Every summer, New York native Velvetina Taylor sets out on her motorcycle with bags full of bedazzled corsets and cascading gowns for her national burlesque tour. While doing so, she had her eyes set on finding a city that could play host to her next venture- a burlesque production that would operate in tandem with her ongoing performances in NYC. After much deliberation and a couple of back-and-forths on her trusty Harley, she chose Memphis as the backdrop for Velvetina’s Blue Moon Revue, a burlesque show featuring national talent and live music from local musicians happening every weekend through June at Mollie Fontaine Lounge.
“Of all of the places I’ve been, I thought that it could work here,” Taylor said. “It’s the talent that’s already here, the nightlife, it being an affordable place to live, the creative history, and accessibility. It just seemed like a nice addition to the amazing entertainment. It’s not like I took one of my shows that’s already happening elsewhere and decided to bring it here, too. No, this show was made for this city.”
We sat down with Velvetina to talk about her beginnings in Burlesque, where it’s taken her, and why it’s brought her to town.
C901: My 8th-grade book report was on Josephine Baker so you could say that I’ve been a fan of burlesque since before I probably should’ve been. When did the interest strike for you?
V: I did Ballroom and Latin dancing in high school, and taught in Queens for a little while. I had always wanted to compete but the financial constraints to get involved with that scene were very large. You also have to rely on a partner to move forward in everything that you do. I’ve also always been into costuming and crafting, and there’s a lot of parallels from the costuming standpoint between the two. I took my first burlesque class in New York with my sister and while she was like, “Okay, cool. That was cute,” I was ready to jump in and start producing.
Velvetina Taylor by Shelby Smith
C901: So that first class piqued your interest, but what keeps you going back? What exactly draws you to this form of entertainment?
V: I was already drawn to it before I had any idea if I was actually going to do it. It’s a combination of all of my interests and passions and goals. It’s become a complete expression for me because one: I host and perform so it’s every aspect of my humor, personality, well… my physical being.
Two, I’m intentionally moving more into the business end of it by producing at a bigger, more frequent scale. Not only is it an opportunity for me to express myself, but I’m also giving others the chance to do so as well. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and watching and learning from some very talented people— not just dancers, but musicians as well. There’s just so much potential and the more I perform the more I get more into what I can give the audience.
It’s not just about me loving this and doing a show every night forever. It’s valuable to me to make people feel something and feel special, and I feel like I’ve kind of created a setting for people to enjoy themselves. I mean, the basic principle of it— seeing exposed performers— is already pretty exciting. When you add every sense of it, the band, the venue, and the performers, I feel like I’ve crafted this show to allow that. In the current climate, I’m sure people are fearful to overstep any kind of politeness, but every night I want to provide a sort of relief from that. Every night, I tell our audience, “Now don’t be shy, because we’re not going to be.”
C901: You’ve performed in many states with your home base being New York City and in Memphis now for a short period of time. What are some of the differences and the similarities between the scenes and do you plan on incorporating some of that into the show?
V: I’m careful to say that I understand Memphis burlesque or label Blue Moon burlesque as Memphis burlesque because I’m still learning what local burlesque is like. This show is an addition to what’s been going on here for years and years and years.
I go to local shows when they happen, pay for the VIP, and support what’s happening here, and now I’ve met some very talented local performers who are going to perform alongside me and others from out of town. I am drawing from some of the traditional aspects of burlesque by incorporating live, local music, but that’s a given in this city. People come to hear and see Memphis music. They are interested in learning about the history of where the music comes from and where it’s going now. I want live, local music played by local musicians who not only play the rock and roll and soul classics that everybody loves but will bring something new to the table that travelers and natives can appreciate.
C901: For someone who’s never been to a show like this or any burlesque show for the matter, what would tell them that they can expect?
V: At the beginning of the show, in the most clever, tongue-in-cheek way, I try to tell everyone to get ready because it’s so exciting. Every single night, I say “There’s only one rule at Velvetina’s Blue Moon Revue and that’s that we don’t need any more secret admirers. The lights are low, the costumes are beautiful, and the performers are going to interact with you. It’s innocent and intimate, and it’s worth experiencing for yourself.”
Every Thursday through Saturday, you’re invited to indulge. Taylor starts the show by welcoming her guests and reminds everyone that now’s the time to lose their inhibitions for a bit. Your eyes will linger and it’s okay to whoop and holler as she and her girls bring you and all others into her dream world.