As Sarah Klein and Culture Editor for the Detroit Metro Times, Sparkly Devil’s enthusiasm for the Neo-Burlesque Revival invited two of the first living legends of color to be inductee’s at the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
Sparkly would go on to create Legends Challenges and inspire relationships between contemporary performers and their predecessors. The Burlesque Hall of Fame Honors one Community Member with a Memorial Scholarship every year since her passing. As the 2019 recipient of this honor – I learned first hand how much impact one person can have on our community. I consider this history sacred and it’s a privilege to share it.
Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender 2019 Orleans Hotel & Casino – Las Vegas, Nevada
Everyone has taken their seats in anticipation of the inter-generational mayhem that’s about to ensue. Each year the Legends of Burlesque shock and delight an audience whose very existence couldn’t have been foretold by their wildest dreams. I think to myself how amazing it must feel for all these stars to shine on the people they hadn’t even conceived of when they were living their truth, their art and their best life.
Annual Emcee, World Famous ☆BOB☆ welcomes the audience after a grand entrance in an ensemble inspired by the hypothetical lovechild of Divine and Malibu Barbie. The Blonde Lady recalls the early days of Jenny Lee and Dixie Evans, the reunions on the goat farm and how their passion for burlesque kept a tiny flame alive that would become the roaring fire that continues to warm the world’s stages today. “Welcome to the Temple” she says as she reminds us that The Burlesque Hall of Fame and each of us is here because the Legends were here before us. Without these Titans of Tease, none among us would have a tassel to twirl or a glove to peel and for that we are truly grateful.
In a perfect opening act we were introduced to the Grant Avenue Follies by a golden clad ensemble member telling the audience precisely how little we know about poetry. The curtain opens to the most charming cast of citizens whose seniority is predicated by charm and unity. These synchronized swimmers of the stage used timely chimes and boa flips to cast a spell, awakening the audience to pure magic. Newly in a state of fantasia, we were introduced to cabaret legend Holly Carrol, whose throaty vocals and gritty wit transported us to the smoky stages of the casinos and clubs of yore, she worked the stage and the crowd over until we were hooked and madly infatuated her with timeless star power.
The First Lady of Burlesque, April March is then escorted onto the stage by smolderingly suave producer Seven. She spoke of the Burlesque of the 1950’s with adoration and nostalgia noting that things “were a lot different then, then they are today”. With the unfailing conversation skills of a wisecracking debutante, April had the audience rolling as she introduced us to Jack Cione, Delilah Jones, Tina Pratt, Bambi Jones, Bic Caroll, Tempest Storm and, making her legendary debut on the BHoF stage, recently inducted Kaena
Ellion Ness filled the stage like a moonbeam in a black spiral beaded skirt. She has an enchanting presence and gave everyone a lesson in at least one devilish use for a coat rack. Penny Star Sr. lit up the moment she hit the stage in white and gold with a pitch perfect coif and her whip-like tenacity. In the brassiest display of comedic charm, Gail Winns melted all of our faces with her unrelenting wit, and reminded everyone in the room that what truly makes us laugh is heartfelt truth doused in playfulness. Lovey Goldmine gifted us with her love of musical theater in a head to toe Cabaret medley. Flanked by talented dancers reminiscent of Britney and Christina in Madonna’s iconic VMA performance, Lovey weaved us into the tapestry of the ever-relevant music and message we all know and love. Each of these leading ladies reminded us of the purity of heart that got us playing dress-up and singing into our hairbrushes as children and how this natural part of ourselves can lead to a goldmine of love for a lifetime.
Brandy Wilde gently takes the stage at a podium to address the crowd and paint a landscape of burlesque in the 1960’s – a politically turbulent time. She reminds us that homosexuality was illegal and gracefully alluded to the pain of life in the closet. In a celebratory segue she tells us how she always found acceptance and respect from her peers in the world of burlesque. Many of us needed the reminder that Burlesque continues to be a refuge of pride for those of us facing social adversity in our lives offstage. Fittingly, Brandy first introduces Toni Elling followed by Adina, Melissa St. John, Rubberlegs, Lola Foxx and stage trickster Georgette Dante.
