Burlesque diva Jo Weldon wants you to take it off
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer, CTV.ca
Published Tuesday, June 8, 2010 7:20AM EDT
If burlesque diva Jo Weldon had her way, Oscar winner Charlize Theron would portray her in a big, splashy Hollywood bio-pic.
"Charlize looks nothing like me, but she's balls-out brave," says Weldon, the eloquent headmistress and founder of the award-winning New York School of Burlesque.
That fearlessness is nothing new. With an Ava-Gardner like body and a gift for peeling off her clothes in public, this feisty redhead has gone from '70s high-school stripper to one of the preeminent burlesque performers in North America.
Now the neo-burlesque heroine reveals her secrets to taking it off in the June release, "The Burlesque Handbook."
"Burlesque is performance art and it's evolving," says Weldon, the co-executive director of education at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
Thanks to Weldon and other influences like Dita Von Teese and The Pussycat Dolls, burlesque has enjoyed a fashionable revival.
That resurgence does not please some critics. To them, this cartoonish adult entertainment is anti-feminist titillation.
Weldon does not agree.
"I'm very aware of the complexities of feminist theory. But these theories are still under development," Weldon tells CTV.ca.
"Frankly, people could learn many remarkable things about the world and themselves just by hanging out with half-naked people all day long."
Taking it off in style
From Weldon's favourite moves (including her sensuous glove peel) to finding the right twirling pasties, this manual gives burlesque novices tips and exercises to unleash their inner sex bomb.
"I know where burlesque takes women," says Weldon.
Burlesque makes women feel safe. It frees them from many inner psychological restraints. That carries over to a sense of safety in their own judgment -- on stage or off."
Feminist comedian Margaret Cho agrees.
"After seeing my first burlesque show, I was obsessed with trying it," Cho writes in the book's foreword.
Cho battled eating disorders for many years. Despite these struggles, Cho made her burlesque debut in Las Vegas at the 2006 Miss Exotic World Pageant.
The event is better known as the "American Idol" for burlesque dancers.
Cho hosted the competition. But on the final night she delivered a riotous burlesque number.
"I had two wooden cobra puppets that flew out of my black feathered dressing gown,' she writes.
"I stripped down to black fishnets and rhinestone pasties…The crowd jumped to their feet in a thunderous standing ovation."
In more than a quarter of a century as a performer, Cho had never received such tremendous applause.
The smitten Cho went on to host a monthly L.A. burlesque show called "The Sensuous Woman."
She turned to teachers like Weldon to help create her strong, graceful fan dances for these events. "As someone who has grown up with an intense amount of body shame…burlesque has been the ultimate cure."
Burlesque diehards feel the same.
"Burlesque isn't for everyone," says Weldon. "Some like it high-end. Others like it raunchy. But it's playful. Burlesque can never hurt anyone."