Stripper’s Holiday: The Work

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve been writing about my time at Stripper’s Holiday. It was such an inspiring and humbling experience and it’s been taking me a long time to find the right words. You can read about it here and here.

This is why we were all here: the work. For three days we spent four hours a day in the studio. We started two of the sessions with a killer warm up. I was grateful for my personal workout ethic so it didn’t actually kill me, because that was just the start of the session. We also worked on technique and choreography. On the last day we were treated to Michelle’s Pussy Confidence and Sensual Movement classes.

One of the things we talked about in the Pussy Confidence class was vulnerability and how vulnerability is strength. So, here’s some vulnerability. This stuff was really hard for me. I don’t pick up choreography quickly. I just don’t have a 5-6-7-8 brain and it’s hard for me to hear the beats of the music sometimes. I learn choreography by incessant drilling and really burning it into muscle memory. But like I kept telling myself, if this was easy, I wouldn’t need to be there. It was good for me to move *way* outside my comfort zone, but it certainly was frustrating. I wanted to work on refining details, but I needed to absorb the foundations first.

Here we all are after the first day:

Photo by One Chance Fancy.

Before I get to the centerpiece of the studio work, I want to mention a couple of related things we did at the house. One night after dinner we had “Idea Day” (I guess really “Idea Night”) where everyone went around the table and would share an idea they had for an act, usually just one element, like a song or a concept, and would get thoughts and feedback for a direction to go in. I was a complete blank and then I remembered my Hedy Jo Star peacock costume, which deserves to be back on stage. I’ve got some good ideas now; we shall see if they come to fruition. Also, if Scratch is willing to build some set pieces…

Also, before we went into the studio on the last day, Franky ran a meditation on beauty, which was also about imperfection. It was lovely and very pertinent to our work. We were supposed to consider a work of art and the first one that popped into my head was a Hellenistic statuette dancer, which I’ve loved for a long time. Kind of appropriate in many ways.

Back to the studio now…

Everyone brought an act on which they wanted to work. During the first two days we each presented our act and got feedback. On the last day we all presented again, showing how we incorporated the suggestions (a couple showed different acts instead). I was in the first group to present. I was nervous, but glad to get it over with early. I brought my newest act, which had just debuted in December (photo by George Ross of me performing it at The Expo). I thought it was pretty solid, but needed some oomph. After I showed it, Michelle made some very good suggestions, but I felt like I had to burn the whole thing down and start all over. The element I was using as a hook to hang the whole act on had to go.

When I got back to the house, I made an alteration to one of my costume pieces and played with it a little. After studio time the next day, I brought the whole act down into the home theatre room and ran it again and again, trying out Michelle’s suggestions and working on some stuff for the weaker parts. I realized I didn’t have to burn it down after all. A lot of the structure could stay as it was; it was the details that needed to change.

I filmed my last run, as best I could with my tablet, and sent it off to Scratch, because I was filled with self-doubt. He didn’t give me any feedback, just told me to be true to myself, since I was the one who was going to have to perform it. And reminded me that I was good at this and to have faith in myself. That bolstered my confidence a bit (and maybe made me cry a little). Still, I was up early the next morning, working on it again.

On the last day we all presented our acts again. I know this was more nerve-wracking for some than the first time, because there were a couple of camera people there for a project of Michelle’s (no, you’re not going to see the footage). Once I started performing I just tuned them out — I was nervous for all sorts of other reasons! Michelle had lots of praise and more suggestions. I felt a lot better, but knew it wasn’t there yet. Parts were stronger, but I still had holes to fill. I’m still working on it, in fact.

On our very last morning, Michelle gave everyone handwritten cards. It was a sweet touch and made the whole time even more special. This is a treasure I’ll return to when I need encouragement.

On the whole, this was an incredibly challenging time, but challenge is a good thing. I learned a lot on many levels. I got to see a dozen other performers with very different styles (which was an amazing experience) and see them also be vulnerable and put their work out there to be critiqued. Hearing the feedback they received also gave me new ideas and insights. I know that other people were nervous and insecure, which gave me comfort that I wasn’t alone.

