Interview with Jana Edele, Choreographer/Director/Creator of The Velvet Kittens of Le Cabaret Burlesque

You have been a dancer for your whole life, how did you transition from commercial and mainstream dance into burlesque?
I originally never intended to dance professionally, but somehow kept getting commercial and corporate work as a dancer and choreographer. These experiences became a great training ground as I moved into the new direction. And these experiences are also why I needed to move into a new direction. Working in a conservative market, we were restricted in costuming and certain types of movement. I had always been a fan of the glamor and sensationalism of the old Hollywood musicals. I also had fallen in love with stylized jazz, often what's experienced in Broadway musicals. But a hip roll too many or combined with a rib isolation were often frowned upon in these markets. As a choreographer it also became stifling being so limited in what combinations of movement were considered acceptable. I’ll always be grateful and appreciative for the experiences I had, and I was very lucky to work with some amazing people. But it was time to grow as an artist/choreographer, and also to take some risks instead living within a safe zone all the time.

Does burlesque require any special training?
This is a bit of a loaded question. I teach burlesque dance classes, and also jazz, ballet, and hip hop classes. My philosophy is that anyone can learn to dance, and everyone will improve in their own time, in their own way. In general any technically trained dancer with emphasis on jazz training can learn burlesque choreography pretty easily. Burlesque has also been transformed into so many definitions; it really depends on how you’re defining burlesque. If standing on a stage and taking off your clothes is your definition, then no, it doesn’t require any technical training. If you are referring to the beginnings of burlesque, which was a variety show of talented performers, then yes, it would require a lot of technical training, rehearsing, talent, and skill.

Who are your inspirations?
I am a big fan of old Hollywood musicals, and loved watching the comical vaudevillian aspects of earlier Hollywood movies. I also have also been inspired by the glamorous costumes and elaborate stage performance numbers.

For those of us unfamiliar with old Hollywood, could you tell us some specific movies or artists that have inspired you?
As a child I was particularly intrigued by the films involving Marilyn Monroe, and the sensuality that was explored and incorporated in the films. I also fell in love with the comical aspects of Some Like It Hot and Singing in the Rain. And like almost every dancer I know, with exposure to the Broadway musical "Cabaret," every dancer dreams of performing in a cabaret style show. Unfortunately, the word ‘cabaret’ now refers to a different type of venue. The choreography of Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, Jack Cole, and Luigi’s style of jazz dance technique have all been inspirational as well.

Were you inspired by any of the troupes or performers who are part of the neo-burlesque scene?
When I started the burlesque style of choreography and performing, I really was continuing to develop my own style as a choreographer. After performing a few numbers with students, I eventually was recommended for a choreographer position for a developing burlesque revue show in downtown Fort Worth, at that point I begun to study the history and origins of burlesque, and was definitely drawn to the earlier incarnations of burlesque and vaudeville. I already had my inspirations from my childhood to draw from; I really didn’t look too much into the other performers and troupes until rather recently.

Your name is the Velvet Kittens of Le Cabaret Burlesque, but sometimes you’re just the Velvet Kittens, what’s the difference?
When I originally began the Velvet Kittens, my aim was to start a show. I decided on Le Cabaret Burlesque as the name to encompass the entire variety show….which at times includes dancers, singers, comedians, actors, musicians, belly dancers, fire dancers, etc. As a choreographer, I wanted a separate name for the dancers so they could also progress as their own entity outside of the variety show.

What is the vibe of one of your full-length shows?
(Laughs) That’s a little hard for me to answer! I’m in the show! The vibe is hot and tiring. But seriously, my aim to provide a lost form of nightclub entertainment that combines the element of entertainment as an escape, like the escape you get from watching a movie or television show, as well as an artistic show using talented and trained performers.

Do you consider burlesque to be entertainment for men? Some people do.
I don’t consider burlesque to be entertainment for men, a lot of our biggest fans are women. Original burlesque shows were a naughtier version of vaudevillian shows. Burlesque had racier jokes and dancing; but still a show in general. At some point it slid to that definition, entertainment for men. In the competitiveness, some women would push the lines because it got them more exposure (and money) if something happened to fall out, or if they "forgot their undies." And eventually there was the fall in popularity of both the vaudeville and burlesque stage shows as forms of entertainment. Club owners could still pull in money with women taking their clothes off. This is what began the strip club circuit. Some performers are re-creating this. That’s never been my interest.

What makes the Velvet Kittens stand out from other burlesque troupes?
I definitely can say what I love about this troupe is that it's made up of these amazing ladies who all share the same vision of vaudevillian burlesque as me. We all grew up wanting to be up on the stage dancing in fishnets and heels to Mein Herr in “Cabaret.” We all wanted to dance and sing along the bar during Big Spender when we watched “Sweet Charity.” This is that opportunity. We’re all driven by the passion of performing. I think because our passion is also based on the art of dance, the movement and style and technique, we are involved in performing in the same way a ballerina performs Swan Lake. We’re playing a role…and in this role we’re wearing fishnets, heels, and lashes, performing stylized jazz dances to saucy songs. In addition, my cast consists of trained dancers. We have Kittens who have studied dance extensively, we have modern dancers, Russian-trained ballerinas and girls who have performed with award-winning dance teams. They are all very experienced. I also have to say that my cast is the most supportive and best-behaved cast yet. These girls are there for each other, and we never have any issues with the girls getting along and respecting each other.

So there are no cat fights in the Velvet Kittens?
(Laughs) Not with this cast. These girls really care for each other, and I think because we all share the same dream and all work really hard, we don't leave any room for drama.

What are the future plans for the VK?
Some things are better left a secret, but keep your eyes open….

What do you suggest to a woman who wants to join the Velvet Kittens?
Well, first I would tell them to make sure they are ready for the commitment. I've had this cast for almost a year now and any one of them can tell you how much work it takes.
The Velvet Kittens are a full time commitment with part time hours. Sometimes things get quite busy and you need to be passionate and committed enough that you can put the group first. All the Kittens are required to take dance classes outside of the group rehearsals (ballet, jazz, modern, etc). The most important thing that aspiring Kittens should do first is come see a show. This is the best way to understand what we do so that a potential Kitten can determine whether or not she is capable and willing to do the work.