A Brave New Burlesque

The Neon Presents Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque

By J.T. Ryder

Dirty Martini

While the word burlesque may be a derivative of the Latin word burra, meaning trifle, it is anything but. While its organic origins are obscure and rather hard to pin down, what is now known as the ‘old’ burlesque was a fanciful mélange of sexual innuendo, farcical skits and deviant dance numbers. The primary image of burlesque being scantily clad women sashaying about to a bump and grind beat is truly only representative of the declining years of the ‘old’ burlesque. With that in mind, however, the mold in which burlesque cast itself was a molten cauldron of sexuality and ribald humor mixed in with elements of musical interludes and poignant social commentary. The realm of the ‘new’ burlesque lies somewhere in between the shadow world of the seedy strip clubs, theatrical performance art, the drag scene and the Rockettes.

Another film about the burgeoning ‘new’ burlesque is a documentary by Gary Beeber (Ten In One Productions) that is set to make its Dayton premier on November 18th at 8:00 pm at The Neon Movies. I was able to speak with Beeber at length and one of the first questions I asked was how he became interested in the world of burlesque.

“I was working on a film about this fire eater from the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. I had asked the fire eater who would be good people to interview that liked her and she pointed out Dirty Martini. So, I went over and did the interview with Dirty and in meeting her, I was just amazed immediately because she wasn’t anything like what I thought a burlesque performer would be.” Beeber said, his respect for the performer reflected in his voice. “What I thought a burlesque performer would be was like a Las Vegas showgirl and I thought that she might be rather vacant, but Dirty was incredibly bright and very well spoken. She was just the total opposite of what I thought a burlesque performer would be and I thought, ‘Jeez, this would make a good film!’ That’s how it basically came to be.”

In talking with Beeber, I wondered how the art of burlesque had been revived. What was the impetus and who were the performers that brought it back from the dead?

“This film is about Dirty Martini. What had happened with burlesque is that it died out. I mean, it was totally dead. Dirty was really enamored with the downtown drag scene where they were doing these burlesque-like pageants and she was just trying to do what they did. Now Dirty had even gone to college to study modern dance, so that is her background, so she kind of worked it in to what became the ‘new’ burlesque. Now, Dirty Martini and the other people in this film didn’t really know that they were doing burlesque. Dirty Martini and some of these other people were the ones that really pioneered this new burlesque that is now everywhere.”

In delving into this topic for his documentary, I was curious as to how much Beeber presented the long and convoluted history of burlesque into the mix.

“In interviewing Dirty Martini, I also explored some of the people that influenced her. They were people like Tura Satana, who was famous for her role in Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! There was also Dixie Evans, who was the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque and several others who I was able to get some very rare footage of. So, with that, we do explore where her moves came from. There’s also Dee Milo, who I don’t think is that well known, but she was the goddess of dance.” As to how he juxtaposes the past with the present, Beeber revealed that, “Some of the footage that we got is of these women doing their routines and then I have Dirty do her version of it, so that is how we explore the old time burlesque.”

And what of the satirical sniping that used to exist in the burlesque of old?

“Having dealt with many of these performers and seeing their shows, I feel that they are exploring the boundaries.” Beeber added that, “Some of these shows have a political message too, so it’s not just someone up there shaking their rear-end. It’s not just somebody taking off their clothes.”

There are other social commentaries as well, and ones which fit well into the modern world and are represented by the performer’s presence as well as the performance.

“Well, what we talk about in this film is the women’s movement and we talk about how that has affected burlesque. I think that with Dirty Martini…I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but she’s big, beautiful woman. There are so many women, all over the world, who have been inspired by her.” Candidly, Beeber said, “Basically, every woman in the world thinks that there is something fucked up about their appearance and they are very inspired by Dirty because Dirty goes out there and puts on a show and then they feel, ‘Well, my body is good too. I’m beautiful too.’ So, she has broken a lot of barriers. It’s interesting too, because in the film, she says that she doesn’t give a shit about what men think about her. All she cares about is that she can do her performance.”

Dayton native Gary Beeber will present his documentary, Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque at The Neon Movies on November 18th at 8:00 pm. Tickets are only $15 in advance ($20 day of show). There will be a live performance after the screening by Dayton burlesque queen Champagne Shock as well as burlesque queens Viva Valezz!, Pandora Foxx and Nina Cherry and hosted by MC Dexter Wilde. For more information, call The Neon’s box office (937) 222-7469 or visit the movie’s website at ten-in-oneproductions.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer J.T. Ryder at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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