Back in the summer 2009 I did burlesque. World-famous Veronica Varlow, the vampy black-haired Danger Dame of burlesque based in New York City, graciously took me in for a gratis, private training session. After all, I’d need at least three hours of practice if I were to debut as Glenda Glitterati The Burlesque Barbie at Slipper Room that Friday night.
I booked a private dance studio for Wednesday evening, swirling with nerves about my foray into performing nearly nude, and in anticipation of learning from someone as successful in the business as she. A glamorous Veronica arrived. So confident, so breathtaking, so tall! And SO warm, to my delight. She held an old-fashioned glossy red suitcase in one hand, wore deep maroon lipstick and had a large red flower tucked behind an ear.
With burlesque photographer Taryn Longo in tow (all burlesque photos in this post are by Taryn), Veronica opened up her suitcase and her heart, and dressed me in feathers and frills from her personal burlesque wardrobe. As we got to know each other a little bit, Veronica told me the story of how she got started in burlesque. In 2003, life gave her a jolt: she was attacked in the face by a rottweiler. As she lay in the hospital during eight hours of operations, she realized life was too short to not be living her dreams. It was this incident that finally let her work up the courage to follow her inner light. The only reason she hadn’t become a burlesque dancer yet is because she was afraid of what other people would think of her. Determined to follow her passion, she left her dull office job to pursue her inner Danger Dame.
I can’t picture Veronica being better at ANYTHING else. What a teacher, and what an inspiration!
And class began. We swept our hands in the air and churned out confidence from our cores. Confidence is the key to being sexy, Veronica taught me, and thus is also the key to performing burlesque.
We didn’t have much time, so after going over the basics we dove right into creating my dance. Bend down ever so slowly slowly and touch my toes here, unwrap a boa there, bite the tip of my glove and slide it leisurely off my hand, feeeeeeel my how my body moves. Electricity passed through me as I appreciated my every curve. Veronica kept telling how perfect I was for burlesque… she couldn’t get over my sense of confidence. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?”
Burlesque is about being sexy, but it’s also all about humorous undertones. It’s not about taking yourself so seriously – you’ve gotta just let your true inner light shine through, with all its vibrancy and sexiness and silliness too. GLOW.
After our enchanting three hour session, the night was still nowhere near over. I had a planned a little publicity bash for myself: Michelle Joni’s Burlesque Coming Out Party! Co-hosted by Veronica Varlow, we reeled in a colorful array of NYC’s burlesque dancers and the city’s sveltest gays. Just a fun night of champagne and dancing and freedom and love to celebrate and get the word out about Glenda Glitterati’s upcoming debut.
Now is where I’m going to tell you a major slice of context. Why was I doing all this, you ask? What prompted me to wake up and promote myself as NYC’s newest burlesque dancer? Well, naturally, I was on a very important mission to “become famous in two weeks or less.”
This lofty mission fell under the umbrella of The NYC Game, my very first blogging adventure.
The NYC Game is absolutely impossible to explain in a paragraph, much like Before and Afro. What is with me? Why do my blogs end up being so faaareakin laden in context!? In its most basic sense, The Game was this: I set out on a journey to have as much fun as possible in NYC. I interviewed prominent “NYC Insiders” to tell me all their secret hot spots and must-tries, and in one week flat I’d do everything on their list. I’d run around town from the The Guggenheim to Minetta Tavern to Devachon Salon to L&B Spumoni Gardens way out in Brooklyn. I’d tweet and photograph every checkpoint, blogging the whole shebang afterwards. The Insiders would treat me to pre-arranged “prizes” like five-course dinners and fashion show seats IF they deemed I completed their Challenge with victory and became a better New Yorker.
In Round Five of The Game, part of my challenge was to become famous in two weeks or less. My Insider Karen Robinovitz, a branding/social media mogul, had co-authored a book called “How To Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less,” and I thought this sounded like a brilliant idea. Karen had written the book a long time ago and did not want to showcase this as part of her challenge, but I couldn’t resist. It was too good to pass up. A stunt after my own heart. The perfect way to keep The NYC Game spicy.
