Glamorous Burlesque Dancers of a Certain Age

The Photo Blog
Oct. 25 2013 11:04 AM

Glamorous Burlesque Dancers of a Certain Age

Candy Baby Caramelo started performing at seven, and started performing burlesque at twenty one. Art, money and a desire to see the world motivated her dance career and she has performed in countries in Europe, around the US, in Japan, and in South America. She wore white because it's her color, feathers because she adores them and fur because they "make me look sexy." According to several websites, Ms. Caramelo also passed away in the fall of 2011.
Candy Baby Caramelo started performing at 7 and began performing burlesque at 21. Art, money, and a desire to see the world motivated her dance career, and she has performed in the U.S., Japan, Europe, and South America. She wore white, feathers, and fur because they "make me look sexy," she said. Caramelo died in 2011.

Stephanie Diani

Roughly 10 years ago, photographer Stephanie Diani went to Helendale, Calif., to check out the Miss Exotic World pageant, which is now located in Las Vegas and known as the Burlesque Hall of Fame. At the time of her visit, Diani found a small ranch-style house complete with tumbleweeds blowing around outside the fence with performers of all ages strutting around a small outdoor swimming pool.

Diani had heard about the Legends of Burlesque—“ladies of a certain age who perform and teach younger dancers,” she said—and found herself watching the women, some of whom were septuagenarians, parading around in scantly clad outfits or even just pasties with an air of confidence that fascinated Diani. She made a mental note to work on a project about them.

Seven years after her visit, Diani decided to research the dancers’ whereabouts and began a series of portraits of the women taken in their homes (or sometimes in a hotel room) wearing either their favorite costumes or something of significance to them. She began with Stephanie Blake in Simi Valley, Calif., who then referred Diani to another dancer. This began a word-of-mouth project that became “Dames: The Legends of Burlesque.”

Marinka (aka Maria Portnoy), was photographed in her Las Vegas, California, home over a Miss Exotic World weekend in 2009. She also (like Satan's Angel) performed at the Palomino, and has worked in France, Italy, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, Germany and Spain, among other countries.
Marinka (aka Maria Portnoy), was photographed in her Las Vegas home over a Miss Exotic World weekend in 2009. She worked in France, Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, Germany, and Spain, among other countries.

Stephanie Diani

Toni Elling began performing when she was 32 years old and when I asked why she said, " the desire to make more money." She worked in Detroit and in Lima, Ohio, where she got her first weekly gig. She took her name from Duke Ellington, whom she used to know.
Toni Elling began performing when she was 32, driven by "the desire to make more money," she said. She worked in Detroit and Lima, Ohio, where she got her first weekly gig. She took her name from Duke Ellington, who she used to know.

Stephanie Diani

Big Fannie Annie, by her own account 450 pounds of sizzling sex, worked as a feature performer from 1968 to 1997. She made the costume she's wearing and was photographed in her hotel room in Las Vegas during Miss Exotic World in 2009.
Big Fannie Annie—by her own account, 450 pounds of sizzling sex—worked as a feature performer from 1968 to 1997. She made the costume she's wearing and was photographed in her hotel room in Las Vegas during Miss Exotic World in 2009.

Stephanie Diani

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Diani said that when she first took her trip to Helendale, burlesque hadn’t started enjoying its current renaissance. She said the older women on the project “were wry and smart and playful,” and she enjoyed working with them.  “I’ve always been interested in the reality of a performer’s life: What does it look like when they go home?” she asked.

As a child, Diani took her first photograph—of a horse—with her brother’s camera when she was around 5 years old. “Horses were my favorite thing in the world, and I idolized my brother, so I guess it was only natural that I fell in love with photography,” she said.

Convinced she couldn’t make a living as a photographer, she studied classical archaeology in college (“not that archaeology was a genius choice”), but after graduating she decided to give photography a chance.

Tai Ping was photographed in her West Hollywood, California, apartment. She was passionate about dance as a child and her father encouraged her to study ballet when she was 9 or 10; later she transitioned to Calypso dancing, and then burlesque in the 1960s.
Tai Ping was photographed in her West Hollywood, Calif., apartment. She was passionate about dance as a child, and her father encouraged her to study ballet when she was 9 or 10. Later she transitioned to Calypso dancing and then burlesque in the 1960s.

Stephanie Diani

Dusty Summers has been performing for over twenty five years and wrote an autobiography, "The Lady is a Stripper" about her life and career, as well as two other books: How to be a Professional Stripper, and The Golden G-String. She was photographed in her Las Vegas, California, home.
Dusty Summers has been performing for more than 25 years and wrote an autobiography, The Lady Is a Stripper, about her life and career. She's also written two other books: How to Be a Professional Stripper and The Golden G-String. She was photographed in her Las Vegas home.

Stephanie Diani

Originally interested in working for National Geographic, Diani said her shift to portraiture is a result of her love of both getting to know someone and telling a story about him or her in a shot or two, which is, for Diani, “like the haiku version of a long-format photo essay.”

Working on “Dames: The Legends of Burlesque” afforded Diani that opportunity. Whether photographing Candy Baby Caramelo with her 48DDD bust or shooting Joan Arline in the same costume she wore 55 years earlier, Diani got to know many of the women, and she hopes her photographs convey that. “If I can create a recognizable shape with one or two brush strokes, the viewer can fill in the rest, making the ‘looking at’ a photograph an active, rather than passive process,” she said.

Stephanie Blake, photographed in the kitchen of her Simi Valley, California home. At the time, circa 2009, she was running a doggy daycare.
Stephanie Blake was photographed in the kitchen of her Simi Valley, Calif., home. At the time, circa 2009, she was running a doggy day care.

Stephanie Diani

Satan's Angel was known as the Devil's own mistress, the queen of the fire tassels, and worked from around 1968 to 1979 in Vegas at clubs like the Palomino and the Aladdin. She lives in Palm Springs, California.
Satan's Angel was known as the devil's own mistress, the queen of the fire tassels. She worked from around 1968 to 1979 in Las Vegas at clubs like the Palomino and the Aladdin. She lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

Stephanie Diani

Joan Arline was known as the Sexquire girl, was photographed in her home in Twenty-Nine Palms, California, wearing the same outfit she performed in fifty-five years previously. She told me that the portrait of her on the wall was a gift from an admirer. She passed away in October of 2011 from leukemia.
Joan Arline, known as the Sexquire Girl, was photographed in her home in Twentynine Palms, Calif., wearing the same outfit she performed in 55 years previously. She said the portrait of her on the wall was a gift from an admirer. She died in October 2011 of leukemia.

Stephanie Diani

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