Dancer Lola van Ella (pictured on right) started a burlesque festival in her native St. Louis, but she should be a familiar face to local burlesque fans. She's performed several times in New Orleans' Bustout Burlesque shows and she competed in both previous Queen of Burlesque competitions at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. At the inaugural pageant in 2009, Lola sang and stripped to "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd've Baked a Cake," an act that left her wearing only pasties, a smear of icing and a spatula. It earned her second runner-up honors, and last year she improved to first runner-up by singing "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and incorporating a giant swing and some aerial acrobatics. This year she's aiming for top honors with an act she promises will be much edgier, titled "More than VanElla."
"I'm known for my charm and humor and singing," Lola says. "This is my grandest, most over the top, sparkly, bawdiest act yet."
It's inspired more by RuPaul than the classic American songbook. Lola was a singer who mostly performed jazz standards in cabaret theaters before she switched to burlesque. She now runs her own troupe, the Bon-Bons, who also will perform at the festival, and she started a dance studio. At the festival, Lola will conduct several workshops for dancers.
Lola is one of many headliners at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival making a living as professional burlesque dancers. Many travel to other high-profile burlesque events including the Miss Exotic World Pageant and Striptease Reunion held at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and the London Burlesque Festival. Lola says she likes the New Orleans competition because it requires working with a live band, which is part of the traditional approach highlighted by the festival. Many new burlesque dancers use modern music and embrace the retro-culture looks of Bettie Page hairdos and colorful tattoos.
The competition takes place Saturday night at the theater at Harrah's New Orleans. There are burlesque showcases at both Harrah's and the House of Blues featuring a host of touring dancers including Catherine D'Lish, Kitten De Ville, Medianoche, Coco Lectric, Perle Noire and many others. Festival events also include workshops, panel discussions, appearances by burlesque performers from the 1950s and '60s and the closing night party at Republic New Orleans. See www.neworleansburlesquefest.com for schedule and details. — Will Coviello
New Orleans Burlesque Festival