Peep Show: A quick minute with Alotta Boutte
I met Alotta in 2005 when she flew in to perform in the New York Burlesque Festival. Since then, she's become one of my favorite people. As one of the founding members of Harlem Shake Burlesque, the nations's first African-American neo-burlesque troupe, she's a large order of triple threat with a side of "have mercy!"
Tangerine Jones: How'd you get the name "Alotta Boutte"? Was it because of all that....((coughs), personality?
Alotta Boutte: (laughs) Boutté is actually a family name... my mother's maiden name. I was trying to find something that was a word play on body parts since I'm what one would call well endowed. My mother's maiden name popped in my head while I was running through potential names. I ran it by some friends and it stuck.
Tangerine Jones: Let's talk about your "endowments", shall we? You're one of a handful of thick girls in burlesque (present company included) What are the advantages/disadvantages of having extra wiggle in your shimmy? How do people react to you?
AB: Advantages. Instant cleave and I look better in a corset than most. For a thick girl, I have a killer hourglass, especially when amplified by a corset. This next one could be seen as both, but since I'm a big girl/black girl combo, expectations are either low or different. (They're)low because I'm big and they don't expect me to be able to move well. Different because I'm black and they expect me to dance to different more modern hip-hop/pop or to resort to the booty bounce music video dancin'
TJ: I'm glad you brought that up.
AB: People are usually pleasantly surprised and blown away. I've gotten very wondeful responses
TJ:You're a founding member of the first African-American neo-burlesque troupe, Harlem Shake Burlesque. 10 years into the Neo Burlesque movement, diversity is still a bit elusive. Why do you think that is?
AB: From what I can tell, at least out here, it seems to be a predominantly white thing. Burlesque shows aren't necessarily being held in places where the majority is in favor of the brown folk. SF is diverse and I do see all colors in the audience, but brown is the minorty in the audience and in the shows. Harlem Shake, when in full force, was very specific about putting on shows in areas where the population was predominately brown. The response from those shows are people stating that they didn't even know this was going on or that we were in once upon a time.I think, like I did when i joined, that was we have a lot of history lost in this country. Folks weren't documented or they retired and put in boxes instead of sharing it because of the social climate.There are some beautiful brown folks on the walls of MEW museum and folks don't know their names. And for those of us who are trying to state our claim to being in the present scene, there just aren't enough of us able, to bring it to our people regularly, to let our people know there are other ways of being sexy and beautiful. It looks like a catch 22. Those of us who find out about burlesque go to where we can find it and many end up tokens in other groups,but that doesn't bring back to our people and they still don't know.
TJ:So what do you think your responsibility is as a burlesquer of color?
AB:To be present, to stand up and our claim our spots in this scene. It's also not enough to just be there, have lots of us and suck. Make people take notice that were are here and deserve it just as much as anyone else. Since I've started, I've never been hired as a novelty because of my color or size, and if I have been, I'm always asked back based on merit. I've been hired as a variety because I can tap dance (15 years under my belt), I can sing (which i do professionally as well), and I can perform with the best of them. Part of our responsibility being present to is to shine.
TJ: What originally drew you to burlesque as an artform?
AB: Gypsy, the musical.
Singing in the Rain. I'm a musical junky and these two were my first introdction into Burlesque. Singing in the Rain presented the variety show aspect in a music montage with Gene Kelly. Gypsy presented the tease...not once do you see Natalie Wood in pasties. Simone De La Ghetto brings a classic feel to the performance that feels like it's classic for *us*- a touch of Cotton Club for today. When Simone asked me to join Harlem Shake, I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting into. I only really knew Gypsy and Singing and hoped that I could do other things to distract from my body. I wasn't so body secure then. As I found out more, I discovered many of my favorite legendary people performed in the burlesque circuit and our history in it was fascinating to me. My goal became to add more of the Juke Joint/Beale Street Cafe. Hot,sweaty, but always a lady-like feel to it.
TJ: If you could share a stage with a legend, past or present, who would it be?
AB: Toni Elling and Lottie the Body! I had the pleasure of meeting them at the last EW. Magnificent ladies! Mae West,cause i think it would be a hoot. I would love to pick Gypsy's brain and hear Zorita tell her story. She was an outspoken queer in a time where it wasn't nearly as tolerated. There are many upcoming folks and a few legends I've already had the privilege of sharing a stage with. Amazing performers all.
TJ: If you were an ice cream flavor, you'd be.....?
AB:Cookies and cream
TJ: Tell us your favorite dirty joke
AB: I've forgotten them all. I'm going to have to go get a book. Can't be slackin' on the dirty jokes.
TJ: You recently got a spot as an understudy in Beach Blanket Babylon, which has been described as pop culture on acid. What's it like being in Babylon?
AB: Surreal. For one, I don't know any woman or queen that didn't want to run around in a Glinda the Good dress. I get to do it at least twice a week while singing Proud Mary. The show changes as fast as the headlines do.
TJ: Are you going to Exotic World this year?
AB:Sadly, I'm not. Shameless plug allowed? I'll be participating as a cyclist in AIDS LifeCycle 6 this year. It's a 545 mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles June 3rd - 9th, raising money for the SF AIDS Foundation and LA's Gay, Lesbian Center. For anyone who'd like more information or to help me reach my goal donation total, go to http://www.aidslifecycle.org/4359
Peep Show is a peek into the world of burlesque and the underground art and music scenes.
posted by -h* @ 3:45 PM, ,