Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Miss Darling Divine Oral History Interview, September 13, 2021

Oregon State University
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is September 13th, 2021. My name is Laurie Kurutz. My pronouns are she/her/hers. Would you please introduce yourself, tell us your pronouns if you care to, and tell us all the things you do?

MISS DARLING DIVINE: My name is Darling Divine. My pronouns are she/her and I'm a Burlesque artist. I am a choreographer, producer, and teacher. In my day job, I'm also a massage therapist.

LK: What is Burlesque?

DD: Burlesque to me... everyone has their own definition, but to me Burlesque is just an expression of one's self. Specifically, one's sexuality and their inner being. So this...this can come out in any type of form. I don't think it has to 00:01:00necessarily be stripping or be, you know, dance or anything. I think there are Burlesque comedians out there, there are Burlesque singers out there. It is just expressing who you are.

LK: How do you describe the kind of Burlesque that you do?

DD: I'm a dancer. I've always been a dancer. So I need some sort of movement. I dabble in all sort of Burlesque genres: the classic, the Neo-Burlesque, comedy Burlesque. I kind of dabbled into all of it, even some gender-bending stuff as well, because why not explore everything?

LK: You mentioned some terms there: classic and then Neo-Burlesque. What's the difference?

DD: Classic Burlesque is like Sally Rand or Josephine Baker. All of those '50s, 00:02:00'60s, or even before, artists. And then Neo-Burlesque is like the resurgence of all that. 'Cuz in the history of Burlesque, it kind of faded in the '80's... '70's- 80's- 90's.. Somewhere in there, it faded and then it's kind of come back and so that's all this new stuff. But it's not necessarily this pristine --" I'm taking off my beautiful little glove filled with rhinestones" --it can be a little grungy or a little dirty, with more artistic flair on it.

LK: And the gender-bending. What is that and how does that manifest in performance?

DD: Gender-bending is just performing with the different gender than you traditionally identify as. So I traditionally identify as a female. And so I've 00:03:00done and asked where I was of male-presenting. I've even stuffed my pants a little bit and just try to take on very stereotypical male-like characteristics in my act and stuff. But I mean there's other ways to do it, of course, you can switch halfway through an act, you could... I mean there's really anything you want.

LK: If you're a dancer and have always been a dancer, why do you do Burlesque? What does it give you artistically?

DD: It just gives me an outlet. I feel like as an adult, there's not as many dance opportunities in this world, especially if you're not wanting to be in a professional company, in troupes or ballet troupes, or on that level and at that 00:04:00commitment. So Burlesque gives me that.

It's a nice little way to keep my passion, while also exploring other parts of my life. Then since joining Burlesque, I really just found more creativity and learned about costuming and learned about productions. I found this amazing group of people that love and support each other and help each other within the arts community and outside of the arts community.

LK: In the spectrum of various sex work, where does Burlesque land?

DD: If sex work is a spectrum and at one end you have prostitution... I don't 00:05:00know if I would say that's the right word but... prostitution and escort and all that, is like at one end, I would say that Burlesque is at the other end. That's just my thoughts on that. I don't particularly consider Burlesque sex work. I think it's more like sexual education and awakening for people, but not necessarily sex work.

LK: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

DD: I grew up... well, I was born in Eastern Idaho. But I grew up in Boise Idaho. Then after I turned eighteen I moved to Seattle for a little bit, which is where I started Burlesque. And now I'm here in Bend Oregon.

LK: While you were in Idaho, what did you do in your formative years, whatever that is, that led you to performance?

DD: I have been dancing since I was three years old. I started with ballet and 00:06:00slowly, just have done everything: tap, Jazz, contemporary, modern, hip-hop. Although I'm not great at that. I've done a little bit of acting here and there when I was a child. I mean that's pretty much my background before Burlesque.

LK: What, if any, formal training or college do you have?

DD: I went to Cornish College for the Arts. I went there for two years, so I don't actually have a degree in anything, 'cuz I decided to leave after that. Then while at Cornish, I took a Cherry Manhattan's School of Burlesque course. So I kind of learned Burlesque through her.

LK: While you were in Seattle, in what year and when, how did you get started in Burlesque?


DD: Okay let me do some math real quick. 2017? I think I started her class. It was actually just through that college. She was a professor there and every spring she would have a Burlesque course. You went through a brief Burlesque history, you created your persona and character, and then you debuted into a show. That's how I started that. I just heard... First time.

