Showgirl Adventure: Making the Best of it!

Posted by RubyJoule On February - 2 - 20123,869 views

My second grade teacher told us, “If you don’t have the best of everything, make the best of everything you have.”  Some may find this a tired cliché, but this idea took hold in my 7 year old mind and has been with me ever since.  As a burlesque showgirl, I am in the business of making the best, and presenting the best of myself on stage, in photos, and in general.

photo by Chris Gomez

You’re probably familiar with the trappings of showgirl glamour; fishnet stockings, fake lashes, big hair, red lips… but what about the inner workings of a showgirl that carry her through the craziest of situations?  Burlesque performers often find themselves facing a variety of stages, crowds, and venues– from big beautiful theatres to dimly lit dive bars, and everything in between.  For the sake of sanity and beauty, it is of utmost importance to make the best of things. Always.  This skill is perhaps the most important accessory a showgirl can possess.

On one occasion, which the cast now fondly refers to as “Dust Bowl Burlesque,” La Divina, Cora Coquette and I performed at the Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival in Buda, Texas.  Now, many times event producers are ill-prepared to accommodate burlesque performers.  We need dressing rooms close to the stage. We need mirrors and lights in said dressing rooms.  These are not diva demands, just practical requests that allow us to present the best show possible.

The area hadn’t seen a drop of rain in weeks.  It was hot, windy, dusty, and the entire event was outdoors.  Concession stands lined the perimeter, offering funnel cake, hurricanes in tall bright plastic glasses, and many tons of crawfish.  As the day wore on, bright orange crawfish parts would litter the ground.  Twangy zydeco music drifted on the air from giant tented stages set up at each end of the field.  Under different circumstances, this would have made for a day of oddball fun.  However, it was clear that we’d be performing our sultry and glamorous stripteases on one of these outdoor stages with multitudes of families milling about.  It was not clear though, where we were supposed to change into our costumes.  We were shown the way to a panel truck parked directly behind the stage– basically a large metal windowless box on wheels.  Inside it was pitch dark, hot, grimy, cluttered with staging equipment, and that first step up was a doozy in heels and a snug gown!  At that point our chivalrous escort and coordinator, Diamond Jim, had heard enough.  We waited while he negotiated for any other available option, and then we were led to the best one on offer: an air-conditioned RV belonging to one of the roadies.

A small grill was ablaze in front of the RV as a few weathered band staff welcomed us from their lawn chairs, and Jim helped us heft our suitcases of costumes into the tiny camper.  The place was a rather squalid, one-man affair, with a moldy black ceiling stain dripping water into a plastic bucket, but at least there was some light and privacy.  My colleagues and I stared at our suroundings, and each other, in disbelief.  “We should try not to touch anything,” I said, as a drip from the ceiling landed on my shoulder.

We set about getting into costume for our first set (we would indeed be doing a quick change in the panel truck for the second set), and there was a knock on the RV door.  We covered up quickly as a greasy-haired roadie poked his head in and grinning, said, “Hey, sorry to bother you girls– can you hand me that package of hot dogs in the fridge?”  Graciously, Divina said, “Yes of course!” and handed the package of wieners to me, as I was closest to the door.  As I gingerly took the plastic pack of hot dogs, the open end swung toward me and wiener juice poured down the length of my arm. Gack! Gritting my teeth in a manic smile, I handed the hot dogs to the roadie and closed the door.  Without an ounce of remorse, I wiped the offending juice off on the blankets of the rumpled cubbyhole bed next to me.

A few minutes later there was another knock. Sighing and rolling our eyes, we covered up again.  But this time there came the very welcome sight of Diamond Jim’s dapperly fedora-ed head and arm outstretched, offering a colossal, brightly colored hurricane! That was the beacon that us through the rest of the dressing process. Jim also promised to award us all with honorary “bronze pasties of valor.”

When we made our way back from the RV to the festival entrance, a staff security guard looked Divina up and down skeptically and said, “You’re the entertainment?”  Clutching the hurricane in one satin gloved hand, with a luxurious fox fur stole over her shoulder, she simply raised one eyebrow and said, “CLEARLY.”

We followed her to the stage, as a folksy creole band was finishing their set for a crowd of 15, including little children cavorting down front.  Brilliant.  Divina had the thankless job of going on first, but her act had quite an astonishing effect.  Suddenly hoards of people began rushing to the tent from all directions and crowding around the front of the stage– all of them adults, thankfully.  By the time she finished, the hooting and hollering was so loud it sounded like a rock concert!  Things were looking up.

La Divina, by Firebird Images

For one of my acts, I did a sapphire blue fan dance.  This can be challenging outdoors on a windy evening, but luckily the wind had died down.  There was a railroad crossing right up the hill from the festival grounds, with tracks running directly behind the stage, about 50 feet away.  When I began my dance, I was concerned for the wind.  Then I heard the train whistle.  Halfway through my act, the freight train came thundering past, obliterating my music and blowing my hair around.  In the spirit of making the best of it, I pretended like it was part of the act– just an elaborate and loud effect to add production value!

My blue fan dance, at a theatre, sans freight train. Photo: Oblivion Images

The train went by, we finished our show, and somehow made it to the solace of chilled martinis on a large sofa.  On the bright side, this is a perfect example of what I call, “Type 2” fun; not all that fun while it’s happening, but pretty fun to retell later.  That’s one way to make the best of things.  Another way is to ask yourself what it would take to have fun with a situation.

For example, I was recently chosen as one of 10 semi-finalists in the Viva las Vegas burlesque competition.  This means I am in the running with 9 other lovely ladies for one of 4 spots to perform at the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender in… fabulous Las Vegas!  While I am honored to be among these 10, this is also a voting contest. The top 4 ladies with the most votes will go on to perform.  I am not a fan of voting contests; I don’t like canvassing for votes, begging and pleading for every person I know (and lots of strangers) to “please vote for me!”  It just feels weird, plus it can take up a lot of time.  So I figured that instead of getting caught up in asking for votes in the hopes of winning, it would be a lot more fun to “invite” all of my friends and fans to vote, while offering them photo incentives for every milestone number I reached.  I’ve posted never-before-seen photos from my early days, daring live performance shots, pictures from acting class where I’m barely recognizeable…  It has been a fun way to connect with people, to share something a little unexpected, and offer something in return for their generous support.

In the early days, before Ruby Joule...

And you know what? I have moved up the ladder several places and am currently (at this writing) only 11 votes away from a coveted top 4 spot!  Readers of Rockabilly-Online  can bet on the fact that if I get to go perform in Las Vegas, I will write one helluva piece on the experience!  If you would like to help make this happen, I cordially invite you to cast a vote in my direction here:  Click “vote” under Ruby Joule, then click the link in the confirmation email they send you (be sure to check your spam folder).

I also invite you all to see how YOU might be able to make the best of strange situations and untoward events, and let me know how it goes! 😉

Stay tuned for the next adventure, maybe from Las Vegas!

xoxo, Ruby Joule

photo: Hope Parrish

Ruby Joule is an international burlesque sensation, go-go dancer, pin-up model and bonne vivante based in Austin, TX. She is a founding member of The Jigglewatts Burlesque and strives to seek out new adventures in Showgirlhood!

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