Indigo Blue
Indigo Blue BETTINA MAY

The last two years have been weird for burlesque instructor Indigo Blue, which I'm sure you can relate to.

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“It’s been a complete change in identity, and action, and being for me,” says the founder of Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque. Opened in 2003, the school taught students the basics of teasing an audience, of dance, and of saucy feathered-fan waving — but the pressures of the pandemic forced classes to move online. That proved exhausting, Blue says, especially when coupled with chaos both public and personal.

The 2020 cultural uprising that followed the killing of George Floyd prompted a wide re-examination of priorities in the burlesque community, Blue says: “I think of burlesque as a freaky subculture, like master gardeners or belly dancers or people who do fencing, [but] one of the things about ours is that it’s also an industry, an economy as well as a culture.”

In other words, the business of burlesque isn’t what it once was. Maybe, when the dust settles, it’ll be something better.

For the last two years, lockdowns have made it difficult for Blue to perform — especially via Zoom. “A lot of people did incredible, powerful performances online,” she says, “but I really found myself not being that particular type of human. I’m very driven by audience interaction.” (She returns to the stage in 2022 with Bohemia at The Triple Door, where she plays Sarah Bernhardt.)

Blue's educational work has transformed as well. For nearly two decades, her school helped newcomers launch their burlesque careers, but she says, “I think my time in walking students through those initiating steps is complete.” The Academy is now online only, with no plans to reopen in person in Seattle.

Her focus these days is on supporting her fellow educators with a group called The Teacher’s Lounge, where burlesque educators around the world learn from each other — and from Blue’s expertise. How should burlesque teachers handle deductions? Which class registration systems allow content that some perceive as adult? How can teachers secure business loans?

DC-based Headmistress of the Ellington Academy of Burlesque, which focuses on increasing Burlesque opportunities for marginalized individuals.
DC-based Headmistress of the Ellington Academy of Burlesque, which focuses on increasing Burlesque opportunities for marginalized individuals.

“There’s no formula for us,” Blue says, noting that many government programs to help struggling workers and businesses failed to support people in her industry. When lockdown first began, she saw that the instructors at her school, most of them gig workers, had difficulty securing unemployment insurance; though she applied for every loan she could, the amount she received through the PPP barely covered a third of a month’s expenses.

“For the hours that it took me to go through the paperwork,” she says, “I received only like a couple thousand dollars from the PPP. It just wasn’t enough, and that’s why we had to shut the doors.”

The past two years of working from home, and reflecting on the cultural shifts in burlesque, and the general turmoil of the world have refocused Blue on where she feels she can do the most good — supporting diverse burlesque educators, helping them to be better teachers while building businesses that will (hopefully) be recession-proof.

“I’m really concerned about the kind of support there is or isn’t for educators of color to actually teach,” she says, “to get business loans, to build a business without loans.

She’s excited by performers who are newer to the scene, like Academy of Burlesque Graduate Mx. Pucks A Plenty, co-producer of the What the Funk festival and co-founder of the Curve Collective Cabaret, a group that describes itself as “an all Black and FAT collective featuring burlesque, drag, singing, comedy and poetry.”

Blue’s confident that as burlesque shows rise again in Seattle, it’ll be a stronger, more welcoming, more diverse scene than ever.

“I would like to support whoever is excited about coming forward with learning opportunities locally,” she says. “It’s time for me to turn into Auntie Indigo, Aunty Indi, and help whoever’s going to be next. If they want it.”

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