Yvette and I frequently attend performances by Black Cherry Burlesque at The Surly Wench Pub on 4th Avenue here in Tucson. We enjoy all of the wonderful ladies and their presentations, but I admit a special appreciation of Stormy Leigh (pronounced lay).
This interview was my first opportunity to ask her to describe her priorities and share some insights. I was inspired as she talked about the importance of being true to yourself and listening to your Muse. She also emphasized the benefits of imagination and playfulness.
I have also photographed her at Arizona Photo Events gatherings. You will see her at The Domes in the attached slide show.
So what is burlesque? Wikipedia has this to say:
Burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. The word derives from the Italian burlesco, which, in turn, is derived from the Italian burla – a joke, ridicule or mockery.
Burlesque overlaps in meaning with caricature, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era. “Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. —Wikipedia
I also enjoy this facetious statement by John Kenrick. If you like theater I encourage you to visit his extensive website Musicals 101.
Underdressed women playing sexual aggressors, combining good looks with impertinent comedy – in a production written and managed by a woman? Unthinkable!—John Kenrick
And now, the main event.
Dan: How did you get started with burlesque?
Stormy: In 2006 I heard that there was burlesque happening at The Surly Wench Pub and it was something I had always been interested in. I had taken a lot of dance since childhood and had been kind of bored with it. It was geared more for the kiddies, and I wanted to do something more risqué. I suddenly found my outlet.
Dan: How did you go about learning burlesque?
Stormy: In 2006 things were different from what they are today. There were more opportunities to get on stage and learn—learn while you performed. Today there is a lot more competition. Today you’ve got to be good to go from the beginning. Back then it was different.
The whole thing that we called the neo-burlesque scene was really growing, building.
Dan: What does the “neo” refer to?
Stormy: It is a break with tradition. The old burlesque had kind of died. When strip clubs became so big starting in the 60s there wasn’t so much interest in someone providing a tease when the audience could see a lot more. They want something a little crazier.
If you think of old-time burlesque you don’t think of someone in a Star Trek costume. There is a lot more comedy in the neo version. Back in the day the dancers usually left the slapstick to the comedians they shared the stage with. And now there is maybe more gender bending.
Dan: In some of your online material you say, “My list of act ideas is overflowing.” How do you get those ideas?
Stormy: They just pop into my head! (Laughs). Oh, yeah, I have an active imagination. People said of me as a child, “She daydreams too much.”
I enjoyed television when I was growing up. There was the comedy, and all the wacky gags that were going on. That was something I could identify with. I watched a lot of Benny Hill, and maybe that’s not good for a teenager, but it worked for me.
I’ve always thought of off beat things, and I have this dance background and a love for music. There are so many things I can make into an act, and it’s a lot of fun.
Dan: You create your own costumes?
Stormy: I make a lot of them, and there are a lot of components that have been embellished.
Dan: How did you become a seamstress?
Stormy: Again, back to my childhood. I loved to sew. My mom would keep me entertained by giving me a piece of fabric and a needle and thread.
As a teenager I started doing dance skating, on roller skates. When I was about 18 my dance partner’s mother gave me lessons on making costumes, so it started from there.
Dan: The costumes look expensive.
Stormy: They can be. For example, there are rhinestones. We buy them by the gross, a dozen dozen. Say you wanted to cover pasties. You could use the whole gross on one of them. And the cost goes up from there. You don’t want to be the plain one on stage, you want to really shine.
My feather fans are an example. I added feathers, embellished them, and there are rhinestones on them. Those got expensive.
Dan: You have been photographed extensively. Do you have any advice about being in front of the camera?
Stormy: I got into it at what might be considered an older age. I turn 50 next year. I’m having fun with it. I think everybody has something to offer. Just have fun with it, and don’t think into it too much.
Dan: Do you do all your own choreography?
Stormy: Lately it’s been mostly my own. In the beginning the troupe got together more often to share pointers and suggestions. I video what I do and critique my own, and I’m hoping that that’s working.
Dan: Yvette and I have seen many of your performances, and I notice that your costumes and your choreography show that you appreciate your derrière, and we do too. Is that intentional?
Dan: We have a cute picture of you at The Domes showing it off.
Do you want to tell us how you chose your stage name?
Stormy: That’s a fun story. When I was just helping out at the Wench Satan’s Angel asked me, “What’s your name?” I told her I didn’t have one yet. She looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “Stormy. Stormy Cyn.” I liked it.
But it sounded too close to the name of Ginger SinClaire. So I added the Leigh thing. It’s sort of like Vivien Leigh, but I chose to pronounce it “lay.”
Dan: Do you have some unfulfilled goals?
Stormy: There is that long list of acts. And I am delving into teaching.
Dan: We’ve done well here today!