Posted by: Necci – Sep 15, 2011
My first impression of Deanna Danger was that she had a sweet sort of approachability. When I asked to interview her, she responded with a grin, “Fuck yes!” With her kewpie-doll looks and obvious candidness, I was well aware she is not a lady to be overlooked.
I could tell you how Deanna has been dancing since she was three. I could tell you how she moved to Richmond in 2003 on a post-graduation whim. I could tell you how she worked at Plan 9 and sold her handmade pasties at Taboo until she got laid off from her Assistant Marketing Director position for downsizing. But these details wouldn’t scratch the surface. I wanted to know what made her tick. How does Deanna Rose become Deanna Danger?
A couple of weeks later, after a sushi dinner, we concocted a master plan. We decided that Deanna would lead me down into the proverbial rabbit hole. I was to enroll her in her beginners’ burlesque class, Boom Boom Basics. She loved the idea, and I was up to the challenge. Maybe it was the sake.
Granted, I was no virgin witness to a burlesque show, but before diving into the deep end of pasties and six-inch stilettos, I thought it best to first wade into the kiddie pool and see a show. Deanna was kind enough to let me talk to her while she was getting ready for a performance at Gallery 5. Welcomed warmly with a smile and a hug, what I saw when I arrived was a freshly scrubbed face and hair braided in pigtails. She looked like she had just come from yoga class and was sitting crossed legged in the center of a pile of crafting materials, glue gun in hand. I wondered if she realized she was going to be on stage in two hours, but if she was nervous, she hid it well.
You have developed a little empire around Deanna Danger. How did you become a burlesque dancer?
Deanna: I’d been wanting to get into it, I just couldn’t find an avenue in Richmond. Fallout, a club that I’d danced at before, had a burlesque night, so I said “I HAVE to do a burlesque routine,” and they said yes!
So it just sort of snowballed?
Deanna: Everything just fell into place. It’s what I was supposed to do with my life. Every aspect of it suits me. From everything I learned in theatre classes and the weird mythology things that I’ve been into, to graphic design… it all just came together.
But what inspired you?
Deanna: It wasn’t really until college that I discovered it. I was pretty sheltered as a girl growing up. I was always on the dance team, competition squads, and all that. Then I went away to college and was like “Oh, the real world.” So that’s when I started going to shows and experimenting with letting loose and figuring out what’s out there. That’s when I discovered Betty Page. She was my avenue into all of it. Then of course there was Suicide Girls, which I never modeled for. That’s more like porn; I’m into the classier side of things.
How did Deanna Danger become your chosen name?
Deanna: I just needed a name. I asked my then-boyfriend, now-husband because I wanted something to match Deanna. He said ‘well, how about Danger?’ It was like, duh.
The longer I sat there and watched Deanna get ready for the performance, the more I realized that I was still talking to Deanna Rose. I realized that despite every brush stroke of makeup, every piece of costume, and every speck of glitter (and there is a LOT of glitter), these things were still not the stuff that made Deanna Danger. To really understand the process of the art of the tease, I was going to have to experience it for myself.
She told me how she had only been performing burlesque for two years, and how she has finally been able to quit her day jobs.
Deanna: I travel a lot. I try to do all kinds of things to pay the bills. It’s really hard to do this full time and be able to eat. The classes help a lot. I started teaching and when it really began to grow, it helped so much. Now I can actually contribute to the bills.
You live like a gypsy.
Deanna: Exactly. I’ve worked in offices, and in all kinds of retail. Nothing is like this. I can go where I need to when I need to. I do what I want to do and all that jazz. It suits me. Working from home suits me.
So about Boom Boom Basics…when you teach a bunch of rising starlets, how does that impact the performance world in Richmond?
Deanna: It’s grown too full since Fall because of the amount of girls that have been interested and wanting to get into it, but I think the crowds are catching up. It’s time to get more word out to different areas of town. Some people out in the West End are probably like “What’s this burlesque thing?”
There tends to be a preconception, specifically from men that burlesque is essentially just women stripping for men. What do you have to say about that?
Deanna: It couldn’t be more opposite of what actually goes on. Women that are burlesque dancers are stripping for themselves. It’s all about coming out with what you have inside and being like, “I’m fucking fabulous and fearless, and I have these things to say.”
So it’s obviously more than just stripping.
Deanna: It is definitely stripping, but it’s classy, and you never show the whole thing. The point is to leave them wanting more. It’s extraordinarily empowering. That’s why we do it. Many of us just have the performance bug in general, and the costuming bug. But you can explore different costumes, themes, and characters. There are so many different directions to take burlesque. The audience just gets to be along for the ride.
