Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Thank you to everyone who came out for Valen-Tease last night. We had a great time and hope to be back at Thunder Road soon!

And now for your tip!

Bring slippers to your gigs.

Maybe not the marabou mules in the picture (although I love them for lounging at home), but something to keep your feet off the potentially cold and dirty dressing room floor while you’re getting ready or between acts. Yes, you could wear your show shoes, but why not give your feet a break from the heels.

I know some people who favor flip-flops, but I prefer grippy socks, like I wear in barre class. I get cold easily and the cozy socks help keep my toes warm, but don’t leave marks on my legs like taller socks might.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

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Published in: on 15 February 2019 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Before we get to your tip, I just want to mention that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. One of my Little Books would be a wonderful gift for the burlesque lover in your life. Also, The Boston BeauTease are presenting Valent-Tease Day at Thunder Road that night. Not only will we be presenting our usual burlesque delights, but some of my students from B.A.B.E. will be making their burlesque debut. AND you’ll get to see the act I debuted in Los Angeles. Right now the only way to see it is to support me on Patreon.

With no further ado or commercials, here’s your tip!

If you have pets with fur, keep a lint brush in your show bag.

No matter how carefully you keep you costumes away from your fuzzy family members, somehow fur is still going to make an appearance — and of course it will contrast as highly as possible. Albert just loves to cuddle up to dark clothing…

Scratch points out that if you’ve forgotten your lint brush, there’s still hope, “you’re a burlesque dancer — you’ve got double-sided tape!”.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 8 February 2019 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Fierce

Dear Constant Reader,

One of the other assignments for The House of Knyle mentorship was to write an essay on Jo Weldon’s new book. Since I’d been intending to review it anyway, this was a good incentive to do it sooner rather than later. As with the essay on Sally Keith, I’ve tweaked the writing just a little here and there from the essay I submitted to Egypt.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon (2018).

I remember my first leopard print. I was shopping for a sun hat and Scratch pointed out one with a lovely wide brim, painted with leopard spots. I said no, “I don’t think I’m a leopard print kind of girl.” He pointed out that I might be a leopard kind of girl, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried it. I’ve been wearing that hat ever since. And more leopard print followed. I’m got a wardrobe-full and still love this fierce pattern. I’ve been awaiting the publication of Jo Weldon’s book on the history of leopard print since she first started presenting her lectures on the subject.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print is a look at fashion and society through the lens of leopard print. The viewpoint is a feminist one, a fine way of seeing a fashion choice generally considered the purview of women. As the title suggests, wearing leopard print is a bold decision that reflects the personality of the women wearing it.

The fashion for the fur of spotted cats starts in prehistory and for millennia represented power. As a human was draped in the skin of the cat, its fierceness of the cats was transferred to the wearer in a form of sympathetic magic. The book skims the appearance of leopard print in several centuries before reaching the focus of the book – the twentieth century. The next several chapters are a thematic look at each decade and the meaning of leopard print at the time.

I loved seeing how the attitude toward leopard print changed with the decades. I was particularly struck by contrast of the chapters “The Trophy Wife” and “The Bad Mother”. In a short span of time, leopard print signified polar opposites in woman – privileged and obedient versus seductive and rebellious. We see how leopard print moved up and down the fashion scale over the years, from powerful to tacky to campy to sexy to playful and back again. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the meaning of “tacky” and how something once considered prestigious could fall to being dismissed by the elite.

Fierce is lavishly illustrated, as a fashion book needs to be. The photographs show leopard being worn by movie stars, supermodels, and ordinary women, and in advertisements, catalogs, and other photos. I know how hard it is to get the rights to images so I’m very impressed with all the gorgeous picturesshe was able to use. This book wants to be enjoyed in full color. The writing is excellent, but the impact would be lost without the images.

The history of this fashion is bookended with information about the big cats whose fur inspired this all. At the start the reader is introduced to the spotted cats and their markings, so you can tell if you’re wearing leopard print or if it’s actually jaguar. The book wraps up with some organizations that are helping big cats, if you want to get involved in preserving these beautiful creatures. Because of Jo I’ve been a supporter of Panthera for several years now.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fashion history, in feminism, or in big cats. This enjoyable and informative read is a celebration of fierce creatures — female and feline alike.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 6 February 2019 at 3:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Essay: Sally Keith

Dear Constant Reader,

As part of the mentorship program with The House of Knyle, we each had to write an essay on a Legend. I think most of the other women chose living Legends — I know some of the subjects were Shawna The Black Venus, Miss Topsy, and Kitten DeVille. Because I like a good challenge, I chose Sally Keith, a performer strongly associated with Boston and Scollay Square. She was very well-known, but as it turns out, not known well. I had to do a lot of digging to get beyond a couple of superficial stories and along the way I found a lot of contradictions. Perhaps in my spare time (“spare time”, I’m so funny!), I’ll continue my research.

