Burlesque Beginners Dos and Donts

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I’ve finally begun performing burlesque, and it’s been super hard work and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s had me somewhat creatively distracted for a while too, so it’s about time I check in with you guys here to teach you something new, in my usual by beginners for beginners format, with the help of my new partner Riley Strange!

So you’re intrigued by burlesque and you’ve never done it before, so you want to give it a shot. To go to shows and see the finished product on stage can feel pretty overwhelming when you have plans to try it out yourself. Just how does it all come together? If you don’t have a mentor to guide you you might be totally lost. Let us lay down a few simple dos and donts to get you started.

Riley prepared to go on stage for her Alice in Wonderland routine

Do…

-Your research. Learn by taking a class if there are any in your area, watching youtube videos, going to shows, reading up on burlesque history, and perusing informative websites such as 21stcenturyburlesque.com. Jo Weldon also has an awesome book on the subject that covers way more than I can here in a puny little blog article.

-Cut the damn tags off your clothes. As a performer you are delivering a fantasy. Tags and other flaws like stains, wrinkles and tears take the audience out of the moment.

-Be creative with your costume. Even if you must wear something off-the-rack, try to alter it in some way to make it one-of-a-kind. The last thing you want is someone in the audience pointing and going “Hey, I have that same bra at home!”

Adding rhinestones to these Victoria’s Secret panties add a little special sparkle

-Choose a song you absolutely love. With rehearsals you’ll have to listen to it a hundred times, so if you don’t love it, it’s going to be a nightmare to perform to once show day arrives.

-Be aware of what your audience will enjoy while not compromising your own tastes.

-Go big or go home. This is not a movie or a photoshoot, and there are no close-ups. Makeup and movements need to be seen from the back row. You WILL feel silly, at least in the beginning. You’ll get used to it.

-Make sure your stage name isn’t already taken by somebody else. A Google search should be pretty much all you need here.

-Make the most of your abilities. Any abilities. Dancing, acting, costuming, comedy, acrobatics, the list is endless.

-Be prepared for people to have misconceptions. Don’t get offended, it’s part of the deal. It’s up to you if you want to work towards changing their mind or not.

-Try to find a mentor if you can, to guide you through this stuff or just keep you company while you’re gluing on rhinestones.

-Consider the length and pacing of your song. You don’t want to feel rushed, or end up with nothing to do because the song was too long or slow.

-Be reliable and professional. This might be a fun job, but it is a job. It deserves to be taken seriously.

-Come to your show prepared. Remember not only the elements of your costume but makeup, pastie tape, a Tide stick, etc. This is the huge packing list Riley and I had last time we did a show, and this is only for three acts between us.

All this shit for less than 15 minutes total stage time. Also handy to make sure you leave nothing behind at the venue at the end of the night.

-Plan something achievable. This is something me and Riley have personal experience with. We kept coming up with extremely ambitious routines that were just way above our level. If you keep doing that you’ll never be able to complete the process to see it come to life on stage. You can keep having ambitious ideas, just tuck them away for a future date. A routine does not have to be difficult in order to be entertaining.

April 1 2016 - Heart-Shaped Box

Don’t…

-Think that the performances you see are the rules. This is art, there are no rules. You don’t have to wear a corset, you don’t have to choose a jazz song, you don’t have to know how to dance (although it helps) and believe it or not you don’t even have to be sexy. Let this be an expression of who you are, even if it only relates to one of your many facets. Well ok, there is one rule, and that is that you must be entertaining.

-Wear anything flat black unless your character depends on it. It’s too drab and somber. Either add some sparkle and shine or choose something more lively. Or better yet, both.

-Limit yourself. Explore new horizons and keep things fresh.

Just a backstage selfie with Adore Delano. No big deal 😛

-Focus on reasons why you “shouldn’t” do burlesque because it’s just not true. Any adult age, any gender, any body type, and any ability level (there are even burlesque performers who use wheelchairs in their acts) is accepted. This is the real beauty of this art form. It’s about celebrating what makes you you.

-Forget your face in your choreography. It just won’t look good if you look like you’re taking a shit while you get undressed.

-Be a diva. Ok this isn’t just a burlesque tip, this is a life tip. There’s a difference between honestly expressing something that’s important to you and acting like a spoiled child about it. You’re not above anyone.

