As the curtain slowly begins to rise — bringing the silhouette of a scantily-clad dancer into view — the opening bars of “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical Chicago fill the room. From the comfortable social distance of an enclosed window box, a man waits, grinning in anticipation, as Bella Blue begins her burlesque routine with a sexy sway of her hips.
Although she began dancing at a young age, Bella Blue — a globally ranked burlesque dancer who was born and raised in New Orleans — didn’t actually discover burlesque until 2006. Back then, she explains, burlesque was “very classic- like with gloves and gowns, lingerie robes and stocking peels.” As her own artistry evolved, she found herself wanting to challenge the definition of burlesque. She traveled to New York several times a year, immersing herself in the burlesque community, networking with like-minded creative professionals and gaining inspiration for her own career.
“In New York, you could see multiple burlesque shows on any night of the week. I was like, there’s just no reason that New Orleans can’t be like this. We have the tourism to do it, we just have to get people on board to believe that it can happen too.”
In 2008, Blue founded her own show — the Dirty Dime Peepshow — where she could experiment with pushing boundaries through unique dance techniques, innovative ideas for acts and open perspectives on sexuality. She credits her desire to expand New Orleans’ view of burlesque to being raised in a “predominantly feminine experience” that encouraged an outward expression of her creativity. Her goal is not only to empower and inspire her audiences, but to challenge their ideas about sexualized bodies and social norms as burlesque continues to evolve.
“I think I’m able to push their boundaries with my aesthetic about what they find alluring, sensual or attractive, mostly because I have small boobs, an athletic build, a pink Mohawk and tattoos,” Blue said. The audience reaction to her shows has at times proved intense. “If they’re moved enough, they’ll come right up to you, and sometimes they’re crying… sometimes they feel really empowered and inspired. They want to go home and get in the mirror and move.”
In her transgressive work, Blue has undoubtedly worked to dismantle conventional creative limits. With her encouragement for individuals to reclaim their sexual power, celebrate their bodies and be more open and honest about their gender identities, Blue’s impact transcends far beyond the burlesque stage.