I had no idea what Burlesque really was, besides like Christina Aguilera's Burlesque movie. Which is not quite an accurate representation, so that was my only knowledge of it. After taking the class it was like, Wow! this is a whole 00:08:00world. I had no idea about it and I love it and I love being in it, so I'm glad I took it.

LK: How did you pick your stage name?

DD: My real last name is Dalling. D-a-l-l-i-n-g. But every time people hear that they hear "darling." All throughout my childhood and in high school and even college, people would call me "darling." I just knew I had to put that into my Burlesque name. So after knowing "darling," I just played with a ton of words. I love alliteration. So I played with a ton of words and flip-flopped them back and forth, and finally came on Darling Divine. I liked it the most, so now it's stuck.

LK: And then what brought you to Bend?

DD: So after I decided I didn't want to stay in the professional dance world in 00:09:00Seattle, I moved to Bend to become a massage therapist. I went to a trade school here and have been doing that since.

LK: How did you discover Burlesque in Bend?

DD: I had looked... as I was moving to Bend, I looked up every dance studio. I looked up for classes everywhere cuz it's... I can't... I'm not giving up dancing to be a massage therapist. I just want something else and I couldn't really find any adult classes at all. So I moved to Bend just thinking "okay I'll have to get my certification and then I have to move to Portland or something where there's more art."

And while I was here, I turned 20 [years old.] I'm very young right now, so I turned 21 when I first moved here. And for some reason, I just felt inspired to 00:10:00look up Burlesque in Bend, which I hadn't done before. And Bend Burlesque popped up! So I went and I auditioned... Oh! right as I looked them up, they popped up and they had auditions in the next month. They had just started advertising for it. So I was like "oh my goodness! meant to be!" I contacted them, went and auditioned, and here I am, part of it all.

LK: You knew a little bit about the Burlesque community in Seattle. How is that different than the Burlesque community in Bend?

DD: Several different ways. The Burlesque community in Seattle is much larger first off. And with more diversity for sure, but I think with that comes more... 00:11:00I don't want to say professionalism? 'Cuz Bend is still very professional when it comes to Burlesque but Bend is more small-town, more laid-back, compared to Seattle.

LK: The Burlesque community in Bend or Eastern Oregon, who is it, what is that community like?

DD: I don't know of any other Burlesque in Eastern Oregon besides Bend Burlesque, I don't know if you know of any, I don't. I wish there was. I feel like Ontario or even Burns perhaps could create something, but in the future hopefully. Yeah, so Bend Burlesque is it. It's very laid back.


It started off with just Montana St. Claire and Little Leazy just created it cuz they liked Burlesque and they just wanted it here. They collaborated with the band, the Company Grand band, and just started dancing on stage with the band. Then slowly they started the Bend Burlesque Company. I joined in when they started really taking off. 'Cuz they've been around 10 years but the first few years it was just those two and one other dancer.

So once I joined in with the audition group of a bunch of people it started evolving. We all know each other cuz it's so small. So it's very community-oriented and you just know every single person who wants to be in 00:13:00Burlesque, or is doing Burlesque. You see the same people at your shows all the time which is cool, too.

LK: What kind of venues do you perform at?

DD: There are not a ton of venues in Bend. We perform a lot at bars or bars that have a little mini stage and so we'll perform there. There are...like the Volcanic Theater Pub is a nicer venue that we'll perform at. The Capitol especially...so they were more of a bar venue at first, but they just redid their entire area, 'cuz they love us. I kinda feel like they did it for us, but I don't know. That's just how I felt but that's probably not accurate but that's what I think. They are definitely a really amazing venue now.


You have larger venues, we haven't been able to get into those larger venues like the Domino Room or the Tower Theater, which is a big one. A. because they're a little expensive and B. because it's Burlesque. We're still trying to...be... a lot of people think of us just as just strippers in this community. So they don't want that in their venue. So we're still trying to kind of put this professional face in front of this, like "no this is a large production and we will sell out."

LK: You mentioned the audiences and some are your faithful repeat audience members. Who is drawn to your shows?


DD: I would say everybody. But that's probably not true since there's a lot of political diversity in this town, and comfortability when it comes to seeing people stripping on the stage. Definitely probably people that are more comfortable seeing... that we got a lot of women coming to see us and they're dragging their man to come with them. So that's pretty cool. It's not like a strip club where it's traditionally just a very male audience coming in.