-Panic if something goes wrong. Because it will, even to seasoned performers. But guess what, the audience probably doesn’t know, and if they do they’ll think highly of you for being able to just move on with the act instead of freezing in a panic. Riley and I have both performed to the wrong track when the DJ made a mistake, and neither time could anyone in the audience tell. Keep in mind we are both still beginners. It happened to Riley on her second day.

-Make excuses! You’ll just keep missing out.

What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show, By Dr. Lucky

I’ve been deeply ensconced in burlesque for a while, and I’m constantly reminded that not everyone is privy to my insular world. So I wrote this as an introduction to those who may be curious or interested or concerned. This list is in no way meant to be ‘definitive’ or to ‘set the record straight’ about what to expect at a burlesque show. As with all live performance, the best way to experience burlesque it is to see it in person.

1. A Variety Format Show

Shows usually feature a host or master of ceremonies who keeps the show moving forward, introduces acts, and interacts with the audience, which may include audience participation. Performers often come from a variety of backgrounds and have an array of skill sets, and may include dancers, singers, musicians, circus performers, magicians, comedians, and, yes, striptease artists. In modern burlesque, acts are usually around five minutes, or the length of a pop song, though this can vary widely with ‘talking acts’ or headliners who may perform to a number of songs.

2. Acts that are as Uniquely Different as the Performers

Burlesque performers are not given a ‘script’ – they come up with their stage personas and concepts for their acts; they choose their music, choreograph their numbers, and usually create their own costumes. It is this DIY spirit, and complete control of one’s image, that is so appealing to performers and audience alike. Some performers like to keep their acts in the vein of classic burlesque, bedecked in gowns, panels skirts, boas, fans, gloves, and stockings etc., while others create acts influenced by popular culture, politics, current events, and/or familiar archetypes.
Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

3. Acts are Like ‘Mini Plays’

Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque and curator of the Exotic World Museum and Competition, described her acts as ‘mini plays’. An act has its own narrative, story, tone, and message. The ending of a striptease act may be more about a resolution of the tension of the story, or the delivering of a punch line, then it is solely about the physical reveal. That said, the reveal and the message are often intertwined, and can be dependent on each other. Burlesque acts, like other narratives, take the audience on a journey.

4. Over the Top Presentation of Self

You probably won’t see a parade of ‘girl-next-door’ realness at a burlesque show. Makeup is excessive, hair is big (often a wig), and costumes are elaborate. The performance style is more like Brechtian presentation than Aristotelian representation – think clowns, buffoons, and drag queens. The burlesque condition known as ‘Swarovski-itis’ is a serious affliction that compels performers to want to put rhinestones on EVERYTHING. Expect to be blinded by the light.

5. No Fourth Wall

With most traditional theatre or performance genres, there’s an ‘invisible’ fourth wall that divides performers from the audience. There’s no such thing in burlesque. This makes burlesque more participatory and engaging than your typical entertainment experience. In fact, the audience is an integral part of a burlesque show, and it is that carnivalesque (Bahktin) spirit that is so much fun for audience and performers. I can’t think of many social situations where it is not just acceptable to scream at a performer as she performs, but expected. Audience members don’t have to sit, hands folded on lap, and wait until the end of the show to show their appreciation. They do it along the way – with claps, hoots, hollers and screams of laughter and approval. And that’s just the way the performers like it.

6. A Mixed Audience Comprised Mostly of Women and Couples

An audience at burlesque show tends to be mixed, and the demographics run the gamut from grandmas to girls out for a night on the town. Although it depends on the venue, producer, and the show, burlesque shows are most often very women-friendly. Rarely do you see primarily male audiences, except perhaps at a boylesque show. Couples are frequent attendees. Heteronormativity is not the expected norm.

7. Blue Humour and Content

Some would argue that blue humour and content of burlesque is its most important and defining characteristic. But like at a burlesque show, you might have to wait for the blue content. Furthermore, blue humour does not necessarily have to be explicitly ‘dirty’. It can be the implication of a double entendre, the delivery of a line with a wink and a nudge. So put your thinking cap on, otherwise you might miss the joke.
Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

8. Modern Political and Social Conscientiousness

Modern burlesque is the thinking person’s performance art wrapped up in a sparkly package. You may want to be up on current events before you come to a show. Politics and social commentary are often very central to burlesque acts. And even if not overt, there’s still something political about performers doing whatever they want on stage, force feeding it to an audience, and getting the audience to beg for more. This can be terrifying to those who want to keep established gender roles in place, and is often a driving force behind fear or censorship of burlesque and burlesque performers.

