Introducing Dustin Wax and the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum

Hello everyone!

I wanted to write and introduce myself to everyone, after following the list
for quite a while now. I’m one of the people that runs the Burlesque Hall of
Fame museum -- I’ve met quite a few of you, either at this year or last
year’s reunion weekends or at the museum itself, but I wanted to take a
moment to really talk about who I am and what I do at the museum -- and,
indeed, what the museum itself is doing. The reason I’ve waited so long is
that to really address what the museum is and needs to become, I’ll have to
say some things about the split between BHoF and “the other show” and I
didn’t want to seem like I was trying to undermine the other show or
influence anyone’s choices. Now that the glitter is settling, I figure
nobody can accuse me of saying anything just to hurt the show at the Plaza.

Before I get into that, though, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
So I’m Dustin. I’m an anthropologist by training, a part-time women’s
studies professor and full-time museum guy (I manage the collection at the
UNLV Barrick Museum) by vocation, and a volunteer this past year at the BHoF
by choice. In addition to curating and writing the new exhibit at BHoF (with
a lot of help from Laura in picking material to display), I’ve done a lot of
work on the burlesquehall. com website, acted as part of the selection
committee for this year’s Miss Exotic World pageant, and staffed the museum
itself just about every Saturday since we opened last June.

I should say, like everyone else associated with BHoF, I do this as a
volunteer. In fact, in putting the new exhibit together, I even used almost
10 days of my vacation time from my day job. I mention this not to show how
awesome I am but because I want people to understand that I and the rest of
the BHoF team do what we do not for our personal enrichment but out of our
personal commitment to the realization and preservation of the vision that
Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans pursued in Helendale.

That vision almost died last year. As most of you understand, the continued
existence of the museum depends on the funds raised during the reunion
weekend every June, and last year, the museum did not receive the funds it
was supposed to receive after the June show. I don’t know what story Littel
and Apcar tell themselves -- maybe the show was poorly run and didn’t make
enough profit, maybe they didn’t feel that the museum was a priority, maybe
they lined their pockets, I honestly don’t know and I don’t care. What I
*do* care about is that just as the museum finally found a new home, just as
we were finally able to start rebuilding at least something like the
experience Dixie had created at the old Exotic World, the funds dried up.

I don’t know how Laura managed to pull us through -- I strongly suspect she
reached into her own pocket to cover expenses, but those of you who know her
know that’s not something she’d take credit for -- but somehow we kept
things together and this year’s show seems likely to put us back on track to
at least maintain our little space and keep the collection safe. I’ve talked
with a lot of you who came to the museum over the reunion weekend and you
have no idea how gratified I was that you found in our little space at least
an echo of the museum in Helendale. I could see how important it is to the
whole burlesque community that we be there and that this collection be held
in trust for the burlesque performers and fans of today AND tomorrow to
learn from.

Which brings me to the “other show”, Littell and Apcar’s “Dixie Evans
Burlesque Show”. It was, of course, no accident that the show was scheduled
on the same weekend as the reunion. After being removed from the board last
year and not asked back to produce this year’s show, Littell and Apcar made
an ill-advised power play, reserving space in the Plaza apparently in the
hopes that if they controlled the space, BHoF would have to give them back
the show. Where the money came from, I don’t know -- if it was part of the
proceeds of last year’s show, it seems like it should have gone to the
museum. But I honestly don’t know.

When that didn’t pan out, they had a choice: to try to split the burlesque
community and compete with the BHoF show, or to bow out. I suppose it would
have stung to give up whatever deposit they’d put down at the Plaza, but I
would think it would sting more to actively work to undermine the museum --
Dixie’s life’s work and a resource of, by, and for the entire burlesque
community. That is, however, the choice they made, and it’s a choice that
they dragged Dixie herself into.

I want to say, I don’t have anything against most of the people who took
part in that show, whether as performers or audience members. For legends
like Tempest Storm, they offered a paycheck, something that, as a benefit
show, the BHoF weekend can’t do. Satan’s Angel had an opportunity to develop
her film, and other performers had an opportunity to share a stage with
Dixie, Tempest, and Angel,, and who can begrudge them that. Likewise for the
audience -- people come to Vegas in June to do several things: see the best
in burlesque, honor the legends, and see Dixie Evans. And to do the last,
they had to go to the Plaza.

That said, the Plaza show existed with the sole intention of undermining the
Burlesque Hall of Fame, and that means undermining not just this thing that
I like doing in my spare time but the whole history that you all are
inheritors of and participants in. That Littell and Apcar put Dixie in a
position where her actions would actively hurt the institution that she
built is, in my opinion, unforgivable -- although I certainly hope they’ll
be making a sizable contribution to the museum as at least part of their
penance. And while I’ve always liked Dixie as a person and have tried to
live up, as much as possible, to her vision, of what the museum could be, I
have a hard time understanding her making the choice she made to side
against it. It saddens me profoundly, and I only hope that whatever led her
to make that choice does not lead to a lasting split with the museum. I know
I’ve missed seeing her hold court in our little space, bringing the museum’s
visitors into the history that she’s worked so hard to preserve.

The good news is, the hard part is behind us. The reunion weekend was
AMAZING this year, and there’s been such an outpouring for support for the
museum and for the community as a whole that I know we’ll be able to reclaim
the ground we lost -- the ground pulled out from under us -- last year.

And good thing, too, because there’s a lot still to do to give the
collection and the community its due. So far, the museum has been a labor of
love for us, but it’s clear that we have to professionalize. We have a
collection that has spent decades in the desert heat and often in the hands
(and on the bodies) of thousands of visitors to Helendale. I know a lot of
you have asked me about things you remember seeing, touching, and holding at
Exotic World -- Sally Rand’s fans, Gypsy Rose Lee’s travelling trunk, Jane
Mansfield’s couch, and so on. And we want to show those things, but our
first priority now has to be to make sure that they do not continue to decay
with age and that they can be displayed in the safest possible manner, so
that 10, 20, and 50 years from now the Burlesque Hall of Fame still has
something to show.

We need to catalog the collection, restore what can be restored and conserve
the rest, and provide appropriate storage facilities. We need to begin
acquiring new material, fleshing out parts of our collection that are
underdeveloped and keeping pace with the history that you, the burlesque
community, are spinning out behind you. We need to encourage and enable new
research, so that the stories of not just the Lili St Cyrs and Tempest
Storms but of the thousands of performers who worked all over the country
and around the world can be told. And, of course, we need more space, and
staff to organize exhibitions, create programming, and guide visitors in
that space.

This isn’t going to happen today or tomorrow, but I have to say, after
meeting so many of you this past weekend and talking with you about the
show, about Red Tremmel’s film, about your own histories at Exotic World,
and about the museum, and after seeing how close this community can be and
how much you honor your own history, I have no doubt that it WILL happen.
And I hope very much that I will remain a part of it, and a part of this
community that you have created and kept alive. Thank you so much for
letting me play a role in the telling of your story.

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Dustin M. Wax
Registrar, UNLV Barrick Museum
Part-Time Instructor, UNLV and CSN
dustin@dwax. org |