According to Holly's bio: "Though she may have always had a song in her heart and a penchant for classic style, Holly’s career as a burlesque performer began in Indianapolis, guest performing with a number of local troupes. Holly also expanded her reach during this time in greater Indiana to Kentucky, Ohio and even California. Making friends across the Midwest allowed her to also perform in Detroit, Michigan. She eventually moved to Detroit in 2012. There, she performed at nationally recognized events such as the Dirty Show Erotic Art Exhibition, the Michigan Burlesque Festival, and the Burlypicks." As she was latching the locks on her suitcases before her trip to Las Vegas for the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend, Holly jumped on the phone to discuss Burlesque, her hesitation to start performing, the Master of Tassels, and much more...
Holly: Yeah, no problem. I appreciate you making time for me.
Toddstar: So let's start off with a little bit of your history. Anybody can get the basics off of your website, MissHollyHock.com, but what is it about burlesque that drew you in?
Holly: A few things, really. I've always been interested in old Hollywood glamour and the real classic movies and things like that. And then as a teenager, I started learning about the origination of burlesque and how it started, and I just thought it was really fascinating. And sort of simultaneously at the same time, there were burlesque troops popping up around where I lived in Indianapolis at the time.
Toddstar: You mentioned Indianapolis, and we know Detroit's got a big underground burlesque following that is starting to come above ground. We'll get to that, but looking over performers and where they're from, it seems to be really kind of a Midwest thing.
Holly: Yeah, I think it's kind of gotten big everywhere, all over the world. But I think that particularly in the Midwest, it's so accessible here because we can easily drive to Chicago or we can drive to Indianapolis. So there's a lot of crossover. There's a lot of different shows to get involved in. There's a lot of festival things like that.
Toddstar: And here in Detroit you're building one hell of a large name for yourself. You've done stuff with Theatre Bizarre. You've done stuff with the DSO (Detroit Symphony Orchestra), but you have your own Detroit School of Burlesque now. Tell us a little about how that even came to be.
Holly: Well, I always thought it would be fun to teach, but it got to the point where every show I was doing, every festival I was going to, I would stopped, and people would ask, "Where can I learn how to do this?" By the time I did the Michigan Burlesque Festival for the first time, I was getting asked three or four times per show. And I was like, okay, there's obviously an interest and a need for this here. So I spent on and off about a year developing curriculum. We launched the classes, and they've just taken off. We're full pretty much every class. So it's been interesting to see how many people have been interested from sort of all walks of life.
Toddstar: That was going to be my next question. Do you really find that it is really a cross of different types of people?
Holly: Oh yeah. We've had anything from like 22-year-old college students to 65-year-old women. It's kind of been everybody in between. Professionals, stay at home moms. Some people really want to learn how to become a performer. Some just want that body positive environment with other women. Everyone has their different reasons for wanting to pursue it, but it's been a lot of fun. We've been really happy that there has been so much interest.
Toddstar: You hit on something. One thing that my wife commented on was that these weren't supermodel bodies as a lot of society would see it, but these are real women. They're out there, and they're doing what they want to do, and they're very proud of themselves. Is that something that you find surprises people more than it doesn't?
Holly: Yes and no. It's interesting because, to be quite honest, before I started performing, I didn't think that I could because I don't have the perfect supermodel body. I kind of held myself back from really pursuing it because of that feeling until a really great group of performers were like, "You need to embrace who you are, flaws and all, and just go up there and have a good time." I did it once, and I was hooked. I'm seeing the same thing with the girls that are coming into the class. A lot of them are coming in and they're kind of insecure, or they're timid, or they're quiet. And then two classes in, they're completely different people. Their confidence is completely different. It's like, you almost just gave them permission to just be themselves.
Toddstar: When you use the term supermodel bodies, do you find that most people's perception of burlesque is skewed one way or the other - either towards nudity or the "pole dancing" as opposed to what it really is and how it evolved from cabaret and things like that?
Holly: I think that sometimes people come into it with a preconceived notion that it's one way, and then they find out it's another. But it kind of depends on what they see leading up to their first show. Some people think that Moulin Rouge is burlesque. Some people think a strip club is burlesque. There's so many different perceptions.
Toddstar: That being said, you've done something fun, and you've put a jazz twist into it. Not that it's anything brand new by any means, but certainly new in the Detroit area. You're doing the Speakeasy Sundays at Cliff Bell's. The one in June is the Flappers and Dappers Tribute to the 20’s. What was it about Cliff Bell's, jazz, and burlesque that you thought would make a perfect fit for what you pull together?
Toddstar: It is a fun night out. Like you said, you were able to just get out and have a good night out with a couple drinks and some appetizers and enjoy some wonderful entertainment. You've been awarded numerous awards, but the name of one really grabbed me. What exactly is the Master of Tassels, Holly?
Holly: There is a competition. It's actually a nation-wide competition, and each major city has their own regional. We had a Michigan regional here last year. It's basically a competition where you can bring side show, burlesque, singing, variety acts, pretty much anything. One of the categories is called Master of Tassels. Basically they play a really obnoxious song that's way too long, and you basically are up there with the rest of the competitors just twirling your tassels, just as hard and as crazy as you can to entertain the audience for the length of that song. So I kind of had the thought, "There's going to be 5-7 other people on the stage with me. What can I do to make mine different than everyone else's?" So I wore a robot head while I did it. And that's how I won.
Toddstar: Well there you go. Anything to entertain, right?
Holly: Yeah! I mean, the audience had fun with it. I just about fell off the stage because I couldn't see anything that was happening around me, but it worked out.
Toddstar: With everything you've done, Holly, is there anything that you look back on and you wish you had a redo or that you just see as a huge misstep for you professionally?