9. Burlesque is Parody

If there’s one thing that has been consistent about burlesque since its inception, it is parody. Parody was an intrinsic part of burlesque, even before striptease emerged. In fact, ‘to burlesque’ a thing means to poke fun at it. Nothing escapes burlesque’s parodic grip, and it is that inversion of high and low that is the delicious raison d’être of burlesque. So don’t be surprised if something you hold up as sacred is poked fun at, or something you think frivolous (or perhaps deviant) is celebrated and elevated. This is what burlesque does – it inverts social norms, pokes fun, and, ultimately, is meant to BE fun. Comedy is the central tenet to this fun.

10. Expect the Unexpected

‘Wait a minute. Dr. Lucky. I just went to my first burlesque show, and it was not what you described.’ Welcome to the world of burlesque! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from burlesque in the past fifteen plus years, it is that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. As with any kind of live performance, the best way to experience it is to go to a show. Go with an open mind. And expect to be entertained.

NOTE: Wish you could include this in your next program? You can! Feel free to use ‘What to Expect at a Burlesque Show’ for your program, your website, or to send to reporters and/or local concerned community members. If this article is reused in part or in whole, author credit is required (‘Dr. Lucky’), with a note to the author (doctorofburlesque@yahoo.com) about where and when the reprint is published. All rights reserved, 2014.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Kay Sera and Taro Baugham for feedback on an earlier draft of this essay.

Dr. Lucky

Performance as Meditation

The difference between “regular” stripping and burlesque is that in the former, you’re showing the audience what they want to see, whereas in the latter you’re showing them what you want them to see.

Or at least that’s the way I see it.

But deciding what you want an audience to see, and how they’re going to see it takes quite a bit of effort. It’s not just your body you’re revealing, it’s your talent and personality, and this involves careful planning. You pick a theme, you pick a song, you pick an outfit, you plan your choreography, and you might also have some humor or other tricks up your sleeve. Quite frankly it’s exhausting.

But what this means is that when the moment comes to show your stuff, you’re actually working quite mentally hard. You’re thinking about not messing up your choreography, not having a wardrobe malfunction, and with all that concentration you still have to remember to look relaxed and smile at the audience. What I’ve found in the incredibly short time I’ve been doing this, is that this really locks me inside my head. I have ADD, but when you have absolutely no choice but to focus, focus is what you shall do. I can look right at someone and my brain just doesn’t register their face because I have too many other things on my mind.

This is weird, at least for someone like me, but come to think of it, it really feels like a form of meditation. During those 4 minutes or so, nothing exists outside of your performance. Not your day job, not your money or family concerns, and certainly nothing from the world outside the stage you’re performing on. It’s really kind of amazing. I once saw a performance in which the performer tripped and broke her foot, but her focus on the routine was so intense that she not only didn’t show any sign of pain, but she didn’t even realize that her foot was broken until after. I can’t think of any other situation when this would be the case, maybe with the exception of feeling extreme fear, which is really not so great.

As my nerves build up the closer I get to my first official performance, I’m reminded of that old tip to picture the audience in their underwear. I wonder if that still matters when you’re actually going to be in yours. But it really might not, because honestly I don’t think I’ll be capable of picturing them at all or imagining much of anything. I’ll have to look engaged, and yet the reality is that for these few minutes these people probably won’t even exist to me.

Sometimes we need this, to take a break from the world and just slow down. Meditation is recommended for a reason. When you have a hard time focusing, sometimes you need to improvise as far as just how you’re going to accomplish that. I was surprised when I first found that this is what performing feels like, and pretty intrigued. This means I’m benefiting from burlesque in more ways than are usually cited, building your confidence and expressing yourself. It means my mental health is benefiting to, and who couldn’t use the little boost? I wonder if this will remain the case or if as I get more comfortable my mind will become more able to wander. I wonder if that would be a good or a bad thing.

I wonder if any of you out there, who perform in any capacity, have felt the same way. Have you felt any benefits from performing that are usually associated with more typical kinds of meditation?

Strange Burlesque

I was going to wait to post about this until I had actually done a show. I still haven’t. But I just had my first one-on-one burlesque lesson and it was so much fun I’m just too excited to wait. You’ll have to forgive me.

