“My favorite thing about being on stage is using that as an opportunity to connect with the people watching me,” said local burlesque performer and instructor Bella Blue. “There’s a lot of power in stillness. I try to take advantage of still moments to make eye contact with everyone in the room.”
In 2007, Bella was living in New Orleans, teaching ballet and modern dance classes, and raising her two children. “I started communicating with a burlesque performer in the community via Myspace,” she said. “I did an audition, and a month later I did my first show.”
New Orleans burlesque has a rich history that reached its pinnacle in the 1940s and 50s, when clubs filled with exotic dancers lined Bourbon Street. Some of these past burlesque performers achieved star status, with assistants, stylists, managers, agents, and many fans. Bella and her fellow performers are continuing this tradition.
But back in 2007, Bella didn’t know if her performances with Fleur de Tease, the group she had joined, would lead anywhere. “At the time, I wasn’t trying to make this a career. I didn’t have a plan. I was just raising my kids, working, and trying to make it.”
In the summer of 2008, Bella began The New Orleans School of Burlesque, when she organized what she thought was a one-time workshop. That workshop was extended into a full-time school by popular demand.
Through the school, Bella sees herself not just as a performer, but also as an advocate for burlesque as an art form and enjoyable pastime. “The school is so much bigger than me,” she said. “It’s about giving people the opportunity to get to know themselves, feel less self-conscious, and get some coaching in a new skill along the way.”
You can take a class with Bella at the New Orleans School of Burlesque and see her perform at weekly events at Gravier St. Social and Bourbon Pub and Parade. You can also catch her during monthly Dirty Dime Peep Show performances at Allways Lounge. Dates for the Dirty Dime Peep Show change, so check Bella’s website for specifics.
20 Questions with Bella Blue
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
What first comes to my mind is ‘the New Orleanian who stayed through everything,’ even when things were getting rough. I think a lot of people gave up on New Orleans, but it’s awesome to see that so many people want to stay here and make the city even more awesome than it already is.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
Being born. I’ve traveled around a lot, but I’ve never lived anywhere else.
3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
I live in the Treme, and I really love it. It’s close to all the action, but it’s not so glossy that it loses its old character and flair. It’s incredibly mixed – socially, racially, and economically.
4. City Park or Audubon Park?
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?
I eat a lot of the same things over and over again, mostly meat, rice, potatoes, and coffee. I probably eat steak four times a week, and my top pick is the steak at La Boca.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
I’ve been eating a lot at Ruby Slipper in the Marigny.
7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?
If I’m gonna get a po-boy, I go for fried shrimp, dressed. I’m a fan of Lil’ Dizzy’s on Esplanade.
8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?
I’m taking them to eat at Satsuma and for a schmancy dinner at Bayona. I’m taking them to Preservation Hall and to one of my shows. I love to entertain. There’s always some kind of randomness going on.
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
I don’t drink, but if I’m gonna go hang out, I like to go to Mojo Lounge on Decatur Street. It’s quiet there, and I can also get something to eat. (I eat a lot.) I also like Molly’s at the Market, The Allways Lounge, and One Eyed Jack’s.
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?
The Bloody Mary at The Country Club is the best. It’s good with or without vodka!
11. Snowball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?
Snowball. I’ll go to Pandora’s and get raspberry or strawberry – something fruity.
12. Best spot to see live music?
I really enjoy seeing music at One Eyed Jack’s – I love the way the room is set up. It makes it easy to see what’s going on. I also like the House of Blues.
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
I love John Boutte. He’s my friend, for one, but I also think he’s a very honest representation of the city and what it’s about. And he’s really talented!
14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?
Voodoo Fest. It’s in City Park and has some really great music. It’s around Halloween, which just has it’s own magic.
15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?
Krewe du Vieux.
16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?
For performance clothes, I’ll piece things together from Buffalo Exchange and the vintage shops in the French Quarter, but mostly I’ll just work with local costumers to have them made. For more everyday shopping, I go to UAL and Frock Candy. If I need to be fancy, I go to Bella & Harlow on Magazine Street. It’s my friend’s shop, and she named it after me!
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
I don’t really like football… I’ve tired. I’ve done the Dome, I’ve done the parties. But now when my partner goes to watch the Saints play, I just relish three hours to myself!
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?
I’m so lucky with what I get to do for a living that I fall in love with the city every day. What I do puts me in front of so many different types of people from all over the world. Because many of them are experiencing New Orleans for the first time, or at least experiencing a new part of the city, I get to relive that through them.