A Conversation with Indigo Blue, After Being Crowned Queen of Burlesque, Part I

Miss Indigo Blue, Crowned Queen, Burlesque Hall of Fame 2011. Photo by Don Spiro.

by J.D. Oxblood

Interviewed August 3, 2011

Soon after Indigo Blue was crowned Queen, I caught up with her via phone to talk about her experience, her expectations, and the year that lay ahead of her. For anyone who has ever felt daunted by talking to someone in an elevated position, I can honestly tell you, don’t be. In all our talks, Indigo proved herself to be endlessly charming and extremely tolerant. Now that her year is drawing to a close, I present her thoughts from last summer, to be followed up by some of her thoughts when we spoke again quite recently.

Part I:

JDX: This year in Vegas, I was talking to Roxi D’Lite [2010 Queen] about her experience, and one of the things she said to me that I thought was interesting, was that her phone didn’t exactly ring off the hook after she was crowned Queen.  So I wanted to see how things were going for you so far. 

IB: Well, my phone has never rung off the hook and I don’t know that it does for that many burlesque performers.  I’m busy.  I’ve been busy for quite some time, but a large part of that is because I work pretty hard at being busy and staying busy.  I have gotten more inquiries and more interest in some new places and doing some exciting new events.  But I would agree with Roxie.  That was probably not a reasonable expectation of Queendom, is the phone ringing off the hook department.  I actually had a very funny conversation with Julie Atlas Muz where I called her and said, “Who is your agent?  I need an agent.”  And she goes, “Oh yes, it’s all champagne and limousines and agents want you once you become Queen.”

JDX:  That sounds like Julie.

IB:  Yeah.

JDX:  So, was that your expectation going in?  I mean is there, has there been any other sinking feeling or did you not have that expectation going in?

IB:  I think that the title of Reigning Queen of Burlesque has a more long term effect than it does an immediate shift in booking for people.  And for me personally, I didn’t necessarily have a huge expectation.  I have been being treated as a headliner for several years.  So what I think has been my expectation is that I would want to do more with the title.  I would want to travel more to publicize the Burlesque Hall of Fame and that my hopes have been and continue to be that I’ll have opportunities to do that while I have the title.

JDX:  I know that you do a lot of teaching as well as a lot of performing.  Do you have a greater love for one over the other?  Which one would you say enriches your life more?

IB:  Well I teach more than I perform because I teach – like right now I teach four days a week, for the summer, and I perform twice a week or so, except when I have a big run night with the Nutcracker where I’m performing twice a day – two shows a night I mean.

So I feel continuously inspired when I’m working with students, particularly folks who are coming to burlesque after some sort of struggle to get there, whatever that struggle may be.  That’s really exciting to see people’s transformation through burlesque.

But lately especially, personally, I have felt really excited and vindicated by being on the stage.  Selfishly some of that is because I’m – now that I have the title I’m allowed a little more time – a few more minutes, so I don’t have to do an act that’s three and a half minutes long.  I get a few minutes longer, which gives me the opportunity to actually relish the time that I have on the stage and have a lot of pleasure in that.

It’s really tough – I feel like they’re very different experiences even though sometimes teaching is a type of performance.  I’m performing an educator role.  That’s an interesting question.  I haven’t been asked that before.

JDX:  Certainly, even a professor standing in front of a classroom – that is a performance. 

IB:  Yea, it’s true and I – particularly this year I’ve done a lot of the housekeeping of my business.  You know, putting together my business book and all my official documentation for all the various businesses that I run, making sure that all my curriculum is trademarked and doing all the business-y stuff of the business.  So the actual teaching itself and being in the classroom, working with students, the one-on-one sessions, the group sessions, those feel more like interactive performance, like we’re co-creating a vision.  And it’s very creative.  It’s very exciting.  More so than the other aspects of teaching, like writing curriculum or editing job descriptions or calculating hourly paychecks, and whatnot, which is also part of my job.

JDX:  I like what you said about getting more leeway in your performances.  It’s like an actor gets nominated for an Academy award so he suddenly gets a lot more leeway in the kind of roles that they can play.  You know the legends get more time on stage in Vegas than the youngsters. 

IB:  It’s true, and I had the privilege of being able to perform in the Legends Tribute one year when I did my tribute to Ricci Cortez and I was actually given the full five minutes.  I had to edit my song down from 6 to 5 but it actually made a tremendous difference to be able to do an act that paid homage to a legend with enough time to really do so.  It’s really a different experience particularly in classic routines, where I think a lot can be done in 3 or 4 minutes but I think that there are some messages that are more challenging to convey in that particular structure.

JDX:  What do you think?  Are we going to see you as a Legend down the line?  Are you going to keep performing into your sixties and seventies?

IB:  Are you trying to say I’m not a Legend already?

JDX:  Now wait just a minute!  (mutual laughter) I’m using the term “Legend” in the more common usage as a euphemism. 

IB:  Your question is, am I going to keep performing until I’m a grown up lady, the answer is probably yes, even though I may save the option, even though I started – when I started performing on the stage, doing the comic erotic stuff, I was like, “this is only going to last a couple of years,” and then I started making pasties, I was like “this will never last.”  And then doing teaching, “we’ll see how long before this point burns out.”  I’ve been wrong every time.  So I think it’s not wise of me to make predictions.

JDX:  I’ve been asking a lot of people this question because of the global aspect of the burlesque community.  You travel a lot, and I’ve been noticing more and more how the aesthetics are just different.  Burlesque looks a little bit different in London than it does in Australia, than it does in New York.  How would you characterize Seattle’s aesthetic?

