Meet the Burlesque Dancer Who Was Fired For Her Voluptuous Curves

A week after Mardi Gras, it is business as usual in the neon gaudiness of New Orleans’s dive bars and strip clubs. That is, except Lucky Pierre’s. The club recently made a minor change to its regular burlesque lineup and by doing so, unwittingly reaped the wrath of an entire global community.

Set tastefully toward the quieter, residential part of Bourbon street, Lucky Pierre’s opened in late 2013 (you can Google the provenance of the name if you must, but be prepared – it is NSFW). The club is marketed as being a dash above the more sordid end of the market, with aesthetic nods to the city’s history and a focus on burlesque and drag shows. But as it navigated its busy carnival season, a seemingly routine decision to change its flagship show, The Blue Book, was to have seismic effects.

In autumn of 2014, club management approached the show’s producer Bella Blue with concerns regarding the voluptuous appearance of one of her regular cast members, the unashamedly curvy Ruby Rage.

Blue, successful and respected in the burlesque world, stood by her artistic choices. “I told them that I could find them skinny girls with boobs and hair,” she said. “But I warned them that the quality of the show might suffer. Looks don’t always match talent, and Ruby is a prime example of burlesque as art.”

The complaint lay dormant and Rage continued to perform, but after a couple of months, the club insisted that Blue take a different direction with regard to the body types she would present on stage. Despite her misgivings, Blue had no choice but to convey the club’s decision to the dismayed dancer. Rage went quietly, but over the next two weeks she reflected on what had become a pattern of dismissal for her.

“I decided that instead of crying in a corner like I usually do, I would take this public,” she said. “It’s not just complaining about not getting the gig, it’s letting people know this is happening and it’s wrong.”

Rage spoke to industry mouthpiece 21st Century Burlesque, outlining the discrimination. “Yes, that’s a scary word,” she said. “We don’t want to acknowledge it still happens, but it needs to stop at some point, and I’d reached that point.”

Word spread quickly and social media did what it does best, dumping voluminous righteous outrage on every conceivable target: the club, its owners, its employees, Bella Blue, the traditions of burlesque itself.

Titans of the discipline, including the Burlesque Hall of Fame, plus-size icon Dirty Martini, lined up to offer support as the beleaguered club published defensive statements on its Facebook page. The club’s statements (since deleted) listed famous burlesque dancers from history, citing them as a defence for a consistent image of beauty in the burlesque world. Almost everyone they named was either an advocate for diversity or an example of non-mainstream looks themselves.

“It’s like they just started Googling burlesque performer names to use them as some kind of justification,” said Bella Blue. “At one point it even seemed like they were blaming me.”

Ruby Rage was now receiving messages of support and calls for a boycott of the club from as far away as the UK and Australia. Bella Blue was suddenly under global pressure to relinquish her producer role. Despite it being a mainstay of her income and a regular money-maker for many New Orleans’s performers, Blue announced that she would cut ties with the club.

This seemed to have a sobering effect on them, and owner Jason “Cash” Mohney took to Facebook: “I would like to apologize to Ruby, Bella, and anyone that has been hurt or offended … I should have acted sooner and I take full responsibility. It is my hope that over time we will all heal from this unfortunate situation.”

Despite the apology, no reconciliation was offered. Ruby Rage is now teaming up with Bella Blue to produce a celebration of diversity in burlesque (tentatively titled Stripping the Standards), and she remains optimistic about the future. “I never wanted to be anyone’s hero,” she said. “I just hope the art of burlesque will win out.”

The Hurricane-swilling patrons of the Bourbon Street clubs are not famously lead by their hearts and minds. It remains to be seen if they will notice, let alone care, about the preservation of burlesque traditions in the face of corporate America’s best efforts to titillate them.

Whatever the repercussions, questions have been raised about whether an art form with a proud heritage can operate in venues where the bottom line wavers in the face of non-mainstream ideas of beauty.

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