Guardian interview

What is the difference between burlesque and striptease?
I don’t really like to say that burlesque and stripping are totally different. I know a lot of burlesque dancers like to make sure you know that they are not strippers, they are burlesque artists, but I don’t really agree with that. I don’t think the term stripper is a bad word. Gypsy Rose Lee called herself a stripper, so if it was good enough for her it is good enough for me.

You have said you find it liberating. How?
I was a failed ballerina, so I found a way to satisfy my dreams and to be a performer. One of the great things about burlesque in the old days is that a lot of the major stars were like me – maybe they weren’t Ginger Rogers, but they could dance and they wanted it really bad, so they found a way to adapt accordingly. The combination of my love of glamour, my love of dance, my love of theatre, my love of style and fashion – it all sort of came together.

Don’t you wish you could do all those things without having to take your clothes off?
Not at all.

Don’t you worry that while it might be liberating for you, there are lots of women who are not in nice clubs, who are not having a good time?
With every profession it is not always going to be great. You just can’t generalise. You can’t say all strippers are abused. I’ve worked in some of those crappy clubs. It hasn’t always been champagne and flowers and rhinestones in my dressing room, and people giving me accolades. I’ve worked in biker bars in Wisconsin.


But a young girl looking at you won’t know about those bars. She will look at it as an adventure.

I correspond with a lot of my fans and I make it clear that someone shouldn’t be looking at me thinking, “Oh, I want to be a burlesque dancer.” I am kind of the exception and I try to make that clear without sounding too conceited. You’ll earn more money quicker if you go to college than by being a burlesque dancer.

Can you be a feminist and a burlesque performer?
Having your own choices, having equal rights – how is it not being feminist?

But you are encouraging people to see women as objects. How am I being objectified more than an actress? When they sit down and they make a deal about their role in a film, the attorney says: “If we see a nipple, how much is that worth? If we see her butt, how much is that worth? Full-frontal nudity, what’s that worth?” It’s worked out to the dime. How is that different?

Where do you draw the line?
I have done a lot of things – I’ve made erotic films, I’ve posed nude, I’ve danced nude.

Isn’t there something tragic about all that? Yes, I think there definitely can be, and that was all part of burlesque too. Not every burlesque dancer was Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand. There was maybe some prostitution involved at some point.

I hate the whole idea of burlesque clubs.
Have you been to one?

No. I don’t want to encourage it.
Well that’s OK. If you saw it, then you might see some things that you liked and some things that you didn’t like.

I hate the women that go. I feel they are letting the side down.
I have more female fans than male fans – maybe they go home and dance around for their boyfriend. It’s harmless. What makes one person feel completely empowered makes another person completely degraded. Have you been to a strip club before?

No, again, I don’t want to encourage that either.
Have you seen a video?
Yes, once.

And it’s not for you?

Not at all. But that’s OK for you to say it’s not for you and you don’t want to be involved. Part of what I love about burlesque is that it is risqué and some people should be offended by it. I don’t try to be anyone’s role model. I don’t think I’m right and I don’t think that I’m wrong. I think everyone has to decide for themselves. All you can hope for is at least to have the choice.

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