Five Things: Cait Weiss, Former Burlesque ‘Stage Kitten’ and Present-Day Poet and New Orleans Aficionado

{ New Orleans Burlesque Dancer Bella Blue | Image by Stephen LaMarche }

Kendrick has a huge, huge thing for New Orleans, and looked like he was going to cry when I explained to him that adding a stop in the city to our cross-country road trip last summer was going to mean many, many extra hours in the car with our children. Like, too many. But in exchange for his flexibility on this point, I promised him that we’ll make a trip there in the near future – which is a promise I’m fully okay with making, because last time I went (years and years ago, with my dad), there were oyster shooters and lots and lots of those romantic hanging trees that you see everywhere in the south, and both of those things are things that I enjoy very much.

So in preparation for this trip that we will one day go on – and because some of you might also be interested in some tips on what to do in the area – I thought I’d ask a friend who’s something of an expert on the area, Cait Weiss, about her five local must-dos. Cait is a former burlesque “stage kitten” (who wrote a hell of an article on the subject) and present-day poet (you can find recent examples of her work here and here), and her suggestions have me wanting to hop a plane and go drink Sazeracs while sitting on a carousel. Like, today. (I also asked her to give me five burlesque-related must-haves, and her suggestions include the most amazing lightbulbs ever and boob tape. Love.)

New Orleans 1940s showgirls getting ready backstage

{ New Orleans Showgirls Backstage | 1940s | Image via }

CAIT WEISS: My Top Five New Orleans Must-Dos That Area Not Mardi Gras (Because Older, Wiser, These Boobs Do Not Have Time For That Madness) 

(1) Walk/Dance A Second Line

These brass band traveling street parties (schedule here) are open to anyone willing to have a good time in honor of those that died. Think of them as a funeral without a casket: just New Orleans jazz, celebration and the occasional bejeweled umbrella twirling against sky. I can’t recommend joining one of these enough. Just remember you’re a guest welcomed, for as long as you can dance along, into a thriving, real-life community remembering those who’ve passed.

(2) Take A Ride at the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone

Now, I don’t drink (anymore – and thank goodness for it) but even I will hop on the horse at Carousel Bar to enjoy a Shirley Temple. After all, you’re actually riding a carousel the whole time you’re there. If you do imbibe that liquid courage, I recommend a Sazerac, the soul cocktail for New Orleans – just don’t overdo it, as the spins come part and parcel with this whirling, twirling place. Also, tip well. Some of the best people I know are bartenders in NOLA, and, considering some of the party people they deal with nightly, they deserve ten cents to every penny they get.

(3) Drop by a Neighborhood Stories Project Reading

This project is close to my heart, having worked with a sister organization, New York Writers’ Coalition, back in my Brooklyn days. From Benefit Concerts to photo exhibits to readings to (if you get really lucky) neighborhood tours, NSP4 is a non-profit based in New Orleans, run by New Orleanians, providing storytelling opportunities to New Orleanians, especially those most barricaded from traditional publication opportunities. Go, go, go, go, go to whatever they’re doing when you’re in town. There’s nothing like hearing about New Orleans from New Orleanians.

(4) Get Vegan Po’Boys and Beignets at Seed 

Refusing to eat animal now and then (or always) is one way we can lower our environmental impact, and New Orleans is as fitting a place as any to think about smarter ways to use this planet’s resources. Also: these faux po’boys and fake beignets taste good.

(5) Take a drive out to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

My grandmother bought a house just outside of here when I was a kid and we’d come visit in the summer (whoever thought that was a good idea was insane). While August’s humidity clogged our brains with wet heat, I still remember Bay St. Louis as shabby-chic beautiful: full of banana trees, seashells and almost offensively engorged flowers. You can take swamp tours, drive across the very long and very skinny Bay St. Louis bridge, or just gather material for your next novel by talking with locals every chance you get. Bay St. Louis also makes the effects of Katrina palpable: a large swath of town was swept away, and in its place is rippled sand. There’s a lot of life to contemplate out here. Bring a journal or iPad, just start writing and see what blooms.

And just because Cait is super cool and I find her personally fascinating, I asked her to give me five musts for any burlesque dancer (or lover).

Black and white lineup of burlesque dancers


{ Image via }

Cait Weiss’ Five Must Haves For Your Own Personal Burlesque Moment

As my essay “Burlesque” explores, I think most writing comes down to the same basics as a strip-tease: show a little here, hide a little there, keep the readers eyes glued to the page/stage. Since you don’t need much to write (for me: my old MacBook, a coffeeshop, time), I’ll focus on what you’ll need to bump n’ grind.

(1) Good Music

There is just no getting around this. I’d prefer live, but if that’s not gonna happen (who needs a third wheel in the fan dance you’ve planned for your beloved — or a second wheel in the Dance of the Seven Veils you’ve planned for yourself), Google Play has a burlesque channel just for you. If you’re looking to play one song again and again until you’ve got that glove off just right, though, iTunes is the way to go. Let me suggest Come-On-A-My-House performed by Rosemary Clooney or Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes performed by Josephine Baker as a good place to start.

(2) Boob Tape

You can certainly write a poem without boob tape, but you cannot (at least I would not) shake it til you make it without this.

(3) Flattering Lighting 

This will make everyone happier, regardless of how clothed you are. From the golden flicker of an Edison bulb to the soft caress of a pink bulb, here’s the haps, stage kittens & hep cats: go with these bulbs for Edisons and these for rosies.

(4) Top-Notch Texts

I had the best time this past summer reading nothing but noir. I highly recommend dipping head to toe into genre fiction, whatever your pleasure. If your taste runs dark and steamy, pick up a copy of my favorites, Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain* and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. For poetry ripe with sex (though less noir than crimson), I fell hard for Jan Beatty’s “Red Sugar.”

(5) Fragrance, Whether Real Or Bottled

I don’t care if you’re Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Lili St. Cyr, you deserve to smell flowers every day if you want to. Even on days when I’m in a sweatshirt** and yoga pants (which is, as a writer/human-who-just-really-loves-sweatshirts-and-yoga-pants, everyday), I smell like I’m about to throw my last string of pearls out of a bathtub-sized champagne glass. Tom Ford Black Orchid, all day, everyday: Or you could go classic basic bitch bombshell with Chanel No. 5.

And for a smell no one could forget (my mom started wearing it because her father’s mistress left it lingering whenever she came and went), for good or for bad, there’s Fracas.

*This adventure was highly problematic from a race, gender, sexuality, and criminality perspective, so please use your enlightened 21st-century interrogation and disruption-of-unquestioned-narratives-and-hegemony skills throughout.

**Shameless glam | camp promotion. Thank you Cait.

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