A lot of women talking afterward to be like "wow like this is so empowering! I can never do this!" And then us telling them like "yes, you can! Just come take 00:16:00a class. Come watch us again and you'll get more comfortable with it all." Then we've also seen two different communities. We've seen kink communities and just like looking for some sort of sexual outlets or something like that. Then we see a lot of the LGBTQ+ community coming to our shows and loving that.

LK: So what is it about Burlesque that is empowering to these women?

DD: For me personally, it's the sexual empowerment. I was raised very religious where "sex is bad." And so just being free of... actually this is a very healthy, important thing to your life, in your body, and the community. That's 00:17:00what I was attracted to a lot in Burlesque.

But I see a lot of other women are just attracted to, or people in general, are just attracted to the confidence of Burlesque. Watching someone on stage who is confident enough to show her inner self, or their inner self, and show their body and take empowerment of themselves and of their sexuality. I think a lot of people are missing that in their lives and missing that in the world in general. So when they see someone who actually can do that, it's enticing.

LK: How do you think that would ripple through a culture or a town or a society? That empowerment?

DD: We've seen it a little bit already in Bend. Even just from just a little bit 00:18:00from when I first started here in Bend. The community itself, the business community, I should say, has already become more accepting of differences of sexualities, of different genders. I think a lot of that is because of Burlesque we really pushed ourselves into the business community here. Saying "hey, we're a real thing. This is important." I've already seen some of that change. Just for the fact that we have now talked to Tower Theater and they've been like "we can maybe do a show one day, if it was large enough." Whereas several years ago, it was not even a question if we wouldn't have been able to. You see that in the 00:19:00business community.

And then you really see it pushed the sexual community here and just sexual empowerment here, specifically through the LGBTQ+ community. One of our members, Deb Autrey, started in Bend Burlesque. She has now gone and created her own Drag Troupe, because it's through Bend Burlesque was able to come to terms and come to confidence of their gender and their sexuality and has now created a whole other troupe Drag-based troupe in Bend. It's like reaching out throughout Central Oregon, which is a huge LGBTQ+ outreach program, mainly for children. But we've seen all these branches just come out in the community and stuff, 00:20:00which is awesome to see.

LK: What other kinds of shows, or how are you developing your Burlesque career, now and or in the future?

DD: After being creative director of Bend Burlesque and helping out the community and the Burlesque community that way, I've just recently left. A couple other performers have joined up and we want to create another vision, another outlet for the community here. Especially 'cuz Bend is growing. It is large, there is plenty of room for more. We thought we'd rather someone that's 00:21:00inside this community already create a new troupe, as opposed to just an outsider coming in. I thought it would vibe a little bit better. We are in the works, very, very beginning works. We don't even have a name for the new troupe, so that is kind of the next thing for me. We've already talked about it being more than just Burlesque, but kind of taking it back to more how the Ziegfeld Follies worked. How they would have this giant production. Then they have a comedian come in or a singer come in. And, so it's creating more artistic opportunities for other fields in this area as well. That's kind of our next adventure, so we'll see how that goes.

LK: That sounds like a lot of producing work. So you started as a dancer and 00:22:00you're a licensed massage therapist. What about all the skill sets? The business savvy and entrepreneurial projects? How did you learn those, and can you talk about what that looks like?

DD: I have learned several different skill-sets throughout my life, most of them throughout my Burlesque career. Obviously dancing and teaching and choreography I just had already known before Burlesque. Then I've learned also... before Burlesque, I learned music editing, 'cuz as a choreographer that's a really amazing skill to have. I taught myself. I learned a lot and developed even more confidence through Burlesque music editing.

Costuming, I have learned through Burlesque, although I'm still trying to learn. 00:23:00I can't really sew on a sewing machine yet, not very well. That's a work in progress. There are definitely other artists in this town that can do that, so I'm able to rely on them.

I have learned that producing as well throughout my Burlesque career here in Bend. That was one of the amazing things that Bend Burlesque gave me the opportunity to do. I'm very grateful for that learning experience.

Then business-savvy wise, I also am an owner of a gym here in Bend. That's kind of more recent. That's my fiance's gym, but I've helped him expand and have been taking over all the back-behind-the-scenes stuff. That's been something I've 00:24:00been self-educating a ton about, on marketing and finances and everything of that sort. So it's kind of exciting knowing and feeling quite confident in those skills to now bring that into this new Burlesque adventure, as that is needed, for sure.

LK: We are in the middle of a pandemic here. How has the pandemic impacted your shows in the last year-and-a-half to two years?

