Dirty Martini by Uy Phuong

Dirty Martini interview: 7,700 days on stage

Dirty Martini by Uy Phuong

Photo by: Uy Phong

The Emperor Has No Balls, Dirty Martini knows it!

Dirty Martini, with her wonderful iconic body and powerful brain, teaches us that the best personal revenge is to never give up! Isabella Noseda speaks to a modern burlesque legend for Burlesque Magazine.

Burlesque Magazine: Burlesque is like a box in which a performer puts her personal skills and inspirations. Sometimes something magical and powerful happens and the performer makes a deep connection with the audience. Sometimes it’s a nice show but nothing more. Do you think burlesque can always be considered art and why?

Dirty Martini: I think an artist is one who chooses a medium, so of course, if an artist chooses dance and burlesque as their medium then the outcome will be art. It is then up to the audience to decide whether or not they like or understand the artist’s work. This is where the question lies. When an audience doesn’t have the same definition of art as the creator, the work can be misconstrued or misunderstood.

If the performer is more of a practitioner or craftsperson or doesn’t have any training in any artistic background, who is to say that it isn’t still art? This is a much-discussed topic in visual art which is a more historically treasured and revered form of art. Once I had a visual artist very confused by calling a performing artist’s product ‘art.’ He hadn’t considered that anyone else other than a trained visual artist could be considered an artist. I found that very interesting, especially considering that most women in history were considered more craftspeople or folk artists compared to their male counterparts. All of this confusion could be cleared up by including the ability to earn income and supply and demand systems as a delineator if it weren’t for the fact that we live in a country that doesn’t support artists or art making. Therefore, there is no concept of supply and demand here.

BM: My favourite writer Amelie Nothomb wrote that “The Enemy is the Messiah” meaning that sometimes a difficulty, an obstacle, a “no” received are providential to make us react in a positive way and succeed, achieve our goal or take revenge. Did you have a dream when you were a little girl? did you have any “enemy?” Is burlesque for you a positive revenge?

DM: Growing up as a dancer as a young girl, my teachers were very negative about my appearance. I saw less-talented girls promoted above me because they had “natural dancers bodies,” but I always worked much harder. I had to. My feet didn’t have high arches, my body was thick and I wasn’t extremely flexible, but I learned to overcome my body and my expectations. I suppose dancing well past the age that my counterparts reached is revenge enough! Every time I get into a place of honour, such as shooting with Karl Lagerfeld, or walking the red carpet at Cannes, that is the best example of how hard work and how positivity can prevail.

BM: Do you remember your burlesque baptism? How long have you been performing?

DM: I started performing in the mid 90’s while I was auditioning and striving to be a contemporary dancer here in NYC. I was watching old burlesque reels on my TV that were rented by my roommate and had an epiphany! These women had different body types and were from different ethnic backgrounds but they were all kitschy fun and glamorous. They were everything that I ever wanted to be. I needed to show the world what the old burlesque was like. For me it was a form of living dance history. In practice, though, it turned out differently than I expected. I came from the MTV generation, so people drinking in bars didn’t have the same attention span as they did in the 40’s. So although the vocabulary of the new burlesque looks similar, many things had to change. With this was my political ideas and feminist agenda! My way of doing burlesque wasn’t without social critique or agenda.

BM: You’re an Icon and an inspiration for many women. Bruce Lee (who is an icon too for other reasons) said that you’re a real artist if your art is a way to become an artist of life. I think that the quality of an artist on the stage depends on his/her sincerity, only if you bring on the stage your personal truth the audience will be deeply involved.
Is burlesque for you a way to know yourself deeply, to explore and expose your truth?

DM: Not surprisingly, I agree with Bruce Lee. I’ve always admired him and the lineage of his art. It’s both high and low at the same time and made a big social impact. I think a good artist must be constantly exploring their truth and how it fits with their society’s ideas of truth and inclusion. Burlesque means to make fun of and it has been political from the start. We aim for sexy with a dose of comedy. Anytime a woman expresses the truth about her sexuality, it becomes dangerous. It’s an important form because of this discussion and also for women lampooning society and having a strong feminine voice.

BM: If Dirty Martini could say something to Linda about their journey together in these years, what would she say to her?

DM: Dirty Martini is just a heightened version of myself with perhaps slightly less rage. what I would say to my younger dancer self is to keep working hard and keep working on yourself. Don’t listen to the negativity because you have the positivity and creativity to make a difference in this world.

BM: Life is so beautiful since it is a flux of change, who is Dirty Martini now and how is she different from the one of the beginning?

DM: I think in the beginning I was unsure of myself and my choices, which is normal. I thought I was just doing burlesque until my true calling came. Well, I suppose I still am! I’ve definitely learned a lot about life, myself and show business. I’ve become a confident person after faking it for so many years.