[Note: I made a couple of corrections for grammar and spelling that I missed when I originally submitted this and added one tidbit that surfaced after the due date.]

Sally Keith
Queen of the Tassels

Sally Keith is one of the burlesque performers tied strongly to Boston during the Golden Age of burlesque in Scollay Square. For someone so famous, there is very little information on her personal life, especially before and after she performed in Boston. I’ve gleaned as much as I could about her life and career from newspaper articles, books, and some from people who knew her. The two main sources were her niece, Susan Weiss, and her protégé, Lilian Kiernan Brown (Lily Ann Rose), who wrote a memoir of her own time in burlesque. Memory is, of course, inherently unreliable, especially after decades, and and research is made even harder by the fact that Sally seems to have fabricated some of her public story, especially her age. This is her story, as best as I have pieced together.

Known as “Queen of the Tassels”, Sally Keith performed at The Crawford House’s Theatrical Bar in Boston’s Scollay Square for almost 20 years. Her specialty was to twirl tassels on her breasts and buttocks. She was famed for being able to twirl in every direction, especially opposite. Her tassels were very long, I’d guess about 8 inches, and all the photos show them sewn to her costumes. I wish we could see her act, but it doesn’t seem to have been filmed. It was clearly memorable, since many people in Boston talked about seeing her, even decades later.

Stella Katz was born in 1913, in Cicero, Illinois, near Chicago. She came from a large Jewish family with eight brothers. Her father was frequently reported to be a Chicago policeman, perhaps because it made for better publicity. In reality he was a house painter, although Sally also said he owned a bakery. A beautiful blonde with lovely blue eyes, she changed her name to the less Jewish-sounding “Sally Keith” when she began performing in Chicago. “Keith” may have been an aspirational name, from the very prestigious B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit, onto which many performers dreamed of being booked. Unfortunately I haven’t found any information about where she performed in Chicago and if she was doing tassel twirling then.

She told Lilian Brown that she won a beauty contest at the 1933 World’s Fair (where Sally Rand got her start) at age 15. You may have noticed that the math doesn’t work — she seemed to be in the habit of shaving a few years off her age all her life. She was then discovered by a Jack Parr, who became her agent and taught her the tassel dance. He got her started in Atlantic City and then brought her to the Crawford House in Boston. Another source said it was Harry Richman, a popular entertainer of the time, who spotted her at a beauty contest in a Chicago suburb and he got her started on Broadway. I’m not sure how much, if any, of these stories are true. Her obituary in the Boston Globe states she was discovered at Leon & Eddie’s, a popular burlesque venue in New York, by Boston theatrical agent Ben Ford in 1937.

Ann Corio said “Sally Keith, next to Carrie Finnell, was the best tassel-twirler I ever saw. She didn’t have Carrie’s huge bosoms and fantastic muscular control, but she could make those tassels spin with a fury.” Carrie Finnell twirled her tassels using her pectoral muscles, which indicates that Sally didn’t. Sally’s secret to her amazing twirling, it’s said, was to weight her tassels with buckshot. In an interview she mentions painting her tassels with radium, so she must have done a twirling act that glowed in the dark. I’ve seen advertisements for her “electrified tassel dance”, which was probably the one.

Scollay Square, a restaurant in Boston, claims to have a pair of her tassels, but I don’t think they’re authentic because they are attached to pasties. According to reports and photographs she wore the tassels attached to her costume, rather than to her body. Her twirling costumes are fairly modest, at least by modern standards. I don’t think she stripped during the tassel dance, but she did in other parts of her act. An MIT student remembers going to her dressing room to ask for a g-string as part of his fraternity initiation. She invited him and his brothers to see the show, saying she was tired of Harvard men.

Besides twirling her tassels and dancing, Sally also sang. Some of her singing captured on 78 records in the 1940s, which I think they were just live recordings of her shows. She also composed at least one song, “Belittling Me”, which was published as sheet music. Her photo, in her tassel outfit, graces the cover.

