What Makes a Legend?

By Jo Weldon, Author of The Burlesque Handbook and Founder of The New York School of Burlesque

Website: joweldon.com

A Flyer from The Mother’s Day Brunch Show in NYC, 2010

A burlesque legend is a gift to us all. There have been many discussions about what a burlesque legend is, what eras they should have worked in, what experiences they should have had, what recognition they should have received before they earn the appellation. I understand these concerns and would be willing to have conversations about those details another time (though emphatically not now, at this time I will delete or refuse to respond). Either you get it or you don’t. What’s important to me right now is not what a legend is, but how a legend is. I made a list of just a few of the qualities I have admired in many of our legends, and why they are so important to me.

Irreplaceable History.

Legends know what it was like to perform burlesque in the eras that influenced the present. So much of burlesque’s history is apocryphal or whitewashed. They tell the dazzling, outrageous, often salty truth. Many of them were marginalized not only for doing burlesque but for being queer or being POC. There is no source for this priceless understanding quite like our legends.

Know How.

Legends show us an array of skills, from physical movements to costuming to emanating presence, with a depth formed by decades of having known these things. They can enrich the abilities and technique of newer performers in casual conversations in the bathroom or in formal classroom settings. Legends have even taught moves they can no longer do from a wheelchair. They have the ability to bring us to excellence.


In addition to knowledge of history and skills, legends have the most remarkable personal stories. There is nothing like listening to a legend describe the events of their life. They have everything to teach us about resilience, humor, and human affairs. Not to mention, they teach us about the art of story-telling itself.


Legends have strong feelings about what burlesque was, is, and can be. While many of them don’t agree, they each have a unique perspective we can learn by considering. They came up without safe spaces or the ability to promote their thoughts on social media, and they are excited to finally have an opportunity to share their ideas and beliefs about their art.


I have had to have some hard and deep conversations with legends when I have had to apologize to them or they have apologized to me. When this has happened they have expressed the need to stay connected, to not hold grudges, to help each other be good friends. They understand how precious our connections are. They are willing to do the work.

There is so much more I could say, but if you’ve listened to or read their interviews, or met them at festivals or at The Burlesque Hall of Fame, you know!

What do you love about our legends?

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