Our latest book review is of a classic burlesque book – Burlesque and the New Bump and Grind by Michelle Baldwin and is brought to you by Burlesque Bible’s new resident Agony Aunt, the whip cracking, straight talking diva herself, Diva Hollywood.
Burlesque is a wonderful world filled with glitter, comedy, luscious woman, sass, class and ass. The book ‘Burlesque and the New Bump and grind’ takes us on a wonderful journey from the very early history, its temporary decline and then right up to the present day revival of this art-form that just refuses to go away. I was so happy to be asked to review this book, as it was one of the first I read on the subject and it’s written by a lady who is multi talented and I really respect. I bought my copy in New York shortly after it was first published in 2004 – it thrilled and inspired me on first reading, and it has not lost any of its appeal over time.
The author is founder of one of the first neo-burlesque troupes, Michelle Baldwin (a.k.a Vivienne VaVoom), she has been a huge influence on the revival of burlesque and her detailed research and obvious love and knowledge of all things burlesque gives you an insight into our glitter encrusted world in a very fun and witty way, with so many amazing pictures of performers posing in stunning costumes for you to drool over. We not only see the movers and shakers of today’s scene but also get an insight into to those performers who blazed the trail for us and the history of the art form, beginning with investigating who might have really invented the modern striptease, was it Mae Dix in 1917 who accidentally removed her collars and cuffs to ignite the audience into pure wild abandon? Or was it Hinda Wassau who during one performance was pushed onto the stage only half dressed by a stage manager? Or English actress Lydia Thompson, who toured the U.S.A, shocking and tantalizing with her ‘Leg show,’ Lydia Thompson and the Blondes? You will have to read to find out who you think it was. This book gives you the stories of so many varied performers including singers, promoters, comedians, films, songs and situations letting you see deeper into our burlesque history, a history which is told in such a way that it will inspire new and older performers alike.
The book also addresses some of the discussions I see regularly on burlesque forums about teaching and newbies in burlesque. I love Bella Beretta - she makes a great point about the fact that audience members “love to watch you do what you do and want to be that happy and this is why she teaches everyone,” that line alone really struck a chord with me. The art form may not be for everyone to take to a professional level, but when you think of it like this, everyone should have a go. As Ms Baldwin brings the book up to more modern times I love her tone and excitement, you can really feel the fact that she is living this. Little did she know at the time of writing this how successful Dixie Evans’ (who writes the foreword to the book), Miss Exotic world pageant would become, as it started on a goat farm just outside Vegas and now has performers all over the world pushing themselves to create more and more extravagant acts to win the title and perform on the stage. Baldwin lets us sneak a peek back stage and chats to some of the great burlesque performers of the 21st century such as Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Jo Weldon, Tigger and Bambi the Mermaid to name but a few. It did make me a little sad reading as they heralded some of the great promoters like Whoopee, from London, and their innovative shows. Whoopee are sadly no more, although I was lucky enough to perform for them and I wish they were still part of our community.
I love the fundamental message in this book as it encourages you to make burlesque your own and celebrates those that have. It talks about how we should reach into the history of burlesque to figure out what they were thinking at the time instead of just doing what they did. It encourages the reader to use everything at our disposal, such as modern technology, the newest lighting equipment, the most flamboyant fabrics… and to let our imaginations go wild. I think that this book also helps us to define our art form that is essentially about disrobing. The purpose of most burlesque numbers isn’t just to portray a sexy girl taking her clothes off – it is instead to get the audience members thinking about the entire woman and what she is thinking, feeling and creating and the ideas about the act she is doing. I love the quote from Bella Beretta inspired by watching a Tom Waits show. He was using his very sinister view of what the world is like, where it’s very ugly, but it’s the ugly that is beautiful and that’s what I wanted to create with burlesque.
I think this book should be on the shelf of every burlesque performer, newbie or fan. It’s written with so much joy and with such careful attention to detail it’s a delight to read and will encourage you to take your first step into a burlesque class or remind you why you love what you do. So slap on a pair of false eyelashes and a dab of your favourite perfume as you have a pretty amazing and glamorous bunch of people to read about.
For more on Diva visit her website www.divaburlesque.com