Clockwise from top right – Gilded Lily’s Lauren Marleaux, Maria Bella, GiGi Holliday and Sophia Sunday
Anyone who follows performance art in the Baltimore-Washington corridor can tell you that the Mid-Atlantic region is a hotbed for Neo-burlesque. On any given weekend, the Creative Alliance, Windup Space, Ottobar or Yellow Sign Theater may feature the very best of the Baltimore burlesque scene. Meanwhile, in neighboring D.C., the Bier Baron, the Black Cat and the State Theater are just as busy turning up the heat for the capitol crowd.
Filling so many shows with talent is a bevy of bodacious stars. Sultry songstress Sophia Sunday may share the spotlight with burleokee queen Bunny Vicious. Paco Fish, ShortStaxx, Chérie Nuit, Reverend Valentine and Hot Todd Lincoln all play for laughs, while Candy del Rio, Mourna Handful, Maki Rolle, Miss Joule and Ruby Rockafella are melting hearts. Historic moments are Cherie Sweetbottom’s forte; modern mayhem cuts at Valeria Voxx . Add futuristic flights by Kay Sera and high-wire feats by Patsi Cake and dazed audiences are often left to wonder: “Where do all of these amazing performers come from?”
For the answer to that question, the Baltimore Post-Examiner turned to Baltimore’s Sicilian queen, Maria Bella.
Bella is founder of Gilded Lily Burlesque. The provocative performer is not only an ecdysiast, she is also a dancer and a trumpet player; all of which meld seamlessly into her classic cabaret style of burlesque. Bella knows all of the aforementioned performers, but closer to the point, she also teaches burlesque arts to students in workshop settings. We caught up with the stunning starlet shortly after her last teaching session at the Creative Alliance for a Q&A about how one becomes a burlesque performer.
BP-E ~ To start off, may we ask how long have you been performing?
MB ~ I’ve been a performer/musician for about 17 years and have been performing burlesque for about 8 years now.
BP-E ~ What motivated you personally to get into burlesque?
MB ~ That burlesque was an art form which included a plethora of skills, from dance, theatre and comedy to circus, vaudeville, performance art and music. It inspired me as a renaissance art form.
BP-E ~ You mentioned that you are a performer/musician. Where did you learn your burlesque basics?
MB ~ Here in Baltimore at The Trixie Little and Evil Hate Monkey Burlesque Bootcamp.
BP-E ~ Trixie and Monkey are based in New York now. Can you tell us how long you have been teaching burlesque basics and approximately how many students have you taught?
MB ~ I’ve been teaching a little over three years now. Off the top of my head, I can roughly guesstimate that I’ve taught about 50 students in the art form of burlesque.
BP-E ~ Any idea what percentage of those students go on to perform vs those who just take the class for fun?
MB ~ I can say that 90% or more of my Gilded Lily Burlesque students have gone on to perform. Some are even producing their own shows. Only about 5-10% have used it more as a learning experience and more for fun.
BP-E ~ Could you name 1-2 performers who took the class and talk about their growth in the art?
MB ~ Sophia Sunday was a graduate of the Gilded Lily School of Burlesque. She is now a member of Gilded Lily Burlesque and is a great example for growth as a performer. Tapitha Kix is another graduate of the Gilded Lily School of Burlesque. She has gone on to form her own troupe, Twisted Knickers Burlesque and regularly produces shows in the Baltimore area. People who follow Tapitha are always amazed at her many achievements.
BP-E ~ Do you teach men as well as women?
MB ~ Yes, and I firmly believe boylesque should be included in anyone’s core curriculum when teaching burlesque basics and history. We do need more male performers in this predominantly female art form.
BP-E ~ Performing in public seems nerve-racking enough without peeling your shirt and your stockings off. Do you see this art form as a kind of confidence builder?
MB ~ Burlesque is a confidence builder in so many ways. It teaches you acceptance of self, because it includes performers of all shapes, sizes, races and genders. It helps you walk taller and with rhythm; gives you style, grace and poise; teaches you eye contact, helps you learn to speak eloquently and how to conduct yourself in front of a crowd. It also teaches you intention behind the clothes you decide to put on your body and gives you insight on how you are perceived. Speaking personally, these are among the many ways burlesque has instilled confidence in me. And that’s something I hope to empower in others throughout my continued journey.
BP-E ~ Do you have any words of wisdom for someone thinking about becoming a performer?
MB ~ I tell all my students that one must immerse him or herself in the subculture by taking classes – not only burlesque – but also in comedy, dance, theatre, performance art, physical comedy, circus, vaudeville and music. One cannot expect to take one class and instantly become a burlesque performer; it’s just not realistic for any art form. Go to shows and start speaking with the performers in the community. Volunteer at shows, events and festivals. Work with the schools of burlesque to begin developing a repertoire of acts, and then ask to guest in some shows. Some performers have even started their burlesque career as stage kittens in order to get their performance feet wet. And then – once they have an arsenal of acts – perform, perform, perform.
BP-E ~ And when they think they have performed enough?
MB ~ Perform some more!
Gilded Lily Burlesque presents The 5th Annual Tassels & Champagne, Friday, February 14, at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, Maryland. This special Valentine’s Day show will feature Prohibition era burlesque and vaudeville performed to the live music of Baltimore’s own, Sac Au Lait. Show times are 7:30pm & 10:00pm. Tickets and other information for the Creative Alliance may be found online and at the events Facebok page.
(Feature photo credit: Tim Prendergast)
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”