DD: A lot! It has canceled some shows. We, in the community, have tried to keep shows going, even live shows, as long as we felt like [COVID] numbers were low enough and everything, of course. Because I do think keeping live shows is important for your artist. This is a form of payment for them. But obviously 00:25:00there's a lot of stipulations that come with that of keeping people safe and masks and limiting sizes. Of both sizes how many performers are in the show, but also the audience, and of the venue coordinating it, it's definitely a lot.

But we've been able to have a couple shows here and there throughout the last two years. We did try to do some online stuff, mostly through Patreon. That's hard. I don't...we didn't really get into it that well. It's really hard to get people to pay for online tickets of an online show, that's like a whole thing 00:26:00within itself.

Then a lot of troupes out there have done shows for free, hoping just to get tips in. But then tips didn't come in, so now you just asked all of your artists to create acts and perform for free, which is not something that we... We tried to, at the very beginning, but it was not very sustainable at all, so we just kind of have let that go and not dived into online performing. Those that did great in the wider Burlesque community, awesome! Props to you! That didn't work out so well here. This is a smaller community, so when we're not performing, we've just taking different breaks from everything as well.

That has been really helpful. I know me, personally, I would like to try to get better at sewing, through this. It's not going that great, but you just try and 00:27:00you learn and you adapt to things as they come.

LK: When you're putting together either a show or an act for yourself, what's the topic there in Bend around the topic of... sorry... What's the conversation around the topic of cultural appropriation?

DD: I don't know if there's particularly a conversation between people here in Bend. There definitely should be, but I don't haven't really been able to dive too much into that. Firstly, though cuz I don't think we've really seen, or I haven't really seen people, like appropriating things or wrongly appropriating things and and stuff. So the conversation hasn't needed to come up from the 00:28:00item. I think it's obvious that it should be had in the world.

Personally, I just like to try to have my own thoughts and ideas. I don't know, I wouldn't ever steal somebody's thoughts and ideas. Obviously if somebody, you know, a million people out there have done a balloon act. I don't think it's appropriating at that point. But if only one person has done this particular act or you know had a particular prop, like no matter who that person was, like I wouldn't personally use that because I feel l well that's their thing. Why would 00:29:00I take that away? That's just my personal view. I just try to be conscious of that. If I watch Burlesque online, I'm not going to immediately steal what I've seen.

I mean, culture in general, just being conscious of what you're doing and what's your intention for what you're doing. That's what I just think about as I create my own.

LK: What's your experience with diversity in Burlesque in Bend? When you're curating a show, or putting a show together, do you do outreach? How are you working around that topic?


DD: Bend is a very white, very white, or white-passing town. That certainly poses a challenge if you're trying to create a diverse troupe. I mean, give everybody opportunities. I mean we don't turn anybody away, mostly cuz we're really sought after between all these smaller bar venues and private gigs and stuff, so we just need more dancers regardless of who they are. We don't turn anybody away. We have not been that amazing at outreach. That was actually just a conversation I had this last month with several different people just in the Burlesque community of how can we...Obviously we're very white,and a lot of our troupe members are white. Why is that?


I know Bend's a white town, but there's still diversity in the town. Trying to figure out how we can reach out? Maybe people don't know about us? Maybe we kind of talked into that and we're trying to brainstorm different ways and different communities to reach out with them in Bend and within Central Oregon. That's something that's definitely going on.

And then as far as diversity in gender and sexuality: I mean I think we're pretty diversified in both sexuality and gender. Not quite as much but we're definitely trying to get more diversity in that. Like I said we don't turn anybody away, so it's just about trying to convince people that it's okay for 00:32:00every gender and every body to do Burlesque, which is probably a challenge when a lot of our bodies look similar from the outside.

LK: That sort of already answers my next question about challenges facing Burlesque. Final question, what would you wish that the general public would understand about Burlesque?

DD: I wish first off they would just understand what it is. I feel like anytime I'm like "oh, I'm a burlesque artist" they're like "oh what is Burlesque? I've never heard of it." Then I try to mention Cabaret artists or classy stripping or you know all these things but that's the first off. Then second off, I just wish 00:33:00the general public would really understand that everybody can do Burlesque. Just like my philosophy has always been like everybody can dance. You may not be this professional amazing, incredible good-looking dancer, like dancing really well. It might just be like this (snaps fingers) but that's still dancing and that's the same with Burlesque. Everybody can do Burlesque. It might not look the same as one person but it shouldn't be looking the same as one person. It should be looking like how you want it to look.

LK: All right. Thank you so much.

DD: Yeah thank you.