Dallas Burlesque and a French Bicycle
So Mike and I are cruising along Main street as we head towards the Santa Fe Trail when we notice these three lovely show girls strolling down the sidewalk. Not the sort of thing you see every day and I’m not one to miss a photo opportunity so we pull over and I ask them if I could take their picture with my Peugeot as a prop. They agreed and were a delight to photograph.
They told us that they were burlesque performers (and promoters) and were downtown taking promo shots for the second annual Dallas Burlesque Festival. What is the Dallas Burlesque Festival you might wonder?
The festival originated in 2009 and was produced by Elisa Davis of the Ruby Review, a dance troupe that melds traditional burlesque and urban dance (yes named for that Ruby). She wanted to promote an event that showcased all of the area talent on one stage for an entire evening. The results were positive. In fact the original location was scrapped in favor of the historic Texas Theater for its larger seating capacity (yes that Texas Theater).
The event drew a crowd of over 700 people who watched 30 performers that night. This was a significant success for the entire Dallas area burlesque community with many performers crediting the festival for launching their careers and helping them gain exposure to area producers. I had read about the event last year and had planned to attend but we were out of town that weekend so we missed it.
The DBF returns to the Texas Theater on February 6th, 2010. Only this time they’re planning a bigger show. They’ve added local burlesque stars Ginger Valentine and Black Mariah to the producer list. They also added a headlining performer to the roster this year, Miss Angi Pontani of the World Famous Pontani Sisters, Coney Island’s Miss Cyclone, and Miss Exotic World, 2008. I am told they are planning enrichment workshops for the performers lead by Miss Angi Pontani and other seasoned burlesque personalities during the festival.
Speaking of burlesque, Dallas actually has a rich history of colorful personalities and clubs that offered a mix of comedy, music and of course strip-tease. Many of these venues were classy, well managed and catered to Dallas’ upper crust. At that time there was a dozen or so burlesque clubs operating within walking distance of one another in downtown. Customers would often spend the evening strolling from one club to the next, usually paying a $2 cover charge.
One of the more popular clubs during the 60s was Abe Weinstein’s stylish Colony Club on 13322 Commerce Street. His cabaret featured Texas’ very own Candy Barr (Juanita Dale Slusher) who performed nightly to sold out shows. Her stage name was actually Weinstein’s idea and stemmed from her penchant for Snickers bars. A side note – Candy Barr was convicted for possession of marijuana in a high profile case. Her apartment was raided by Dallas police who allegedly found just under and ounce hidden in her bra. She insisted the bust was a set up. My Dad insists she was framed. When I related this story to my Mother even she exclaimed, “well she was framed!” So there you have it. Texas Governor, John Connally, pardoned her for the marijuana conviction in 1967.
On the other hand, Dallas’ most notorious burlesque operator was of course the charming Jack Ruby who owned the infamous Carousel Club. Located across the street from the Hotel Adolphus at 1312½ Commerce Street, Ruby was a volatile character who never quite developed the class or clientele that Weinstein enjoyed. Ruby was considered a two-bit player by some of his peers and was not well thought of by many people. Weinstein put it this way, “My club was a nightclub. His was just a joint. I had big names; he had nobody…My relationship with Jack was bad…He threatened to kill me one week before he killed Oswald” (see the book Weird Texas, by Wesely Treat, et al, for more on Ruby and Weinstein). There was no love lost between the two competing club owners and even the Warren Commission mentions their contentious relationship. Ruby had a reputation for at times beating up his own clientele and had several brushes with the law long before he met up with Mr. Lee Harvey Oswald.
Word has it that Ruby envied the art deco style and classy clientele that The Colony possessed and spent considerable resources trying to find an act that could garner larger crowds than Ms Barr was drawing at The Colony. He eventually hired a performer named Jada who he hoped would bring sell out crowds but only a few weeks later Ruby sealed his own fate and Jada’s real notoriety came from the many interviews she gave to the media after Ruby had been jailed.
Back then it was not unusual to see policemen in these clubs as patrons. Most offered free drinks and food for local law enforcement and service men were often treated to complimentary food and drink as well. Even Ruby could be spotted having lunch with the Deputy Sheriff and the Texas Liquor Control Board Supervisor might be seen dining with any of the local burlesque club owners. This was at a time that could be described as the Golden Era for Dallas burlesque.
So, getting back to the Dallas Burlesque Festival…Check out how burlesque is becoming a vital art form in Dallas again at the Texas Theater (231 W. Jefferson Blvd) on February 6th. You can buy tickets online at EventBrite. And for more local events drop by Dallas Burlesque (“Weapons of Mass Seduction”) to see what’s happening and who’s bumping and grinding in the Dallas area. Or shop for a burlesque costume and join them in February.
Just another example of what you might see, if you’re biking in Dallas.
ps: Thanks to Black Mariah for the back story bits on the DBF history.
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