Her home base, the Crawford House, was a hotel and restaurant which opened in 1867 and lasted until it was demolished in 1962, like the rest of Scollay Square, to make way for the new City Hall and Government Center. A few sources say Sally eventually owned the Crawford House, but I haven’t found any evidence of that. She was so strongly associated with it and may have had some creative control over the shows that people may have just believed she was the owner as well.

At the Crawford House, Sally reigned at the Theatrical Bar. It began as The Strand Theatre, a 24-hour movie theatre under the Crawford House, but been transformed by the early 1930s. Patrons could see “3 Sparkling Floor Shows Nightly”, featuring comedians, dancers, and of course Sally Keith. Her photograph was even on the cover of the restaurant menu.

During the War, Sally did her part for the troops, touring with the USO and visiting military bases. She was even named “Sweetheart of Camp Edwards”. Some of her support for the troops may have been because most of her brothers were serving. She liked to live large, with furs, jewels, and elaborate clothes, but she was also generous with her money. She put aside part of her earnings for war bonds. A newspaper article praised her incredible generosity and listed some of her good deeds, like paying for medical treatments and tuition for the less fortunate. According to the article, one of the beneficiaries of her largess had willed her his life savings of $18,000. This may have just been a publicity stunt, but she did perform in benefits to help others. She was certainly very generous with her family, sending money home to support them. Her niece recalls that when her parents went to Boston for their honeymoon, Sally picked up the tab.

She owned a gold Cadillac convertible with leopard-covered seats and monogrammed doors. The color went beautifully with her platinum hair, but she was a terrible driver. She knew it and would have other people drive her around, like her 14-year-old protégé, Lily Ann Rose (Lilian Keirnan Brown). Sally didn’t seem to care that Lily Ann didn’t have a driver’s license – she was much better behind the wheel than Sally.

Another of Lily Ann’s jobs was getting Sally in and out of bed when she’d had too much to drink, apparently a fairly frequent occurrence. Although the Crawford House served a cocktail in her honor, The Tassel Tosser (brandy, anisette, and Triple Sec — for just $1), Sally preferred stingers, a mix of brandy and crème de menthe. Her drinking problem seems to have continued her entire life.

1948 was a big year for Sally, making headlines in the local papers. On January 5th, Sally had finished her last performance of the evening and had gone up to her suite in the Crawford House hotel. She answered a knock at her door, thinking it was the bellboy, bringing her a sandwich. Two men burst in and knocked her down. She struggled and one of them tore off her clothing while the other grabbed her $4000 mink coat and $600 worth of costume jewelry, leaving about $35,000 of real jewels behind. The coat was later recovered in the hotel. Sally made the front page of a Boston paper with a photograph showing the bruises she had sustained in the attack. She moved out of the Crawford House shortly thereafter.

Sally’s niece, Susan Weiss, claims the whole thing was a publicity stunt and the bruises were just makeup. Lily Ann Rose says the robbery actually happened and Sally kept her jewelry in a bank after that, except for two diamond necklaces that Sally and Lily Ann wore all the time for safe keeping.

In March of the same year there was a fire at the Crawford House. Sally had moved out by then, but her wardrobe was still kept in her suite. She burst into the building demanding to go to her rooms where she had $100,000 worth of furs, jewelry, and costumes. The Boston Herald reported “Sally Keith Grinds Her Way into Blaze, Bumps Fireman”. The fire destroyed two stories of the hotel, but not Sally’s rooms on the second floor.

Like many of her contemporaries, Sally modeled for girlie magazines and ended up on a couple of covers. I haven’t found any evidence that any of her performances were filmed. It’s too bad that her act wasn’t preserved because her tassel dance sounds like nothing anyone else was doing. Sally was noted for not taking herself too seriously as a performer, but her career lasted for decades. She was clearly a decent businesswoman as, unlike other burlesque performers of the era, she seems to have managed her finances well.

I found mention of her performing in Boston as late as 1960. Although she is strongly associated with Boston and The Crawford House, she performed in other venues and cities, like New York and Miami. She also performed internationally, with tours of Europe and South America. In the late 1940s The Sally Keith Revue, created by and starring Sally Keith, of course, opened in Boston for three months, then went on to New York City for several months. For the summer the show moved to Lake Geneva in upstate New York.