Then it’s time for Las Vegas’ only Nude Magician to offer us something to cool our jets and blow our minds. With an enterprising determination to extract all the remaining “oohs and ahhhs” from her audience, Dusty Summers reveals everything but her illusionist secrets in her mystifying performance in icy blue accompanied by white doves, dazzling smirks, and charismatic precision. Before the first act comes to a close, Bambi the Mermaid takes the stage to present the Legend of the Year Award. Holding back tears as she describes her friend, the indefatigable warrior of individuality and the Godmother of Neo-Burlesque. Camille 2000 is escorted onto the stage to tell us of her recent diagnosis with stage IV cancer and how knowing that she would have the opportunity to receive this award in her lifetime, in addition to the support from our international community has kept her alive. Overwhelmed with emotion saying “Thank you for Loving Me” her right eyelash was transposed and affixed to her cheek like warpaint and the crowd rose to their feet in support of the Cosmic Queen.
The second act opened with the In Memoriam presentation of community members, too many gone too soon, and the audience laid their hands over their collective hearts as the screen delivered its honors. The room smiled in remembrance, sighed with longing and wept in deep respect for those who have impacted the heart and soul of Burlesque with their voices and their efforts. The tone was immediately juxtaposed by the only one who could transform the mood to sheer delight. With her signature sass and flawless irreverence Big Fannie Annie takes the stage and introduces us to the band of legends who represent the 1970’s. Viva LaFever, Eartha Quake, Shawna the Black Venus, Velvet Ice, Snowi Sinclair, and Gina BonBon took to the stage and soaked in our adoration with poise and swagger.
Songbird Monique Murray treated us to a performance of the 1953 sultry hit “Teach Me Tonight” one of America’s great Jazz Standards with some pretty scandalous implications the lyrics. Gabriella Maze turned the tone on a dime with an ecstatic performance beginning with flames and isis wings and finishing with head to toe hairography and ferocious femininity. World Famous ☆BOB☆ shared a letter from Miss Topsy who was unable to attend the festivities in person letting us know that despite time and distance the flame of the reunion is alive in her heart and that she hopes to grace us next year.
Marinka, Queen of the Amazons takes the stage and with just a subtle twitch of movement she commands our attention. She knows exactly what she’s about to bestow upon her audience and she takes her time building the anticipation, her fingers tell a story and guide our eyes to the exact place where we have permission to look before she grips us with both hands, takes us with her whole body over to the velvet curtain for the moment of no return, her signature move that has the whole room on their feet for thunderous applause and jubilation. Judith Stein asserts herself like a whiskey neat on a maplewood bartop. She’s mesmerizing and smooth and she stings going down. With her matter of fact movements and brassy attitude, she could entertain us in denim and flannel if she wanted but she relishes a glove peel, kills in a pale blue gown, and isn’t afraid to use her teeth. Shannon Doah, demure and sweet, sees herself onto the stage in an ivory fur overcoat and aubergine organza headpiece, she shows us the value of a woman enjoying herself with softness and personal satisfaction. Coby Yee, accompanied by her lifetime companion Steven King give us a royal retelling of a courtship lasting an era. Coby leads and Mr. King graciously attends tender and connected moments giving this performance an authenticity that communicates a timeless true love most of us only dream about. Through this dreamworld we bear witness to a respectful and admirable intimacy that demonstrates how consent never compromises passion.
The show could’ve ended there, with a fairytale happy ending, but before we closed the curtain on this showcase, one final performance would carry us into a new reality and a deeper understanding of our place in the tectonic shifts of the greater burlesque movement. I have dedicated an entire article with a significant amount of detail to the prophetic and historical performance that permanently emblazoned Camille 2000’s place as the Girl for Yesterday Today and Tomorrow in the history of burlesque forever. First, let it be known that at the time of her performance Camille has outlived her life expectancy by nearly 7 months and with courage, came to the stage and delivered a message of self acceptance and vulnerability. Once again, the Godmother of Neo-Burlesque proved to our community that nothing holds us back from living our truth. Using religious iconography, she reclaimed her conservative christian upbringing and contorted a spiritual message worthy of the future of womanhood free from stigma and shame. With her Burlesque daughters Whitney Ward and Bambi the Mermaid at her side like angels, she sobbed through unmitigated physical pain to humbly take her place on the stage for us. We will never forget the way the room felt when Camille 2000 took her bow as Legend of the Year.
