Please welcome Belinda Alexandra to my blog .
Belinda has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia. She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES). http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732296445/southern-ruby/
Belinda’s new book Southern Ruby is out now.
Harper Collins Australia
Forbidden love. Family secrets. A twist of fate. The stunning new generational saga from Belinda Alexandra, bestselling author of Tuscan Rose and White Gardenia. In New Orleans – the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz – two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew. Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets. Amanda’s arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope
BURLESQUE DANCING – Is it Naughty or Nice?
Belinda Alexandra – Guest Blog
The Evangelist, Billy Graham, described Bourbon Street, New Orleans in the 1950s as the ‘middle of hell’. It would have certainly seemed that way to him with the port city’s notorious bars, jazz clubs, prostitution and mafia activity. Not to mention its burlesque clubs, where beautiful women in costumes of silk and feathers removed items of clothing piece by piece in a tantalising dance until they had stripped down to nothing more than jewelled pasties and rhinestone G-strings. Although it all seems innocent in comparison to today’s strip joints and hard core pornography, it was hot stuff in the sexually repressed 1950s.
With regards to modern burlesque as performed by artists such as Dita Von Teese, there is an argument about whether burlesque is a an empowering feminist art form, or whether it is demeaning and objectifying. The answer to this seems to lie mainly in the eye of the beholder and what they define as either ‘feminist’ or ‘empowering’. Compared to mainstream media, burlesque does seem to be more welcoming to a variety of body types, sexual orientations, ethnicities and ages – with some of the earlier stars such as Tempest Storm still performing well into their seventies. Heterosexual women make up most of the audiences that go to see Dita Von Teese perform so if objectification is taking place, these days it’s by women.
From my point of view, the burlesque described in Southern Ruby is empowering, albeit in a very quotidian way. My character, Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby – is the daughter of an aristocratic French Creole family that has whittled away its fortune in lavish living and she is forced to find some means of supporting her ailing mother and their one remaining loyal but aging maid. Deeply in debt and with her mother requiring a serious operation, there are few financial options available for Ruby to help her family other than to marry for money. Women’s wages were low in the 1950s: a sales clerk earned sixty cents an hour; a telephone operator, twenty-five dollars a week. The average wage for an American woman was less than twenty dollars a week and it was lower still in the south and for unskilled positions. Burlesque, on the other hand, could offer performers anywhere from $100 a week to $5000 dollars a week for the big stars like Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm.
Most of the dancers of the 1950s saw their performing not in terms of whether it was objectifying or not but whether it would allow them to help their families and get them out of poverty. For many of these women, it took them out of small towns and backwaters where their only future was to be pregnant and married at fifteen.
As Blaze Starr described it in Leslie Zemeckis’s book Behind the Burly Q: The story of burlesque in America:
Burlesque provided an opportunity to many girls, like me, to escape poverty. I come from the rural hills of West Virginia. My daddy had black lung. We were lucky to get a new pair of shoes once a year. But burlesque got me out of the hills and I saw things most girls will never see. I met presidents and governors. I made a lot of money and I loved it. I made real good friends with the other performers, like Val Valentine. She’s been my friend for decades.
While many of us take our university degrees and the opportunities available to us for granted, it is easy to judge the women of burlesque without truly understanding the restrictions of the era they lived in. I admire them for trying to gain some power, if only financial power, outside of the institution of marriage.
But there was a stigma around burlesque dancing even though the nudity was more suggested than actual, with net bras and body stockings, and the dancers weren’t known for being particularly promiscuous. While the women were revered by their audiences and able to afford haute couture and Cadillacs, they were often snubbed by department store clerks earning only fifty cents an hour for being part of the demimonde. When their performing days were over, most of these women never spoke of their dancing days to their husbands and children as their pasts were considered shameful.
The exotic and secretive world of burlesque was the perfect setting for Ruby’s double life: respectable Vivienne de Villeray living in genteel poverty during the day; the glamorous dancer, Jewel, by night.
Belinda Alexandra’s latest novel, Southern Ruby, is a story of double lives, family secrets and forbidden love set in New Orleans.