Since there are no actual shows to speak of yet I’ll give you my backround and what’s been going on so far. I’ve been a fan of burlesque for many years. It’s such a beautiful and fun form of artistic expression. It’s a feminist art form that celebrates each person’s own unique beauty and personality. I was the type of kid who always wanted to put on dances and plays for the family, and always loved history and elaborate costumes. So damned if I wasn’t going to want to be part of it. Contrary to what you might believe however, I’m not a particularly extroverted person. I can get suddenly and inexplicably nervous in front of people and in those situations it can take more than a few drinks to loosen me up. I really never believed then that I would be up to the challenge, and focused my little burlesque dreams on being the hero back stage, the one who could arrange for the performers to have gorgeous costumes and help put on their shows without a hitch.

Attending a burlesque worshop in Feb 2013.

This did not happen. But I did one day a couple years ago find myself working a little magic for a fashion show for a local shop at the Taboo sex convention. We were short a hairstylist, so I did my best to get half the girls for each of two shows looking their best. It was an extremely hectic and exhilarating day. Now then, the afternoon show featured pinup dresses and other cute everyday looks, but the evening show was something else. This was all about sexy lingerie. One of the girls during the prep for this evening show came up with the idea that one of the models should go out wearing nothing but some frilly underwear, holding a giant pink powder puff. Guess who was in a brave mood, Strangers. I was caught at a moment when I just did not give a fuck. I would do any dare they threw at me. Maybe it’s because I was still on a high from the first show, my first fashion show ever, after realizing that it was much more fun than terrifying. So I did it. The underwear was big enough to fall half way down my ass and I didn’t even have pasties to cover me up behind that powder puff. But even more so than being in the earlier, tamer fashion show, I realized immediately that I was being not at all traumatized, but having the time of my life. Don’t ask me why, maybe I had just unearthed a secret little exhibitionist part of myself. Or maybe it’s because I really enjoyed the look on everyone’s face. I remained in this state for a little while after the show too, walking around the convention appearing practically naked to hand out flyers for the shop. I even got my picture taken in a photo booth for free. I had a really great time.

I took a really long time to let this all sink in. Almost a year actually. I thought about how if this wasn’t scary, if it turns out I don’t have stage fright, especially without much of anything on, maybe I really could consider doing burlesque. And then my position and my schedule changed. Saturdays were out for another 8 months and my ideas had to be put on hold. I just couldn’t imagine establishing myself as a performer who only worked Sundays and Mondays.

And then finally, FINALLY, I was ready. I was back working Mon-Fri and had started to put together a few costumes. This wasn’t something I just started once I decided to perform however. I’ve always loved corsets, glitter, and ridiculously glamorous things. It’s another art form to me. The only difference now was that I had a real focus. Instead if acquiring a bunch of random pretty things, now I had a goal of specific outfits in mind. When I suddenly realized that one of these outfits had already been sitting in my closet for a while I decided it was time to set up a one-on-one lesson with Miss La Muse to see how it was all done. Of course by now I had already chosen my name and image, purchased my domain (this one), and attended a beginners workshop, also taught by Miss La Muse.

Without getting into too many details that would ruin any surprise at seeing my future first show, I will say that all the basics were covered and a routine was planned out from start to finish. It was even more fun that I expected, and I woke up very sore the next day. I couldn’t wait to get home from work and start sticking little jewels onto my costume. So this is where I’m at now, writing this post in an attempt to lower my temptation to tell everything to the whole damn world. I have to practice and I have to polish. But a performance by Ava Strange is finally something to be seen on the horizon.

Jupiter Moon 3, Breaking in a Corset, & Learning from My Mistakes

Over time, as you wear a corset it changes. The way it looked and felt when you first put it on is not how it’s going to stay as it seasons and conforms to your body, and goes through normal wear and tear. In the year since I got my powder blue corset from Jupiter Moon 3, the changes have been significant. You learn from these things.

Now I understand that Jupiter Moon 3 corsets are not intended for daily wear. They’re show-pieces. So for me to wear mine every day is going to be much more than what it was made for, and to see a good amount of wear and tear is to be expected. Some threads holding down the lace have torn, I’ve lost a few beads, and some of the sequins dangle by a loose thread. There are a couple weird folds in the fabric at the waist. And one of the bones over the right hip has twisted. This is annoying, but I can deal with it because these are the expected limitations of the corset.

What frustrates me the most though is through no-one’s fault but my own. I didn’t take the time to properly break it in. I was way too excited and went too tight too soon. As a result I have a twisted bone at the very back so that it bows out at the waist and the sides refuse to sit parallel. The corset is still completely comfortable, but this is damage that would need to be repaired. There’s no way to lace now where this isn’t an issue anymore. More than the twisted bone bothering me though, I’m mad at myself. I paid good money for that thing. I should have taken much better care of it.