There she was. I’d found her. I was meeting Deanna Danger, finally, for the first time. This was the moment that I realized that burlesque is an art form that comes in the shape of an attitude.
About a month later, I walked into Dogtown Dance Theatre for my first class of Deanna’s six-week beginner course. Not entirely sure what to expect and feeling a little awkward, I sensed the other girls in the room felt my pain. With all different body shapes and varying insecurities, we glanced around at each other. I didn’t sense that we were sizing each other up, but it was a stark reality and a relief to realize that burlesque truly is for everyone. We were all there for different reasons, but to me, we all looked like silly little girls playing dress up.
I didn’t realize right away that this would be my greatest challenge to overcome. This was my journey into burlesque. The realization that I am indeed, in the words of Deanna Danger herself, “fucking fabulous and fearless, and I have these things to say.”
Over the next couple of weeks, we practiced the group routine and learned how to apply makeup for burlesque and craft costumes to suit our characters. I kept thinking to myself that all of this seemed so simple. Learn a few dance moves. Apply sequins and tassels to make sweet looking pasties. Come up with a cutesy name, and put together something sexy to take off in front of strangers. Done. Right?
Not even close.
It wasn’t until a week before the recital that I finally admitted to myself that part of my assignment as a student of Boom Boom Basics was to create an entire persona. Not just any persona, but one that expresses a part of myself…sensually. This meant that I would need to break down a wall. A woman’s sexuality in society today is something that is as much revered as it is abused and demonized. How does one find the balance between crudeness and beauty? How do you overcome what you have perceived as imperfections and own up to your differences? I still felt like a little girl playing dress up. I felt strange that I would be taking off my clothes.
I panicked and scheduled a private session with Deanna to help. My costume wasn’t ready, my routine wasn’t ready, and I felt completely insecure about what I had gotten myself into. I relaxed after I scheduled the appointment. I figured Deanna would teach me some moves and baby me along the way of making a costume.
A day or two later, I had an epiphany. I recalled a line from burlesque icon Dita Von Teese. Her exact words escape me, but the main point of what she said was that we are the sexiest when we are being ourselves.
I cancelled my appointment with Deanna that afternoon. I knew that I’d only set it up because I wasn’t ready to take the responsibility of overcoming my own fears. Deanna knew it too. I was finally up to the challenge of discovering burlesque. Deanna, my guide, helped me realize that one can only get there by finding what already exists within themselves, and then taking that leap.
I finally felt that I’d scratched the surface of burlesque as an art form.
With only a few days before the recital, I buckled down, locked myself in my room, and tried to relax into the mood of the song that I chose for the recital. Eventually the walls began to crumble. I started to see the movements as a conversation, and I began to see myself more and more in control of it. The awkward little girl dissolved, and a grown-ass woman capable of being professional AND sexy revealed herself.
My previous judgments about wearing loads of makeup and body-modifying clothing faded. It is a show, after all, and despite myself, I was even getting excited about the glamorous aspect of things. Man-made beauty doesn’t have to carry negative stigma, as long as real life expectations of what a woman really is are accepted first.
When the day of the recital arrived, I was surprised at my own calmness. We met a couple hours before the show, shared a toast amongst ourselves, and congratulated one another for being brave enough to go through with it. I was truly amazed at the sense of camaraderie and support. We had all faced our own demons, and the day had arrived that we were to show a side of ourselves that, six weeks prior, we probably didn’t even know existed. Our admiration for what Deanna had brought out in each of us was obvious. I had a newfound respect for the art form, and felt gratitude for the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
Just before my solo performance, I watched as one of the other girls finished her routine. My heart was racing, but I was glowing with excitement. Even if I were to trip over a heel or make an awkward face, I’d gotten so much more than I bargained for. What began as an interview with Deanna Danger became a journey into an art form. Will I perform again? Maybe, maybe not. But I learned this:
Burlesque exists inside the part of yourself that society asks you to put inside a cage. It represents an individual’s sensuality, and creatively explores avenues that not only tell the story of the performer, but bring out the caged animal in the audience as well.
Will I get up and disrobe those feelings of being a silly little girl in a society that demeans sexuality? Will I tell a story while I take off my clothes and be damn proud of my sexy self? Am I fearless and fabulous, and do I have something to say?
These are the questions that Boom Boom Basics made me ask myself. And in the spirit of Deanna Danger’s first words to me, I’d have to grin and say, “Fuck yes!”
Words by Rachel Braford
Images by Ken Penn and Todd Raviotta