The Burlesque Handbook Cover

by Jo Weldon
Headmistress, New York School of Burlesque

About the Book
A Tease: Table of Contents, Excerpt
The Reveal: Get Your Copy

Meet Your Headmistress
Events & Appearances

Resources for Students

About The Book

How did this book come to be?
I began teaching burlesque formally 6 or 7 years ago, and I made handouts for the classes on how to make pasties the way I made them. Over the course of about a year it expanded into about 50 pages, and I made it a PDF and sold it online. It was amazing how that little handbook got around! It sold all over the world, not just in the US and Europe as you'd expect but in Japan, Thailand, Australia, and South Africa.

I had the book proposal out with an agent about three years ago and it didn't sell. Then my current agent, Brandi Bowles, saw my blog and my website and approached me about doing a more developed proposal. Margaret Cho agreed to do the foreword, and Rakesh Satyal at HarperCollins picked it up. About a year and a half later, here we are!

The funny thing is that right before I got the book deal, I was coming out of a relationship with someone I'd been living with for ten years. Julie Atlas Muz was looking for a roommate, and I told her I was looking for a place with a nice spot in which to write. When I came to her apartment to look at my room, she had a desk there set up in front of the window overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with tons of boats going by. "Don't move the desk," I said, "this is just perfect, I'll leave my old desk behind." And then I gave her the deposit check, and within 48 hours I got the call that I had a book deal. So I did all the work that came after the e-book at that desk.

How is this book different from the e-book?
Well, it's over five times as long! It also has tons of quotes from the council of ecdysiasts, sidebars about burlesque history, a burlesque timeline, photo illustrations for how to make the pasties, photo illustrations for how to twirl tassels, fan dance, and do classic moves, a chapter on ettiquette for backstage and promotion, more of my personal experience of burlesque, and of course Margaret Cho's beautiful foreword. It also has point-by-point worksheets for things like choosing a stage name, choosing music, and putting together workshops for critique.

Also, it's a physical book, so it makes a great gift, hint hint!

What is the council of ecdysiasts?
The council of ecdysiasts is a group of performers I've interviewed for various purposes over the past two years. I pulled quotes from those interviews and separated them by subject matter, then created lists of quotes to round out each chapter of the book. In most cases the quotes tend to support the chapter, but not always. They also show that burlesque is approached differently by different performers, as you can see particularly at the end of the chapter on music where some of the ecdysiasts actually contradict each other. I think it helps a student if they know that people who've worked hard and long to develop as performers sometimes come to different conclusions from each other over the years, even while working together. I created it also partly because I wanted to promote the burlesque community, although not all of the council are part of the community. I definitely wanted a book that represented all of us, and not just myself.

Why isn't the book how to strip for your man or how to get fit with burlesque?
I was approached about writing those kinds of books, and I still may do them. But I wanted to make sure that there was at least one book out there that represented some of the Coney Island way, the Velvet Hammer way, the Tease-O-Rama way, the Burlesque Hall of Fame way, the way we teach it at the New York School of Burlesque, which is inclusive. We include performers of all genders, sizes, abilities, ethnicities, performance backgrounds, and careers. And we encourage absurdity. Most often the absurdity is simply absurd levels of glamour and playful sexuality, but it's also often absurd characters and narratives, particularly in the smaller shows where our roots are in circus, cabaret, comedy, theater, fetish, sex work, and drag. Fortunately, my agent had attended one of my classes, and my editor Rakesh had spent time at the Slipper Room and knew what style of burlesque I wanted to describe, and they were behind me on my approach. I wanted there to be one book in the world on ways to do neo-burlesque specifically, one that wasn't just how to seduce a lover or how to be a pinup. Although, as I said, I'd be happy to do those books too, now that my itch to produce one like this has been scratched.

Where did all these photos come from?
With the exception of the portrait of Margaret Cho by Austin Young, all of the photos that are not of me were taken by me. I've been photographing live performance for over 20 years, and burlesque in particular for over 10 years. Fortunately, everyone you see in there has been very generous with allowing me to photograph them and use the pictures I've taken.

Do you think this book is interesting for people who don't want to perform burlesque?
Absolutely! I think it's great for fans of burlesque, or for anybody who likes the idea of being backstage at any kind of performance and getting an insiders' view of a colorful world.

What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Well, one, I was newly single, and I leave that complication to your imagination. New York is a fun, fun, fun place to be single. And two, right as I got the book deal, I also got a deal to produce a series of how-to DVDs with a fabulous company, World Dance New York--so I was producing a book and videos at the same time, and they had to have enough different content in them to have individual value. So I produced over 200 pages of how-to for the book, and dozens of hours of script for the DVDs (although each DVD is only an hour long, a lot more than an hour goes into making each one, obviously), with overlap only in a few of the ostrich fan dance techniques. I'm grateful for the opportunities, and I'm grateful that I had enough knowledge and material to fill all those pages and hours on film!