There’s very little about Sally’s personal life. We know she married twice. Her first husband was her agent, Jack Parr, who she divorced when she was 22 because he was too controlling. If she had any romantic relationships while she was in Boston, they were kept very quiet. She married her second husband, Arthur Brandt, after she had retired from performing and was living in Hollywood, Florida. She had no children.

She died on January 14, 1967 in New York of cirrhosis of the liver or perhaps a cerebral hemorrhage – sources differ. Besides her obituary in the Boston Globe, I found a tiny squib in a newspaper in Lowell, Massachusetts mentioning her upcoming funeral. Both that notice and a reminiscence by a Globe reporter listed her age as 51. Keeping with her lifelong practice of taking a few years off, she was actually a few years older. Ed McMahon, who performed at the Crawford House, mourned her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Sally Keith may have been indelibly linked to Boston, but she deserves to be known more widely. Her tassel dance sounds like something unlike any other tassel twirling act, past or present. She should be included in any list of tassel-twirling legends, alongside Carrie Finnell, Satan’s Angel, and Tura Satana. I hope more present-day burlesque performers take inspiration from her.

Bibliography

Brown, Lillian Kiernan. Banned in Boston: Memoirs of a Stripper. 1st Books, 2003.

Corio, Ann., with Joseph DiMona This Was Burlesque. Madison Square Press, 1968.

Kruh, David. Scollay Square. Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Kruh, David. Always Something Doing: Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square. Northeastern University Press, 1999.

Kruh, David. “Sally Keith, Queen of the Tassels.” Welcome to Scollay Square.

Zemeckis, Leslie. Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America. Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.

Scollay Square and Tales from The Crawford House.” New England Historical Society.

“Sally Keith Beaten, Robbed.” Boston American, 6 Jan. 1948.

“Sally Keith Grinds Her Way into Blaze, Bumps Fireman.” Boston Herald, 24 March 1948

“Sally Keith’s Unknown Friend.” The American Weekly, n.d. 1948.

“Sally Keith Dies in New York, Long a Hub Entertainer.” Boston Globe, 15 Jan. 1967.

“Sally Keith Rites Wednesday.” Lowell Sun, 16 Jan. 1967.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 4 February 2019 at 3:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It sure is cold out there! I mean, Boston is nowhere near as bad as the Midwest, but it’s still No Fun At All. Here’s a tip to help you get through the day.

Eat a good breakfast.

Your mother was right! Don’t skip breakfast, especially when you’ve got a busy schedule. My favorite breakfast food is delicious, filling, good hot or good, has room for creativity, and is super easy to make — overnight oats.

At its simplest, overnight oats are just equal parts old-fashioned rolled oats and liquid. Don’t use instant oats because you’ll end up with mush. Don’t use steel-cut oats because they won’t soften enough. For the liquid you can can use milk (of any sort), fruit juice, or just plain water.

Put your oats and liquid in a container with whatever toppings and seasonings you like, cover, and stash in the fridge overnight. In the morning, eat. It’s that simple.

In the evening, I pour a half cup of oats and a half cup of liquid in a Pyrex container (as seen to the right), then add my toppings. I pop the lid on, stick it in the fridge, and ignore it until morning. I prefer my oats warm, so I microwave them for a minute or so (hence the glass container). But you can grab them right out of fridge and dig in.

Topping the oats is where thing get fun. You can add fresh or dried fruit, nuts, seeds, spices, fresh greens or herbs. I know oatmeal often has sweet toppings, but give savory oats a try.

A few suggestions:
Mina’s standard
Oats and water, pinch of salt. Toss some frozen mixed berries on top. In the morning the berries are thawed and when I nuke the oats, they turn into fruit compote. Sometimes I add a dash of natural cocoa powder for a hint of chocolate. It’s not sweetened, so only use it along with fruit, unless you like a bitter-tasting breakfast (just ask me know I know…)

Autumnal oats
Use apple cider for the liquid and add chopped apples, toasted walnuts, and dried cranberries. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon.

Savory sesame oats
Make the oats with water and add a splash of soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil. Top with sesame seeds and chopped scallions.

Almond Joy oats
This one is basically dessert.
Make the oats with milk. For true decadence, use chocolate almond milk (personally I think it’s a bit much). Top with toasted shredded coconut, toasted slivered almonds, and a few dark chocolate chips. If you warm this one, the chips get all melty and ooze through each bite.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 1 February 2019 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los Angeles: The Prologue

Dear Constant Reader,

I was in Los Angeles recently and there’s quite a bit of back story as to how I got there.

