Last week, documented on countless cell phone cameras and generating global buzz on the Web, a new Miss Exotic World was crowned in Las Vegas. Roxi Dlite, a burlesque diva who hails from Quebec, is the new reigning queen of her art. Stepping down is Kalani Kokonuts, who was preceded in glory by such striptease legends as Immodesty Blaize and Dirty Martini. With acts that recall the glory days of burlesque and names that reflect the bawdy but oddly quaint humor that’s inherent in the form, these prima donnas of the pastie set keep the flame alive. (Some of them do this quite literally. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Satan’s Angel, who turns up the heat by setting her tassels on fire.)
For the last twenty years, a new Miss Exotic World has been crowned on the first Saturday in June, but this year’s pageant holds special importance for practitioners and fans of the burlesque revival movement. In addition to crowning a new queen at the Plaza, the weekend’s events included the grand opening of an attraction long awaited by fans: the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Headquartered in the Emergency Arts building across from the El Cortez on Fremont Street, the new museum occupies a gallery next to the Beat Coffeehouse.
The museum’s exhibit space is small, but the collection supporting it is anything but. Housed in a warehouse nearby is the legendary treasure trove of burlesque memorabilia, costumes, photographs, videos, posters, feathers, pasties, and tassels that used to be on display at Exotic World in Helendale, California. Founded and operated by Dixie “the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” Evans on a farm on old Route 66, Exotic World welcomed visitors for many years until its closure in 2006. Evans was the main draw at Exotic World, greeting guests personally and regaling them with colorful tales. Now in her eighties, Evans plans to reprise her role of museum hostess and living exhibit as soon as she recovers from a broken arm.
“She’ll be here to tell stories and sign autographs,” Hall of Fame assistant executive director Laurenn McCubbin told me when I visited Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, visitors can enjoy the photographs of Evans from all stages of her storied—er—feathered career.
Because the museum’s space is limited, exhibits taken from Exotic World’s massive collection will rotate into the space. The opening exhibit, curated by McCubbin, is “Sequins in the Sand: Celebrating 20 Years of Miss Exotic World.” Photographs and posters from all the pageants since 1990 cover the walls. At First Friday in August, another exhibit drawn from Evans’ collection will go on display.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame is a work in progress. “We’re working on our Web site right now,” McCubbin said, “and we’ll have an online store.” Right now at the gallery, T-shirts and postcards are available. Videos, photos, and gifts are on the way. The online store will feature custom-made pasties, hair ornaments, and all the other items a burlesque star puts on in order to take it all off.
Incorporated not-for-profit, the Burlesque Hall of Fame welcomes donations and volunteers, especially people interested in minding the gallery and shop or cataloging the collection. For more information and to check out the current exhibit, visit the gallery from noon to 5:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. The Emergency Arts Building is at 520 Fremont Street.