Photo by Radiant Inc. of Cha Cha Velour
If you were driving on the Las Vegas Strip Northbound toward the Stratosphere (before Sahara), you would turn right on Karen Avenue, park at 900 Karen Ave. and enter the middle of the "New Orleans Square" to locate Suite C-209. It is not street-side, it's inside. A warm night in September led me to do just that, and I found myself at the front door of the Studio where Cha Cha Velour - the burlesque dance studio owner - was holding an open house. Sure, I first had to drive through a run-down area several blocks east to get there, but if you've spent anytime in Vegas, you know that's not unusual (especially since 2008). Upstairs following the signs (elevator available) I found a glass-front studio with a "Las Vegas Burlesque Classes" Sign on it.
Entering the studio, I was greeted by a wall of legendary performers' autographed photos, a wall of teachers who'd already taught at the studio, which has been open a year next January. The performers in the hanging photos were adorned with bawdy accouterments, or none. The front room area garnered a selection of accessories you might want to buy, and a Vintage Fainting Couch to rest your laurels on. I entered through the next threshold to find a mirrored square room with gorgeous wood floors. The room looked full of about forty people for the social event. Cupcakes and champagne were served, and a mini-lesson in burlesque 'bumps' was given to onlookers and participants twice during the 5-8pm soiree, Saturday Sept. 22, 2012.
There were only about three guys present. Walls were bright vintage pinks and greens, and delicate decorative trim and photos made it feel warm and inviting. A box of feather boas was present and used a few times during the evening. Cha Cha Velour and several other instructors were mingling with students and strangers alike, warming up the place. A small changing room with mirrors was off to the right upon entry, for the before and after class transformations. The studio offers a four week class, a twelve week class, and many workshops and special events which include stellar traveling burlesque performers. Bachellorette parties are also popular with the studio, where you can have the instructed party come to you, or come to the Las Vegas Burlesque Classes studio.
I asked a couple of lovely ladies what brought them out to the studio. Tralena has recently moved to Vegas and just lost 30 lbs. She was looking for something new to celebrate that. She's a few weeks into lessons, and will be performing at the December Showcase the studio offers its students. She doesn't know her stage name yet, she's working on that in classes. When I asked Tralena what kind of burlesque she liked, she said "anything outside the box, anything weird". She also said that being in the 2nd floor studio made her feel like she was in a tree-house, it's a little getaway.
Blanca saw several women dressed as Lucille Ball coming into McCarran Airport last year for the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. She was hooked on the idea that she wanted to do burlesque from that sighting. She's originally from Colorado and has been taking lessons for two weeks. She learned Tiffany Carter's chair dance routine, and how to tease. When asked her age, she said she was not 22. I chatted with the blonde performer "Buttercup" who said she puts the butt back in buttercup and revealed "Live Burlesque audiences are mostly women, that feels awesome".
The Burlesque Hall of Fame is the only other beacon of light in Vegas sticking to classic American Strip Tease, Classic and Neo Burlesque, and the famous Bump and Grind popularized in American 50's. Cha Cha Velour came to Vegas (from Maine) the same year that the Burlesque Hall of Fame arrived from Helendale California (2004/05), and she has seen it grow. She is a volunteer at BHOF, and would like to be more involved. She has donated regularly and spreads the word whenever she can about BHOF events, and the Las Vegas Museum housing Classic Strip Tease and Burlesque Star artifacts.
The studio's owner Cha Cha Velour and her Number one Legend Instructor: Tiffany Carter did sit down with me for a couple minutes, and this is what they had to say.
FT: How long have you been in Vegas?
CCV: Eight years.
TC: Two years.
FT: How long have you been involved in the studio Tiffany?
TC: I've been involved in the studio since it's open. I teach private classes once in a while when someone comes in town. I had a couple come back from Germany that had met me at a festival, a girl from Canada a couple weeks ago. I teach chair classes, and more.
FT: So, you're kind of on-call and available for the studio. How long have you been performing?
TC: Since the late sixties. I started as a go-go dancer at the Rivera in Hollywood. My first actual Burlesque show, was at the Pink Pussy Cat in Hollywood CA., years ago.
FT: I noticed there is very little authentic vintage burlesque taking place on the strip.
CCV: Oh yeah, there's like- none taking place on the strip.
FT: You are one of the very few people representing authentic Vintage Strip Tease here in Vegas, to my surprise after being here one year. Vegas put classic American Strip-Tease on the map, and it's under-represented here. What's your message to Vegas?
CCV: I went them to know that we have fun and that we've preserved a little bit of Vintage Vegas here in the studio. But, I also want people to get the message of how Burlesque can help you. How it can change you. It can help you to learn to feel good about yourself, to be comfortable being sexy.
FT: What's the difference between those people who want a cathartic experience and to imrpove their body image- and those who want to be a professional performer? What is the difference in how they are taught?
CCV: I am really fluffy with beginners, and it's sort of anything goes. My twelve week course I get strict. Not that there's necessarily right or wrong in burlesque, but there's times when I'm going to tell someone that their gut's hanging out. Whereas with the four week course, we're just having fun.
FT: You have the classic and the Neo Burlesque represented.
CCV: There are twelve instructors and Tiffany Carter is the only legend that instructs here continuously.
FT: Is there anything you'd like to ad?
CCV: I'm happy about how the International Burlesque Community is growing and schools are popping up all over the place. I'm really happy that I was able to start one here in Vegas, and I think it's a good resource for the whole community here in Vegas. It's also a good resource for the International Burlesque Community when they come to Vegas. They can share to the rest of the community. I'm also happy to have a place that we can share our burlesque with people that might not have known about it. We can do Bachelorette parties, and have drop-in classes. We're turning more people on to it. It's been fun.
I didn't get to spend much time with other instructors who were present who are in training to teach remote Bachelorette parties on the strip, and party lessons for many occasions. As I left around 7:30pm the room was emptying out and someone stopped her group before exiting the door. "Good vibes" she said loudly for all to hear. I have to agree. Good vibes.