In the fall I applied to be part of a mentorship program with Egypt Blaque Knyle. Now, you may saying, “Mina, why do you need someone to mentor you? You’ve been doing burlesque for over a dozen years. You teach and you’ve even coached students through the creation of routines. Shouldn’t you be the one doing the mentoring?” While this is all true, I also want to improve my skills. This is why I take classes with other people whenever I can. It’s why I go to BurlyCon and The Expo almost every year and why I attended the New Orleans Burlesque Retreat and Stripper’s Holiday last year.

Egypt is a very different type of performer that I am. I wrote in my application essay that she is “almost the polar opposite of me – uninhibited where I am reserved, exuberant where I am stately”. I thought I could learn a lot from her. Dear Reader, just writing, let alone submitting, that application made me feel incredible vulnerable. And that’s not a side of myself I tend to show the world. Just writing the essay was a learning experience about myself.

In the end there were ten highly-motivated women with various levels of experience, scattered around the country, chosen to work with Egypt. We had to read books, research Legends, write essays, and create or polish a routine. I chose to create a new routine, about which I will write in depth. I’ll also share some of the essays I wrote. Our graduation was performing at Audrey Deluxe’s Burlesque Bingo in Long Beach, CA. Although it was not mandatory, everyone made it! I’ll tell you all about it later as well.

I’m not sure, timing-wise, it was the best choice for me to take this on. The mentorship began in later September. In October I was frantically trying to get Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming ready for the printer. In November I was sick for most of the month. I think I ended up having about six weeks to get my brand-new act from zero to show time. But I did it!

More to come…

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 30 January 2019 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! I’m back in the frigid Northeast after a lovely couple of days in sunny California. I have a lot to tell you about! In the meantime, here’s your tip:

Miss Mina WriterDrill your moves on both sides and directions.

Most of us are stronger on one side of our body. Your hip bumps on your right might be crisp and strong, but the left… not so much. Drill on your weak side as much or even more than your strong side to make both sides strong. Similarly, drill circular moves, like grinds, going clockwise and counter-clockwise to become comfortable in both directions. For extra fun, drill any traveling moves starting on the right foot and then again starting on the left. You’ll be ready for anything!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 25 January 2019 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! If you’re in New England, I hope you’re prepared for the snow! If you’re in Los Angeles, I hope you’re prepared for me! I’ll be performing at Audrey DeLuxe’s Burlesque Bingo – The House of Knyle Edition on Sunday. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you! I’m debuting a new act and it’s very different from my usual style.

And now for your tip!

Use invisible lip liner to keep your lipstick from feathering.

Invisible lip liner is clear and creates a barrier so your lipstick stays put. Put on your usual lip liner and then run a line of this stuff just outside the line. I always use it and it’s kind of magical.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 18 January 2019 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip!

Use the same attachment method on all your detachable panel skirts.

If all your belts and panels have compatible snaps (or whatever else you use), you can mix and match your belts and panels, extending your costume wardrobe! I like to use the snap tape you can see in the photo and use the same size snaps for every costume. That particular belt has the burgundy sheer circular panels and rectangular black lace panels for two very different looks.

We also use this trick in our troupe costumes. We have a bunch of different sized performers, so we have belts of different sizes so that the panels can be swapped around. The snaps are sometimes set higher or lower on the belt to accommodate performers of different heights too.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 11 January 2019 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It’s the first tip of 2019!

Fan dancing is much easier when your fans are right-and left-handed.

It’s quiet right now at BeauTease headquarters and we’re using the downtime for some skill-building. Everyone was eager to learn fan dancing and this tidbit came up while I was teaching. As you can see from the pictures, the staves of my fans open in different directions. This means you can hold the fans comfortably with the top stave closest to you.

Most ready-made fans are right-handed, which makes holding them in your left-hand awkward. It’s best to have the staves reversed for the left-hand fan before the fans are constructed, because it requires removing the support cord and restringing the staves. When ordering fans, specify that you want one right and one left.

At first, it can be hard to remember which one is which. You can discretely label them with an L and R on the back stave where it will be hidden by your hand. Or you could add a distinctive decoration to one fan, so you’ll know that one is, say, the right-hand fan and the one without is the left-hand. If it were a large rhinestone on the back of one fan, you could tell which was which by touch.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 4 January 2019 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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