It was a night of celebration and remembrance and an unexpected reminder of the meaning we can hold in the incredible artform of Burlesque. The legends teach us so much about what we transmit as entertainers and to be in their esteemed audience is an invaluable gift. Everyone left the showroom changed for the better.
Sparkly Devil Scholarship recipient Precious Ephemera writes in tribute to burlesque legend Camille 2000 to mark her passing after a long and valiant battle with cancer.
Camille 2000, ‘the Girl for Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’, is an unapologetic woman with a particular kink for racking up legendary stories and experiences. No one could describe her as ‘subtle’. At 73, Camille is not just any burlesque legend but the entertainer who kicked open the door for any contemporary person performing burlesque against the grain and with an attitude. We can thank her for introducing the world to the fusion of performance art and burlesque.
When she began her career, she found out quickly what it would take to make a name for herself and followed suit to become a travelling feature, but after a decade of mastering her craft, and observing the market sliding towards live nude shows and lap dances, she started breaking from the classical standards of the burlesque she was initiated into.
She started changing up the music, bringing in what she refers to as ‘aggressive art’ – most notably donning leather for her famed tribute to the Marquis de Sade and killing herself on stage in ‘Black Widow’. She remembers her peers, mentors, and naysayers telling her that what she was doing ‘isn’t Burlesque’, to which she fearlessly and ferociously replied, “Well, it is now!”
At the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in June, just before intermission, Bambi the Mermaid took the stage to present the Legend of the Year Award to The Cosmic Queen. An emotional moment, she described her friend and legend the indefatigable warrior of individuality, lifetime wild woman and the Godmother of Neo-Burlesque.
Camille was escorted onto the stage and shared what was news to many: the previous summer she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastasised cancer in her lungs, spinal cord, adrenals, pulmonary artery, brain and “everywhere fucking else”. Her doctor told her she wouldn’t live to see Christmas. She sobbed as she accepted the honour and emphasised how she was standing there alive as a direct result of the kind words and loving support of the burlesque community, their belief in her and the opportunity to receive this award in her lifetime.
Weeping in gratitude and brushing tears from her eyes, one of her eyelashes affixed itself to her right cheek where it would remain for the rest of the night. She stood before us like a seasoned athlete in eyeblack, symbolic of warpaint in the fight to continue to pronounce her rebellious truth in the realm of the stage with her humble battlecry: “Thank you for loving me”.
I had the privilege of speaking with Camille 2000 on the phone about her experience at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. I didn’t realise that my call would coincide with the auspicious one year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. When I asked her about the inspiration behind her performance she plainly stated, “Because I am fucking dying. If that man can rise up and come back from the grave then so can I, and if someone like me can do it, so can you.”
She credits the collective consciousness and the unified spirit of the community for guiding her through what would have been an impossible performance. She knows it was a miracle. “As soon as my foot touched the stage I started crying, and here I am, this old woman crying and dying in front of all of you. Our spirit guides were just carrying us through; it wasn’t me”.
Her prophetic performance in the 62nd Annual Titans of Tease Reunion showcase is one for the history books that everyone in attendance will remember forever. She underscored a career of ‘aggressive art’ with something so meaningful in its symbolism that the audience held their breath in awe of it.
She began seated, centre stage on a throne shrouded in a white cloak stretched wideways, her hands joined in prayer. Her burlesque daughters, Whitney Ward and Bambi the Mermaid, appeared from the wings in white gowns with feather fans as angels at her side. With resilience and power, Camille simply stood up and the crowd went wild for her. Her pasties were rhinestone crosses and she presented herself with arms outstretched in the theatrical imagery of a Christ figure. At first glance, one could compare her performance to a glitzy passion play or a throwback to the religious drama of an eighties music video, but we soon realised that we were bearing witness to a parade and peel for the ages.
With her very life, the Godmother of the Neo-Burlesque movement would usher her community through the door she busted open decades ago, directing all of us to walk through fearlessly and never look back. In her final reveal, Camille opened her palms for the audience to behold crimson crystallised stigmata wounds. Shortly after, dripping in self-respect, she transfigured her hands into their signature gesture for which she is famously known.