IB:  That’s a great question. I taught a class many years ago called “Regional Variations in Neo-burlesque Performance” because at the time, sort of way back around Tease-O-Rama’s era, the nation’s neo-burlesque explosion, there was a really clear distinction between the types and forms of burlesque folks were doing.  LA was characterized by beaded underwear, beaded bras, lavishly beaded and adorned costuming, a lot of shimmy and shake – like with Kitten DeVille like a gritty kind of rock-and-roll and glamour aesthetic at the same time.

New York was doing a lot of conceptual stuff as it continues to do.  At the time Seattle was characterized by very, very humorous acts and things that were.. a lot of puns, a lot of double entendres, and a lot of bait and switch.

So that really sort of smoothed out a little bit over the years, but I think that if you look at the sort of schools, if you look at Michelle L’amour’s school and how she’s really emphasizing a really strong dance technique as well as a narrative line in her students; how Jo Boobs emphasizes the technical aspects of glamour routines.  How at the Academy of Burlesque we work a lot on not only having a narrative through line but maintaining elements of humor throughout the act.  You’ll see that things are sort of smoothing out, it’s more of like an American aesthetic vs. a British aesthetic vs. an Australian aesthetic.  But there’s still regional variations and I think that has so much to do with how individual communities, individual local burlesque communities emerge.

When I was just in Albuquerque, I was spending some time with Burlesque Noir.  If you haven’t  seen their group acts yet, they’re really amazing – really tightly choreographed.  They use a lot of cannon or contagion choreography, a lot of different formations, and really funny concepts.  One of their primary choreographers has a background in flag squad.   Some of their choreographic influences come directly from that background.  The choreographic influences of the Atomic Bomb Shells come from Kitten La Rue’s choreographic background with the Shim Sham review in New Orleans.  When you look at lead choreographers, if you look at where folks came from, their history, you can start to understand more about what drives these regional variations and these technique variations.

JDX:  Flag team, that’s straight out of marching band.  That’s very much a part out of the Southwest experience if you were one of those girls.

IB:  And when you put that on the stage with a bunch of folks whose experience might be more, might have come from the swing dance background, or might have come from a Rockabelly background.  There’s a really strong context there.  They stand out and they look really impressive.  There’s black light act that is so sharp and so exciting because of its uniqueness in this dimension of burlesque.

JDX:  What do you think Seattle still needs to learn as a local scene?  What’s the opportunity for growth?  What do feel like is still missing there?

IB:  Gosh we have done so much amazing stuff in Seattle in the last ten or so years.  I mean, we have – we have two of the longest weekly running burlesque shows, ever.  We have these amazing annual theatrical spectacles that run for days at a time, two shows a night in the beautiful 300 feet jazz venue that’s sold out.  We’re getting a lot of private interest, like private bookings in burlesque; a lot of club interest in burlesque, incredible thematic shows like the recent Josh Whedon-inspired burlesque show which was outrageous.

There’s also this incredible theatrical event happening the whole summer.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Pulp Lesbian Novels by Ann Bannon called the Beebo Brinker Chronicles?  But they’re these great fifties-esc pulp Lesbian novels and just a whole crew of theater and burlesque folks who have been putting together a stage production of the Beebo Brinker Chronicles that’s coming up this fall in September and October.  But they’ve been doing burlesque shows — pulp Lesbian 1950’s themed burlesque shows all summer long to promote the show.

So, there’s this wonderful conversation that’s been happening between the burlesque and theater communities as well as the dance and burlesque communities, like modern dance and burlesque and circus and burlesque.  So gosh, what needs to happen in Seattle, what does Seattle need to learn?  I think I need to think a little longer before I have the answer to that question.

JDX: A lot of what you’re saying is sort of the advantage of being in a smaller town, a smaller scene.  I mean to have that kind of conversation between the burlesque world and the dance world and the theater world…  In New York, there’s always crossover but there’s such a pecking order in every single scene. 

IB:  You know, we’re smaller than, in population of a city than New York and San Francisco and LA, but in terms of the number of burlesque performers, we’re second probably only to New York.  We have folks in this town who have been performing for a very, very long time.  We do have a little bit of the little kitchen village situation where we are relatively small, we’re close together, and most of us know each other.  We’re small but we’re mighty.

JDX:  That was painfully obvious in Las Vegas this year.  Seattle had such a great contingent there this year, it was real impossible not to notice.  Who are your favorites?  Who are your favorite performances in Seattle?  Who should we be afraid of next year in Vegas? 

IB:  Oh well, you should be afraid– be very, very afraid.  No, that’s not true.  There are some incredible astounding performers in Seattle right now and I think that Waxie Moon is a landmark performer in this town.  He continues to inspire me and I’m also very surprised that he has not yet had the opportunity to teach at Exotic World.  So it was very exciting to see him perform on Thursday night.

Inga Ingenue as well, is – her game is so amped now.  She’s so on fire, winning Viva Las Vegas, was like, “Yea, of course.”  The Shanghai Pearl, is just beautiful, and so filthy, it’s been really really really exciting to watch her continue to build her action.  She’ll do a great showing this year at the New York burlesque festival.  Sydni Deveraux was in New Orleans last year and she continues to be very exciting to watch.

Currently, Ernie von Schmalt is taking a little hiatus, but I think Ernie also continues to absolutely bring it with sexuality and humor and that totally disgusting smarmy man-vibe that we all love to hate.  Also I would love to see Ernie in the competition at Hall of Fame.

There’s some brand spanking fresh little newbies, and I don’t want to mention their names, you know how it is in their first year, they might change their names.  But I’ve seen a bunch of new performers that show up at the Academy and some folks who are just kind working out on their own.  It’s really, really exciting to see all that super fresh energy emerging.

Photo ©Don Spiro and used here with permission by Burlesque Beat. Please respect copyrights and obtain permission for use. Performers may use shots from Burlesque Beat for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece in all instances. Performers who would like hi-rez images, get in touch.

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