I’ve admired Michelle for such a long time and working with her on such a personal level was intimidating to be sure, but also kind of liberating. She’s a very honest person, which I think encouraged honesty in others. The experience was very intense, with a lot crammed into 3-plus days, physically and emotionally. I’m still fumbling for words, but I promised myself I’d send this out today no matter what, so these words will have to do.

M2These 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 31 May 2018 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stripper’s Holiday: The House

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m writing about my time at Stripper’s Holiday in Los Angeles. It’s been taking me longer than I expected! You can read the first part here.

We all stayed in a big house in Studio City which was kind of incredible. It had an amazing view, a pool and hot tub, a pool table, and a home theatre. We were up in the hills and the landscaping was lovely. We even saw a deer one morning! My Patrons got to see a short video tour of some of the house.

However, it was decorated in a manner that was supposed to be lavish and stylish but was more like set dressing than a place people lived. All the surfaces were hard — tile, wood, brick, marble — I don’t think there was a single rug or carpet and none of the furniture was really comfortable (even the couches were so over-stuffed and piled with cushions that one couldn’t really lounge). Nor did the layout lend itself to socialization. Really, the only place we could all sit was around the dining table, as long as we also grabbed all the chairs from around the kitchen island. This is probably why most people spent their free time in and around the hot tub.

The View

My favorite spot

Artsy shot through the window

Visiting deer

Franky, Michelle’s husband, handled all the cooking and kitchen clean up. Despite numerous offers to help, we were all told to just relax and be taken care of. Michelle has very strict food requirements because of her auto-immune disorder, so we ate like she did — lots of protein and vegetables, no sugar, dairy, grains, or legumes. The food was terrific and plentiful. I was perfectly happy to eat that way the whole time (although I did have a bar of Russian dark chocolate in my bag, from which I rationed out a couple of squares each evening). I’m definitely going to try making the kale with kalamata olives and the chicken-apple-bacon burgers, not to mention experimenting with almond meal for pancakes.

I tend to wake up early and this trip was no exception. Michelle had asked that everyone try not to go on-line first thing in the morning, so instead of noodling around on my phone, I would get up and work out before anyone else was awake. I liked the quiet, but, as I mentioned, the house was full of hard surfaces. My options were the bricks around the pool or the tiles in the theatre. Ouch, floor exercises were right out.

Our schedule was very relaxed. People could sleep in and then have a leisurely breakfast. We were in the studio in the afternoon to work for four hours. Since ever minute was precious, we didn’t take any formal breaks. Thinking of everything, the kitchen at the house was well stocked with nuts, fruit, and protein bars and we would assemble snack bags before we left and munch during our down time. We returned to the house to have dinner and spend the evening, usually drinking in the hot tub.

One of the thing we talked about in the studio was vulnerability and there was a lot of it during these days. It’s hard, but here is some more vulnerability and honesty.

The social aspect of being with a dozen people was very hard for me. Despite my outgoing behavior with students and audience members, I’m really a very quiet person and rather shy when I’m not “on”. I’m okay with small groups of people, but I find it very difficult to join in the chaos of conversation with a big group. Partially I think this is because I have a little hearing loss in one ear, so sometimes it takes me a bit longer to parse what people are saying, especially when there’s a lot of background noise and when it’s dark so I can’t see people’s faces well. Add to this that I don’t often drink and I felt a bit on the outside in the evenings. I did get a lot of crocheting done because I feel more comfortable when I’m doing something creative with my hands and I can crochet on autopilot.

That’s not to say I kept completely to myself. Like I said, small groups are fine. One day after the studio I joined Lana MilknHoney, Elle Diablo, and Jacquelyn Hyde for In-And-Out Burgers and had a ridiculously fun time. We weren’t forbidden to have food that Michelle can’t eat (there was a constant nibbling on cheese in the evenings), but it felt kinda naughty to have a burger and fries. Someone might have gotten drunk on the sugar in her milkshake (spoiler: it wasn’t me).

