What is burlesque? That’s what photographer Brian C. Janes sought to find out as he traveled 14,000 miles across the country. As he interviewed, Janes snapped original photos of the dancers in full dress and makeup in their own homes. From comfy cottages in small towns to haute lofts in New York City, each location brought him an up-close and personal look at what burlesque means to the men and women who perform it.
The collection of photos became Janes’ first book, It's All That Glitters: Portraits of Burlesque Performers in Their Homes. Showcasing each of his vixens, the book begged for a launch party in full burlesque style. Janes turned to Kickstarter, the online program blooming in popularity for those searching to fund a unique project. Through the support of family, friends, and fans, It's All That Glitters - Burlesque Extravaganza earned itself a sultry celebration of burlesque, booze, and babes.
Last Thursday night at Busby’s East in Los Angeles, CA Janes and his subjects set up a blow-out fit for such a spectacular occasion. Hanging lights set a low-light tone, while event-goers lounged on plush couches, posed for the massive photo booth, and explored Janes’ gallery. Choice selections were put on proud display across the room, and across one wall a countdown began.
Patrons and performers were indiscernible in a sea of glitter, feathers and chiffon. Men twirled waxed mustaches and donned fedoras, while some of the women chose pin-up, skulls and lace, or showcased tattoos and the highest of heels. It was as if we had all traveled to an alternate dimension of class and sass – and we were ready for some serious burlesque.
As the clock counted down, everyone gathered to watch the video display introducing dancers from all over the country as they shared what burlesque means to them. One theme resonated throughout each varying response – burlesque knows no body type, no age, gender, race, or perceived notion.
Our host, MsPixy, immediately reinforced this idea as she strut onto the stage, her sidekick Giant Martini in hand. The Chicago-based dancer set a playful, irreverent tone for the evening, cracking jokes and calling out those who got a little too excited. Performers included Cha Cha Velour (Las Vegas, NV), Charlotte Treuse (Portland, OR), Coco Lectric (Austin, TX), Lili VonSchtupp (Los Angeles, CA), Lola Getz (Chicago, IL), Natasha Minsk (Los Angeles, CA), Paco Fish (Baltimore, MD), Penny Starr, Jr. (Los Angeles, CA), Sue Nami Sake (Las Vegas, NV), The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins (Atlanta, GA), and Venus DeMille (Los Angeles, CA). Each had a distinctive method, from classic to belly dancing, tongue-in-cheek to deadly serious.
The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins brought an old school Motown groove to her dance, emanating style as she shimmied to “It’s A Man’s World” by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. Lili VonSchtupp’s song, “I’m Tired” from Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, led to a slow, sardonic tease as she stripped. On the other hand, duo dancers The Honey Buns (Lola Getz and Natasha Minsk) brought a mischievous twist to their number, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, as two daring waitresses vying for the audience’s attention – diner food and all.
While the burlesque vamped up for its big finish, the audience similarly ramped up its adoration for the man of the hour, Brian C. Janes. At curtain call, he thanked all those who helped and drew resounding applause for all the hard work and man-hours he had put in.
After that, the party truly began. Fueled by a few cocktails and the spirit of the night, partygoers took more photos in the photo booth and lined up to get signatures from Janes and his portrait subjects.
The It's All That Glitters - Burlesque Extravaganza represented acceptance, an undeniable freedom, and commemoration of the night’s extraordinary performances. As the celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning, everyone in attendance felt the shimmy and shake of that ancient and ever-changing art form – burlesque.
Read the Buzzine Book Review of 'It's All That Glitters: Portraits Of Burlesque Performers In Their Homes'
View the Buzzine Gallery of 'It's All That Glitters - Book Launch Extravaganza'