The last issue is something that I can’t really tell if it’s my fault or not. But the hips are most definitely too small. The bottom edge digs in and creates a reverse muffin-top instead of lying smooth. Even worse, whether because of this or the twisted bones, the hips now appear to be square instead of rounded. I don’t think anyone else would pay it much notice, but it’s a silhouette I don’t like. All in all I think this corset looked a hell of a lot better when it was new, while I feel that if these faults of mine and perhaps the maker had been avoided it should look better than it did, because it would retain its integrity and pretty silhouette while being worn at a more extreme reduction. Based on this, I feel it’s better to order a corset with hips about an inch larger than your actual size, so it can accommodate the increase in size that happens when your waist decreases, and you get a nice smooth flare instead of any digging.IMG_2109

So keeping all of these flaws in mind, I went ahead and purchased a second one. It’s the same corset-bra combo, but I ordered it with larger hips and I was absolutely determined to be kind to the corset and break it in properly this time. I wore it only 2-3 hours at a time, a couple times a day, at a very light reduction for two weeks. I let the corset tell me how tight is the limit instead of forcing it further just because my body could handle it and I was curious. After each seasoning session I carefully examined it for wear, to make sure nothing was becoming more stressed than it should.

What I find interesting is that even at that light reduction, the curves looked far more impressive than they do with the blue one. I wonder if this is because of the lace creating an illusion, or maybe it’s because of the shape of the hips. I’m really not sure. But the hips of the green corset are still lying completely smooth, and they’re rounded. The shape is absolutely perfect. And I’m managing to keep the grommets completely parallel, which is really the ultimate achievement beyond just not damaging it in any way. I feel unbelievably awesome about this.

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A couple observations beyond this – the bra is way too small, as you may be able to tell from the above photo. I’m not angry about this though, because the label is correct to my size (I think they’re purchased and recovered, not made from scratch). The corsetiere didn’t make any kind of actual mistake here. And while it makes my boobs kind of flat, I can still get it on, and I suppose it being a little overly snug and secure is better than too big and gaping and revealing more than you intend to. The feather trim is a bit crushed and wonky from shipping, and I expected that too, but now I have to figure out a way to fix it. I’m thinking steaming and Elnet hairspray. I’ll have to try that and see. I won’t be wearing this under any clothing because of the feathers, but I’m truly surprised by how well this corset goes with my dresses. I was honestly not expecting that. I’d been wearing it over my clothes for the sake of the feathers and easy access while I put it on and removed it twice a day during the break-in process, and one night I actually forgot I was wearing it. When I got home I saw that it went amazingly well with the cherry-print dress I had on, and the next day it even went beautifully with my deep purple dress. I’m thrilled about this because it means I’ll get a lot more use out of it than I ever intended.

So right now this second corset is absolutely my favorite. I’m in love. I’m going to wear it whenever I can. I’m going to be kind to it. And I’m going to carry this experience with me moving forward.

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Jupiter Moon 3 Corsets

One fun and scary thing about custom corsets is you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Each one is completely unique, made just for you and a combination of your design specifications and the corset maker’s interpretation of your ideas. I recently had the great pleasure of trying Jupiter Moon 3 for the first time. As far as my own experience goes, I think she’s the best yet.

So I guess I’ll start from the beginning. I’m off standard corsets, but I’m no designer. I have zero talent for it, though ordering custom does require you to be able to pull some sort of idea out of your ass so the corset maker knows what to do. My idea took months to refine, and I’m sure my friends are still making fun of me for how much I agonized over every last detail. But you must understand, my money needs to go a long way, and I am very, very fussy when it comes to my corsets. I can find fault with absolutely anything.

The design I finally settled on was powder blue satin with black lace over the hips and f-hole shaped appliques over the front and back with a matching bra. This underbust + bra arrangement is absolutely genius by the way. For the price of the bra your corset can now be worn as both an underbust and overbust, and you have a sexy fancy new bra too. Once I had finalized my design I came across this, which happened to be just so similar it became my inspiration, even after the fact. This is what I aspired my corset to be.

You’re drooling now, aren’t you? Anyway, the process took a while because Jennifer, the lady behind Jupiter Moon 3, is a very busy lady indeed. I let her know that it was imperative that I have my corset by mid-August so I would have time to break it in before Toronto Fan Expo, and that as long as that happened I was happy. I got exactly what I asked for. I admit I had started to worry, but she shipped express to make sure I had it, and got a tracking number too just in case. I’m extremely grateful.

