what's the reason given most often?
JB: For fun, that is the number one reason. And that's the
best reason, because it's truly fun!
do you get out of burlesque?
JB: Fun and a sense of being part of line of fierce female
performers--as well as of carrying on something that links me to drag and
fetish, which I'm also passionate about.
JBP: What's your take on the current burlesque scene?
JB: It has gotten so big partly because of the internet and
the ability of like-minded people to find each other. It's changing, but
it always has been changing, just as music scenes always change. Many of
my students don't come from the same drag, queer, and fetish backgrounds
as many of the performers I usually work with do, but are coming to burlesque
from more traditional theatre or performance backgrounds, and some have
no background at all. So they definitely bring their own style to the evolution
of the form.
JBP: If there was one piece of advice you could give to
a burlesque dancer just starting out, what would it be?
JB: Go to lots of shows, as many as possible, and while being
inspired remember that attribution, not imitation, is the highest form
of flattery. My second piece of advice would be--sparkle!