Ginger Valentine carries on a N.O. burlesque tradition

Having been a burlesque dancer for only four years, Ginger Valentine has made quite a name for herself in the industry. She was voted the New Orleans Burlesque Festival’s 2011 Queen of Burlesque and the Texas Burlesque Festival’s 2010 Best Tease. With that said, some may be surprised to find that Valentine graduated from a performing arts high school in Dallas where she received most of her training.

“My training was mostly in ballet,” Valentine said. “I have extensive classical training, which includes ballet, modern dance, jazz, tap -- everything. Just none of the cool stuff. I never did hip-hop or anything like that. Just mostly classical and traditional stuff.”

Burlesque dancing was very popular from the 1860s to the 1940s. The shows were often performed in cabarets and clubs, as well as theaters. The purpose of burlesque dancing was to stimulate male and female minds through significant exposure of female body parts. This sort of striptease, as it has also been called, would incorporate elaborate sets, gorgeous costumes, mood music and dramatic lighting. Burlesque is now having a re-emergence in popularity because of acts performed by Valentine and others.

“I really enjoy the freedom of expression,” Valentine said. “Striptease is all entertainment and service-based. Especially for ladies, because in our culture women are taught to suppress their sexuality, and if you don’t there can be severe consequences that come along with that. We are also taught as women that there is only one type of sexuality or there is only one way to be sexy or appealing. One thing burlesque does is take a stand against that, and at the same time classic burlesque can be appealing to everybody, gay or straight, men or women.”

In the late 1940s, the legendary burlesque dancer Kitty West would rise out of a giant oyster shell with her hair dyed green to represent seaweed and dance with an oversized pearl. This act became known as Evangeline the Oyster Girl and was performed at the Casino Royale on Bourbon Street.

Because Valentine is one of the fastest rising stars in burlesque, West will be passing the torch and allowing her to recreate the original Oyster Girl act on Dec. 15 at the House of Blues in a show called “Bustout Burlesque featuring Evangeline the Oyster Girl.”

“One thing that is special about this show is I will be doing the official debut of Oyster Girl, and I will be carrying on the old tradition from New Orleans burlesque history,” Valentine said. “That makes it pretty exciting. The fans can expect to see a really exciting show filled with beautiful girls, elaborate costumes and big, beautiful props. It’s going to be really big and really exciting!”

Valentine performs in New Orleans about six times a year. She also performs in Dallas, Houston and Eureka Springs, Ark., and has been voted one of the Top 20 Burlesque Industry Figures for 2011.

“I will continue to dance until people are no longer interested in seeing me dance, and I don’t know how long that will be, but I imagine for a long time,” Valentine joked. “I was on the stage before burlesque and will continue to be involved in the entertainment industry in dance and dance instruction. It’s a career for me. Now, I probably won’t be taking it off at 75, but you never know.”