We never had to be showgirls while we were in the house. Michelle specifically said don’t bring lashes or gowns and absolutely no glitter. I didn’t put on makeup or do my hair once and spent as much time as possible in my Catherine D’Lish caftan and bare feet. And that was a gift, to be around fellow burlesque performers with no pressure to glam it up.

Next up, the whole reason I was there, the work!

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 23 May 2018 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stripper’s Holiday, the first part

Dear Constant Reader,

I just got back from Stripper’s Holiday in Los Angeles. I have a lot to tell you. Also, a lot to think about. I think rather than my usual chronology, I’ll be writing this up by theme.

First, what is Stripper’s Holiday? It’s a burlesque master class run by Michelle L’amour. The participants stay with her for almost a week and work on honing their craft and refining an act. I’ve been trying to do this for years, but never managed to get in. It fills up FAST. That’s why I signed up for the New Orleans Burlesque Retreat, because I knew Stripper’s Holiday was unlikely to be in the cards for me.

However, after I’d committed to going to New Orleans, Michelle announced to her on-line students that after a year off she was ready to do Stripper’s Holiday again. I took the weekend (which happened to be the Expo) to wrestle with my schedule and finances. I came to the conclusion that this opportunity might never happen again and sent in my deposit.

It was a very dense experience, with a lot to process, so I’ll start with the easy stuff, what I did before and after the actual event.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon after a super-easy flight that even landed early and headed directly to the home of Kitten Natividad, Miss Nude Universe, star of Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, Burlesque Legend of the Year, and dear friend. It was so good to see her and to visit her historic home (the photo on the right). She gave me some very generous gifts (which you may see in the future). I had brought her a jar of my home-made sour cherry jam, but it was hardly equivalent. She also took me out for Mexican food and kindly drove me to the Stripper House. There I joined the others and Stripper’s Holiday officially began for me.

There will be a lot more to come about what went on during the Holiday, but that is for another day.

Jump to Sunday… After we checked out of the Stripper House, I went to The Magic Castle to meet Lili VonSchtupp. Her beloved, Funny Eddie, was performing for the brunch crowd and she saved me a seat. It was such a treat to see him on stage — he’s very talented and, as you might imagine, funny. There are a lot of kids at brunch time and Eddie was great with them, but it was just as entertaining for the adults. Despite not having a ticket, I managed to get a seat in the Palace of Mystery for the big show, which included Caramel Machine, a hilarious duo from Japan and Tempei, a magically talented juggler.

The best part was sitting in the bar with Lili and catching up on everything. I got to hear all about her hosting at Viva Las Vegas with Elvira and the inside scoop on the amazing balloon gown she wore. We talked about all different aspects of burlesque — performance, teaching, business. It’s a delight to be with her. She said some very lovely things to me that I treasure.

The Castle kicked us all out so that they could reset for the evening, but I had time to kill until my evening plans. The wonderful staff was good enough to hold my suitcase while I wandered around Hollywood, being a tourist. I had never been to the Chinese theatre to gawk at the handprints before.

Next I headed to see my friend Professor H. who I’d caught up with in New Orleans last month. We had an amazing dinner at République and I got to hear all about her latest projects (one of which is SO COOL, but I’ve to keep mum about it). I’m not sorry I left academia, but sometimes I miss being a scholar.

After she foisted some of the leftover cassoulet on me and we said farewell, I had a hideous ride to the airport and ended up RUNNING through LAX. I managed to board my red-eye maybe 5 minutes before they closed the doors and promptly passed out until we landed in Boston. When I left it was basically winter and now spring was in full flower.

Much 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 8 May 2018 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Traveling again

Dear Constant Reader,

A mere month after returning home from the New Orleans Burlesque Retreat I am in the air again, headed for Los Angeles and Michelle L’amour’s Stripper’s Holiday. I’m so excited for this experience. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

I’m expecting to be working very hard on improving my burlesque his week. We’ve been told no lashes, no glitter, yes workout clothes and swimsuits. My suitcase is so empty! It actually weighed in at only 35 pounds!

If I have free time, I’ll write about my adventures as they happen, but no promises. You remember how well that worked in New Orleans.

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 25 April 2018 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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