One of the other thirteen rules of Round Five was going to see Veronica Varlow perform. But with a little luck, I had gotten in touch with Veronica by phone to tell her my situation (I need to be famous, stat!) and she was 100% on board. She made a few calls for me, and the deal was done. I was on my way to break into the fame game.
The morning after my coming out party, I woke up to a jolt: I was written up on Guest of a Guest. Whoah, this was actually working. Only it wasn’t all too kind, and it made me upset. I’m not sure what I was thinking – that becoming famous might entail people saying, “And that Michelle Joni, what an inspiration! Herlading bravely into the burlesque scene as part of a unique and quite brilliant blogging publicity mission!” Ha. I learned it does not work like that. It works like this.
After the initial shock, I swallowed and reminded myself that this was just a publicity stunt. I reminded myself that these two weeks existed in a world where I held meetings to plot my seduction of Jon Gosselin.
I was suddenly satisfied with what I had accomplished. This was a GAME, and I was winning it! AND I looked tan and skinny all over PMc!!
Plus, I had more important things to focus on: My Burlesque performance. My session with Veronica drew me to become incredibly passionate about what I was doing – I had a tremendous deal of respect for her and the burlesque community, and I wanted to give my best show possible. I practiced for hours and hours in front of the mirror, for my roommates, for friends on Skype, subsisting on coffee and pure adrenaline. I had just one hour to go before my debut, and I felt AMAZING.
That is, until someone G-chatted me this link. “Congratulations, Michelle!”
My heart sunk to my knees. All confidence and high spirits vanished into thin air. I instantly gained ten pounds. I was MORTIFIED. What is that photo??? Is that what people think of me!? Everyone was getting totally the wrong idea! This was just for FUN! My body was shaking. I wanted to crawl in hole. There was no way I could perform in an hour.
But I had friends all planning to go. And my hair and makeup artist was waiting. And my amazing burlesque photographer. And a crush. AND Veronica! I thought back to how she got into burlesque; she shed her fears of what others might think. I needed to get tough and do the same.
I arrived backstage at Slipper Room in a blur, late, and began getting primped backstage amongst naked burlesque stars. As I fastened on my tasseled pasties, wrapped a mess of boas around my sweaty body and got a pep talk from Veronica, I learned I was #2 on the lineup. NUMBER TWO. No time to freak out. No place to get a sip of water.
“And now, introducing, the world-famous Glenda Glitterati The Burlesque Barbie!” When the curtains opened I saw only bright lights, and I don’t remember a single thing. I wouldn’t even believe that it happened, except I have photo evidence:
Stop right there! Yes, I think I’ll save the big pasty reveal for the book. Burlesque… yay, I did it! I felt so liberated!
A few days later I got written up again, this time as some sort of established famous person on a worst-dressed list alongside Sarah Jessica Parker.
You can read my famous-in-two-weeks recap here.
I tell all this to you now, as a handful of you have been kind enough to google me and/or point out in the comments that I have a history of seeking fame. Now you know – it is true. And so, this whole blog must be one big publicity stunt, right?
Well, for the skeptics out there, you’ll never believe me anyway so I won’t go out of my way to convince you otherwise. I loved an afro and so I wore it and blogged about my earnest experiences. It lead to my second – and much stealthier – fifteen minutes of fame. Fifteen minutes of enlightenment, laughing, crying, guilt, falling into pits of dispair, and incredible life lessons. Lesson such as the paths to undoing racism, and – in a personal email from a Gawker editor after he bashed me – “If it makes you feel any better, know that this is going to blow over before you know it.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about fame… it’s never how you planned or imagined it. Fame is not your choice. In 2009 my pitch to NYMag failed, but in 2012 they came hunting me down when I was in the lowest of lows.
Perhaps I should invest in a publicist at this point to edit my image and make me more marketable, obtaining the meaningful press I so desire? Shall I hire a team to catch my fuck-ups before they start and sculpt my public persona into the unmistakably bubbly, inspiring, wild, loving human I am at heart?
Ha! A personal brand marketer is of zero interest to me. If that public persona of mine is meant to evolve, it will. REALNESS makes the world go round, my friends. If a predisposition to become accidentally and stupidly famous is in my blood, who am I to judge?