What I got was not what had been in my head, but it is definitely what I had described, and it is just so completely gorgeous. This is the kind of corset you fantasize about. This is the kind of corset you get married in. I want to wear it every day for the rest of my life. Because it works under clothes, I think I will. I’m sitting around on my couch in it right now with my hair in rollers, just because. The lace at the sides contours over the top of the hips and around the waist, connecting to the appliques in front and back. The appliques most definitely don’t look just like f-holes, but I image that would be pretty damn hard to find, and they resemble the example images I sent so exactly I wonder if those aren’t the ones she got for me. They even have little sequins in them for a bit of sparkle. Because I had decided not to get lace trim at the top, the bra creates a perfect overbust effect when worn with it. It’s exactly what I had hoped for.

Another thing I noticed – even before I opened the package because it was smaller than I expected – was that the corset is VERY light. Typical corsets have a few layers of heavy coutil and spiral steel bones, which have some heft to them. In fact if you never saw this corset on a person you might assume it was plastic just to hold it. It’s really pretty amazing. But the bones are indeed steel, flat, not spiral, and there are 3 layers of fabric in the design. The lining is super soft cotton. This would make a fantastic summer corset. And despite this it absolutely is capable of giving me the exact shape I need with the right amount of reduction.

The busk in front has a very soft curve to it almost reminiscent of a spoon busk, or maybe it’s just the perfect amount of flexible, that my tummy is held in while I still get waist compression from the front, which is rare since most busks are super straight and rigid, so I find this such a bonus. The bones at the back don’t buckle EVEN when I bend over with the laces untied, and the fabric doesn’t bubble either. You read that right, I can bend over – at the waist. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so flexible it flops around giving you no support. But when I really need to I can bed just enough to get my business done in the bathroom and get out of a car. And what a difference that makes when you wear a corset every day. It’s strong and it fits and it lets me move and holy crap it’s so damn comfortable. I’m super impressed.

Would I recommend Jupiter Moon 3? Yes. Jupiter Moon 3 shows every sign of being everything I’ve been looking for. I will definitely be ordering from her again, as soon as I can afford it, and I’ll be doing it with confidence. I think I may have found The One.

Josephine: The Hungry Heart

Book reviews are one of the things I feel I really cannot write well. So it helps that I don’t read very much that fits in with the subjects of my blog (I’ve since moved on to We Two, about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl). But every media source, no matter how minor, deserves a few. What are we, animals?

Josephine Baker was an amazing and fascinating person, but I didn’t find her very likeable. She was a dancer, you could call it burlesque, in the 1920s. She lived a really extravagant life. In WWII, she became a spy for the French Resistance. In the 50s, she started adopting, collecting, babies from every country in a way that really puts Angelina to shame. When she couldn’t find one of the race or religion she wanted, she claimed that race or religion for a random child like it was a toy. These kids grew to only barely regard her as their mother.

Nazi-fighting, burlesque-dancing earth mother sounds pretty damn awesome. But Josephine was a shitty mother, an egotistical diva, and really crazy. If the above paragraph doesn’t tip you off, I don’t mean she just had wacky ideas, I mean she was really nuts. Her personality could change every couple pages from over-dramatically caring to cold heartless bitch, she had zero concept of money (tipping people 100$ when she was virtually homeless is just one minor example) and no concept of how she was making the people around her feel. She had a really overblown hate-on for America so that she refused to speak anything but French there, even to people she knew had no idea what she was saying. She had long, intense feuds with people for no good reason at all, usually because she was playing the race card, memorably when she spent years attacking a friend all over the press because she felt she waited too long for a table in his restaurant on a busy night. And she got sued more often than she changed her socks. She expected all the citizens in the town she lived in to line up on the streets when she came back from being on tour to greet her. And this is just a small sample.

Because such a person somehow managed not to captivate me past the first few chapters of the book, I lost interest. And you know what happens when I lose interest in a book? I refuse to abandon it once I’m 100 pages in or so except in extreme cases, such as when a book about mourning rituals turned into a visitors guide to every cemetery in California, and I pull through, very, very slowly. It took me 2 months to read this because it was painful to get through even 10 pages a day. And that really puts a cramp in my reading goals. This year I want to read 36 books and because of this thing now I’ve only read 7 so far this year. Pathetic.

I don’t think this is a bad book at all. It was well-written, well-researched, and quite lively. But I guess it just wasn’t for me. Josephine Baker is not my kind of person.