Holly: The only thing I would say is that I wish that I would've just done things sooner. I wish I would've started performing sooner, I wish I would've started teaching sooner, but it took a little while to get those... I guess, that sense of bravery to be like, "All right, I'm going to do this whatever it takes."
Toddstar: Earlier I mentioned that you were heading to Vegas. You're going out to the Burlesque Hall of Fame. What is it about the burlesque industry that is able to pull from so many cities? Who would've thought that what some might consider underground entertainment form would be large enough to where you have a whole weekend in Vegas?
Holly: Yeah. And it's continuing to grow. I think it's different to a lot of people. Burlesque is appealing for a lot of different reasons, but when it all comes down to it, it's a creative outlet. It's all us being artists and bringing our art to life. It's really cool to see so many different people from so many different backgrounds come together and share their ideas and network with each other so that we can continue to travel all over and visit different cities and perform in each other's shows and things like that.
Toddstar: Again, I dug the show, and I've already lined up to take some friends to the July show. I saw something earlier, and as a national volunteer with the American Cancer Society in my free time, I saw a post from you about a doctor's appointment you had and Cancer scars. Please tell us a little bit about your Cancer story. How has your Cancer story and your scars affect going into, not going into, or delaying like you said, burlesque.
Holly: My last surgery was before I started performing. I've had two major hip to hip surgeries. My last surgery was about a year and a half before I started performing. It definitely held me back. It contributed to that feeling of, "I don't have the right body for burlesque." My boyfriend basically was just like, "Why is that holding you back?" You can do burlesque no matter who you are, no matter what shape or size you are. I just didn't feel it yet. It took a little while and just being around the right people that were already involved in burlesque to see that, because I hadn't really seen a lot of body diversity. Thankfully, I have not been sick since I've been performing. But there's a lot of things that come along with battling Cancer and all the aftermath. Even after you're Cancer-free, you still have a lot of things to struggle with. And those are probably going to be struggles for the rest of my life, but it hasn't held me back.
Toddstar: That's excellent. And you mentioned the words Cancer-free. So I'm assuming you are.
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Holly: Thank you.
Toddstar: Detroit is somewhere you've kind of settled. What is it about Detroit that made you want to start a school here, settle here, and be part of the burlesque scene here?
Holly: I've kind of lived all over the place. I was born and raised on the West Coast and moved a lot throughout my childhood and got to experience a lot of different cities. Before here, I was in Indianapolis, of course, and Indianapolis was really interesting because there were so many burlesque troops there, it's just completely saturated, considering how small the city is compared to Detroit. It's just absolutely full. When I came to Detroit, I was kind of surprised at the lack of burlesque, or at least compared to what I was used to, what I had just left. But I still knew that there was a want for it here, and the city is just so amazing. I also do mixed media art as well, and that was one of the major things that drew me to the city. The city is so supportive of the arts in general, whether that be burlesque or painting or whatever. I was just amazed that within just a few weeks of moving here, people were introducing me to other people that were involved in burlesque or people that were involved with art galleries, things like that. And it just feels like this city really wants to rally around you, and help you, and support you. I think that's a really unique, a really cool thing.
Toddstar: I agree - I love the city myself. Who would you say you draw the most inspiration from when you're putting a routine together? Who are some of your idols or influences, Holly?
Holly: Oh, there's a lot. And for a lot of different reasons, too. I think pretty much anyone who has ever been inspired by classic burlesque ever is, of course, going to say Dita Von Teese inspires us all, but also Dirty Martini, who's won performer of the year multiple times, and JeezLoueez. I just had... oh my gosh I'm totally spacing names right now ... Eliza DeLite in town from England, and she's just breathtaking. Everything she does on stage is magical. I've had a lot of really good influences. I've performed with a lot of people and got to see and meet a lot of different people that do different styles, so it's been kind of like a little bit of inspiration from all over.
Toddstar: With that said, the interesting part, and I don't mean it in a bad connotation, it was your production, your show when I saw the show a week or so ago. You were only the spotlight dancer once. Is there a reason for that? Do you want to open it up to other people for the opportunities?
Holly: Multiple reasons, actually. I do want to be able to open it up to other people that are only doing a show maybe once this year or maybe twice this year because I'm there every month. So I do like to give that opportunity, but it's also a lot of work to produce the shows. So I don't want to stretch myself too thin by trying to make sure that the show production is good, and that my performers are happy, and the venue's happy, and the customers are happy, and everyone that bought a ticket is happy. And then also perform. I like to make sure that I have at least a little bit of time to go out and mingle and thank people for coming to the show, and that's hard to do when you've got two acts because you're just constantly getting ready. And then you try to catch people at the end, and that can be hard. So it's a few different reasons, but I really like to maintain that social aspect and be able to come out and meet people.
Toddstar: I was going to say, after the intermission, I think you spent most of the second act observing the show from a table not too far from where I was sitting. The second act opened up with someone who had just graduated from your school.
Holly: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Toddstar: What's it like for you as someone who's kind of molding these women who want to do this, to be able to give them that opportunity to go out there that first time?
Holly: It's awesome. I got a little bit emotional just having seen so many of these women from the very beginning. Like I said, some of them come in and they barely say two words. They're so shy, they're really intimidated. They don't really know what they've got themselves into. But then they relax a little and they just start having so much fun, and I cannot believe the things that these women come up with. They're so creative. We just had our first student showcase in May, and every single one of those girls made their own costume and did their own choreography. It's a really proud moment, when I get to see them do a show.
Toddstar: That's awesome. Well I know you're trying to get out of town, and I'd like to thank you for the time.
Holly: Yeah, thank you.
Toddstar: We look forward to Speakeasy Sunday and wish you the best with the Detroit School of Burlesque, and look forward to seeing you in a couple months for the July show. Again, I appreciate you taking time out for us.
Holly: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
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