For those who might not understand the religious phenomena of stigmata – it can be defined as marks resembling the wounds of the crucified body of Christ, said to be supernaturally impressed on the bodies of divinely chosen people. St. Francis of Assisi was the first stigmatic on record and he, like many purported stigmatics, first saw angels before he received his wounds.
To be a stigmatic was a very big deal, it meant that you were so deeply devoted to your divine calling that the object of your worship bestowed his own wounds upon you, giving you the likeness of a God who would give his own flesh to relieve the world of its shame and misery. The word itself is plural for stigma: a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
In burlesque, we are no stranger to the stigma of sexuality and womanhood. We walk through the fire of stigma surrounding sex work, mental health, ageing and morbidity, threats to the lives of gender variant individuals and rights to sovereignty and safety for all bodies – especially women. Social stigma is ascribed to any person who deviates from what is considered by society to be acceptable, normal and comfortable. It’s often met with fear, rejection, and violence. This performance punctuated our collective mission to walk through our deepest fears and to have faith in our art in order to pierce the veil of shame.
When I asked Camille if correlating this aspect of her performance was intentional, she said that I hit the nail on the head about her message, adding that she was just following her intuition.
“Me and Whitney and Bambi did nothing – our spirit guides did the whole thing, we were just guided. We all need to thank the baby Jesus or whatever, for healing our demons”.
She floated through her act to the tune of Amazing Grace, lifted up and given over by the support of free-thinking wild women everywhere.
No one in the audience could tell if the eyelash on her cheek was intentional, but we could not avert our eyes from Camille’s messages about the body. About disgrace. About dis-ease. About stigma, surviving, sanctifying our own bodies and following our intuition. But most importantly as a woman and burlesque icon, Camille showed us her whole self, sobbing on display, in deep unrelenting physical pain, in the absence of shame, with jubilation before the community she loves. Watershed. Bloodshed. Humility. Ecstasy. “Thank you for loving me.”
As Legend of the Year, Camille has already chosen the unofficial colour theme for next years Titans of Tease Showcase to be S&M – and of course when I said “S&M isn’t a colour,” she replied, “Well, it is now!” Touche.
Before I got off the phone I thanked her, I told her that every cell in my body was different now because I know her and I asked her about the eyelash that migrated to her cheek with her tears. I said that it reminded me of warpaint and rebellion, that I thought it was an iconic look by a woman who wasn’t afraid to come to the stage and stand in the centre of her truth no matter what.
I asked if she would find it a fitting tribute that any of us rebel-minded friends and fans would wear an eyelash in such a fashion to honour her commitment to breaking through stigma. She said she thought that was a “fan-fucking-tastic idea” and gave all of us her blessing to honour her in this way.
I want to remember that Camille didn’t need fixing when things were out of place, that she took the stage against the odds to let us love her exactly as she was that day. I want to remember what humility looks like on a true bad-ass.
This week, Camille received news that there are no additional courses of treatment for her to take. The next phase of her care will be to transition her to hospice. The doctor described her as an absolute miracle, saying she has never seen anyone with this diagnosis live to see even one anniversary of it in her entire practice. Over the phone I can hear Whitney and Bambi by her side chiming in that she looks like a million bucks and you wouldn’t even know what she’s been going through. “Yeah – that’s cause I’m not done terrorising all you mother fuckers,” I hear her say, and we all laugh before everyone reminds me that I absolutely must watch Lola Rocknrolla’s Bloodbath of Terror.
It is abundantly clear to me that Camille is not going out without leaving her mark. Without our legends there is no us. You are a part of a historical unfolding. How do you choose in this time, through your art, to pave the way for the next generation? What would you sacrifice? Are you willing to show up with your whole self, unfiltered, to contribute to something beyond your comprehension? You have been called to expand on the dreams of the ones who came before you and I believe we all have what it takes to make them proud. So, what are you waiting for? The door has already clearly been kicked open. And if she can do it, so can you.
QUOTED IN MAJOR INTERNATIONAL NEWSPAPERS AND HELD IN HIGH ESTEEM AND AFFECTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL BURLESQUE COMMUNITY, 21ST CENTURY BURLESQUE MAGAZINE HAS DOCUMENTED THE CONTEMPORARY BURLESQUE SCENE SINCE 2007. FOUNDED AND EDITED BY HOLLI-MAE JOHNSON.