When I mention that place I get a mix of sly smiles and warnings, as if it was still the dangerous rogue’s gallery of vagabonds that songs were written about. Deep Ellum is actually a derivative of “Deep Elm Street,” the area that it’s a part of in downtown Dallas, Texas. Make no mistake; it still is a rogues gallery of vagabonds, just not dangerous. These days it’s more food and art than rogue, when you know where to look. What some people fail to realize is that those people are my people! The people who don’t even make a cursory attempt at fitting in or being like everyone else, yet effortlessly find a way to enjoy each others company. I recently had to remind a friend “Normal doesn’t exist, it’s just a word that people use to scare each other into conformity.”
Deep Ellum is a place where we don’t just live out our differences and desire to be as far from mainstream as possible, we celebrate it! One of the things that Deep Ellum does is embrace those who express themselves differently. They welcome the street artists and graffiti artists to decorate the stones and pillars in the area to reflect their ideas on exactly what Deep Ellum is.
It’s also a place where great, legendary Jazz and Blues musicians played. Artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, and Bessie Smith played in Deep Ellum clubs like The Harlem and The Palace. At its height, it boasted nearly 60 bars and nightclubs!
When the economy in Deep Ellum dipped with the rest of the country, the locals, as well as the city, got behind several initiatives to revive the area. The projects combined a lot of the resources that they have to lift the area out of the gloom that had set in. It’s now on the upswing. I can personally tell you that after spending time walking the streets, sampling the Barbecue, and listening to the music that this cultural hotbed is a place you should visit during one of its festivals.
Daytime in Deep Ellum is perfect for family-friendly art, and reflections on subtle beauty. Sunset, however, is when the Nightbreed come out to play! It’s the time when we sew havoc, woe, and dismay under the bright lights as we take in all of the exotic beauty that Deep Ellum has to offer. When moonrise came I teamed up with my favorite Burlesque dancer, Chocolate Thunder!
I was there for a reunion between Chocolate Thunder and her long-time friend/sister in Burlesque, Black Mariah. Black Mariah is a multiple-award winning Burlesque dancer who develops routines, produces shows, and for seven years has designed and manufactured unique and high-quality custom fitted costumes and pasties through her company Fastenating Things. What earned Black Mariah her legions of adoring fans is the way she constructs her costumes and “peels” them away on stage. Her routines have a flow to them that makes her performances easy to enjoy. For part of our evening together they educated me on historical and contemporary Burlesque around the world, with Black Maria highlighting the culture of the local scene.
The costumes are all unique so I asked a few ladies how they kept their work from being copied. The secret isn’t in the appearance, it’s in the materials. Where they shop for their fabrics and jewels is a closely guarded secret. Every woman has her own unique supply that makes her sense of style come through. Quite a few base their looks on Bettie Paige, or the musical Cabaret. Those eras are rich with source material and ideas. We ventured out to visit a longstanding, well-known venue in Deep Ellum, Trees. Trees was hosting Broads & Panties, for there “Cassette Tease – 90’s Mixtape Burlesque”.
Little did I know that I’d have the pleasure of watching a performer who has a uniquely original flair to her Burlesque. The beautiful and talented Neo-Burlesque dancer, Passionata Fair! What makes Passionata different is that not only does she design and sew her own costumes; she pulls her inspiration from legends and fairy tales. She brings a vibrancy to the stage that’s both rare and unique. Add to that acting skills that have won her a British Academy Tony Award and you have what this astute connoisseur of Burlesque and beauty considered one of the premier talents performing today! I’m sincerely looking forward to seeing her on stage again soon. When I interviewed her she told me that all you need to get started is “A creative mind and the confidence on stage to show people you’re having a good time.” She went on to explain that “Burlesque is rooted in satire and the art of the tease, as opposed to just showing off what you’ve got.” From the wolf to the beauty queen, she can be any fantasy she wants to be. I’ve got the confidence and creativity, so I’m going to suggest she apply her magic to Othello, so I can perform onstage!
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