BM: Burlesque is an act of creation and self expression. How do you feel when you bring a new act to life?

DM: I’m always scared, when creating a new act, that I don’t have any more creativity left. Before an act is created it seems impossible to complete or that it’s never going to be done, but I usually know when it’s finished and I’m usually pretty amazed I could do it. I love creating though, and there’s nothing quite like the urgency you feel when you are in the middle of a project or production. It’s so much fun and so interesting. Then at the end of it you feel so proud it’s the only number you want to perform!

BM: How do you describe your relationship with the audience?

DM: Every audience is different. It’s like a wild animal. You never know if it’s going to curl up next to you or rip your throat out or ignore you. There’s nothing quite like getting to know your audience and the feeling of winning them over. Especially when you only have 5 minutes to do it!

BM: As a human being how can you describe your journey on the earth up to now?

DM: I’m always learning and try to remember that life should be a pleasure. There will always be people to try and take advantage of other people, but being positive isn’t the same thing as being a target. Being giving and generous isn’t the same thing as someone who will be taken advantage of and isn’t savvy.

BM: Do you think getting naked in 2016 is still a revolution?

DM: I think it depends on who is getting naked. Do I think that Kim Kardashian is revolutionary? Not really, even though she broke the internet, even though she is curvy and probably not considered a conventional beauty, I think it takes a little more of a mission statement than that. I believe that giving an audience something that they can’t define and are not expecting is powerful. A naked woman is a powerful image, and enticing image for everyone, but a naked woman who falls outside the norms of society’s idea of beauty can be an outlaw or a revolutionary and can be very polarizing.

BM: As a performer what is the contribution you feel you’re giving to the burlesque community?

DM: I feel that I provide a guiding voice to the burlesque community as it grows and changes. The reasons that the original core group of New Yorkers performing net-burlesque is so different to how performers discover it today. With films and YouTube, burlesque schools in most cities and a codified way of looking at burlesque it can easily be brushed aside as a retro fad, but I think some performers want to dig deeper and some identify with the older women that performed in the 50’s and 60’s. They see an example of what it is to be truly free; to love themselves and be unapologetic about their sexuality, where they work, how they are seen by the world. I hope to help provide a good example of how to set up a full life as a woman in this world.

BM: Are you afraid of the passage of time? What is beauty for you?

DM: Every woman is afraid of the passage of time because we are narrowly defined by the rules of society. Most women in show business are afraid to say their age publicly because they want to continue to be desired. I think it’s hard to get away from these rules. Part of what I love about the burlesque scene is the acceptance of older adults. We call women who performed prior to the 60’s legends and are very inclusive of different shapes, sizes and ages. It’s freeing and it’s beautiful. I think that confidence and self worth that we have is contagious and enchanting.

BM: Despite our virtual era, live shows seem to have found a renaissance in recent years. I suspect burlesque could be another “invention without future” as cinema, I mean something immortal since it is able to be out of time and to describe the present at the same time. I remember a scene of “Tournee”, you were performing with the USA flag to the tunes of the hymn and you pulled out dollars from where dollars shouldn’t be… in that moment I thought using the body in that way could be a powerful means of communication… you were so political incorrect! loved it! Do you think burlesque could still be useful today? In which way?

DM: I think we are constantly reinventing. The “Patriot Act” was made because I felt silenced and I had something to say about the world as it was in 2004 when George W. Bush was winning his 2nd term election. I think it’s interesting that I can still perform it and people can relate to it. When president Obama was elected the country was in a very positive place and I couldn’t perform it until people felt angry again. It didn’t take too long and fortunately for me, Sarkosy was elected in France, so I could perform it there and people could easily relate to it. French people also loved an American making fun of our culture.

BM: The presidential campaign has been really hot… if you could dedicate one of your acts to Hillary and one to Donald which would you choose and why?

DM: I do a Donald Trump act. He’s such a buffoon it’s easy to make fun of him. In theatre it’s easy to make fun of the King, but not so easy to lampoon the oppressed. Hillary is a woman and we’ve never elected a woman president. For her, I think that it’s not a funny subject. She struggles just to make her way in the world, maybe not financially, but socially. No man in her position having done such an incredible service for so many years to the American people would have such a difficult time winning people over. A man would not have to worry about looking sincere enough, but also strong, casual and approachable but presidential. She’s got a tough time and is judged very harshly, so I don’t find that particularly fair to begin with. It’s harder to twist. Sarah Palin was no problem to lampoon. She was such a cartoon of a republican woman. I had a number for her 4 years ago! Now I dress in a trump mask, build a wall out of gold bricks and avoid showing my taxes. Then, of course, I take my suit off and dance naked like the sculpture that they erected in Union Square called “The Emperor Has No Balls” It’s really so much fun to do!

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