Victoria Markovna sexifies everything. We’re warming up for class with ass-in-the-air pushups, and she encourages us to give ourselves come hither looks in the mirror while we do. Five minutes ago, when she arrived on the scene and stood in front of the room to explain the history of burlesque, I thought, Her? Burlesque? Her face looked too sweet, her hair too blond, her look too all-American to embody the dark-haired ’40s pinup girl I’d come to associate with San Diego burlesque. But when she gets on the floor to demonstrate what she calls the “burlesque pushup,” her sexy comes out full force, and because I’m here to embrace my sexy, I get on the floor and do it, too.
My fascination with burlesque started with Dottie Deville, a local dancer whose short-waisted, curvy body resembles my own, and whose You-wish-you-could-have-some-of-this manner (on- and off-stage) exemplifies the way I want to feel about myself. In one YouTube video from a December 2012 show at Bar Eleven, not only does Deville turn a bare and dimpled bottom to the audience, she also uses her fingers to wiggle it for their delight. I consider that performance a fist-in-the-air triumph for curvy, dimple-bottomed women everywhere. It was because of Deville that I decided to give up my exhausting desperation for a skinny, airbrushed butt and opt instead to love (and flaunt) what the good Lord gave me.
Besides her body confidence, the five-foot-tall former preschool teacher has a wild side that appeals to my inner bad girl. Even within the already-risqué world of burlesque dancing, Deville adds a touch more raunchiness with her signature bump-and-grind style. In each performance, just when the audience begins to settle in to her excruciatingly slow ladylike glove-peel, she’ll suddenly get down and dirty.
“I’m pretty sure I was a drag queen in my last life,” she tells me, letting loose a gleeful laugh. “I want my name to be in people’s minds.”
It’s a warm Thursday in April, weeks after my first burlesque class. Deville and I are sitting in the lushly landscaped backyard of her mother’s house, in that westernmost part of City Heights that some like to call East North Park. Deville has just returned from performing at a birthday party in Las Vegas. Two days from now, she’ll perform at the High Seas Tease fundraising event aboard the Hornblower yacht. Dressed in a summery denim jumpsuit and bearing her signature red lipstick and winged eyeliner, she sits curled up on a wooden bench.
“I have no filter,” she says. “It’s probably good for a journalist like you.”
Thus begins a conversation in which she schools me on all things burlesque. We start with pasties.
“Pasties are pretty much what we have to wear, or else we’ll get fined,” she says. “We are not exotic dancers.”
What Deville calls “exotic dancers” are defined by the San Diego Police Department as “Adult Entertainers” and “Outcall Nude Entertainers,” both of which provide nude entertainment. These entertainers must submit an application, sign a statement of understanding, get fingerprinted, provide identification, and pay up to $344 in fees.
“Sometimes we have to cover underboob, too,” says Deville. “If you’re at a venue that has windows, you have to cover your underboob. To do that, you just get an underwire bra and cut out the cup. Or you can wear a demi-bra.”
But pasties are necessary for any venue.
“They’re nipple covers, pretty much,” she says. “Most of the girls make them themselves. They’re super easy to make. You just kind of figure out your size. A lot of girls will take a [coffee cup or a juice glass] and felt or any fabric. You put the cup on the fabric, draw a circle around it, and cut that out. Then you cut a straight line to the middle [of the circle] and fold it over. And if you want to put a tassel on it, you hot-glue a tassel in the middle.”
Deville is ready and eager to answer my question about how to make the pasties stick. She leans forward, punctuating how amazing her simple trick is with a dramatic flat-palmed gesticulation.
“The best way,” she says with slow emphasis, “is with toupée tape.” Then her voice picks up speed. “Double-sided tape sometimes works. Carpet tape hurts really bad to get off, so don’t use that.”
Sometimes, things go wrong.
“On New Year’s Eve last year, I was upside down, tassel-twirling, and [one pastie] flew off. Luckily, it was at the end of the act. But I also had my boa on, and a piece of the boa, a feather, stuck to the tape. So, I was good to go.”
Deville sometimes buys rather than makes her pasties. The best place to go, she says, is Etsy, the one-stop online shop for all things crafty. (Later, a quick search for “pasties” on the Etsy website will yield 2203 results, and I’ll find everything from Hello Kitty pasties to “pot leaf Rasta” and “rhinestone penis” versions, ranging in price from $4 for self-adhesive glitter paper to $180 for Swarovski crystals).
The most Deville has paid is $50, for a pair decorated with rhinestones.
“I only use them for special occasions, because if [one does] come off, someone’s probably going to take it. Most people know the rule of a burlesque show is that, if an article comes flying off, you make sure you give it back to [the dancer], but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Don’t look, Dad
In 2010, Deville was working as a preschool teacher when a parent of one of her students told her she should audition with the Hell on Heels Burlesque Revue. She did, and landed the gig then and there. For her first year with the troupe, she kept the preschool job. She didn’t hide the side job; some of her classroom parents even came to her shows.
It has, Deville says, been her mission in life to push the envelope.
“I was always the rebel. My mom is a dean at a university. She wanted me to keep teaching, but she always knew I was going to be in the spotlight, doing something like this that would make her shake her head.”
For more on this article, read author Elizabeth Salaam's Backstory