“Spot”light on…Dot Mitzvah…Burly Q Goddess
I met the amazing and lovely Dot Mitzvah one year ago at this time. She is a practitioner of the beautiful, and often misunderstood, art of burlesque as well as an opera singer here in Connecticut. In addition, she holds a Master’s degree in Music Theater, is a wife, and is mother to young Tot. If she doesn’t exemplify the power of being a woman, I don’t know who does. I’ve had the privilege of watching Dot perform on many occasions at multiple venues and it’s always a treat. Her costumes range from 18th century ball attire complete with powdered wig to corset-wearing wolf to pretty circus performer and everything imaginable (or unimaginable) in between. She has this special blend of girl next door meets sex kitten meets spitfire rocker chick all rolled into one fabulous human being. And boy can she cuss! She is my burlesque girl crush.
lsg: As I was prepping for this conversation, I was looking back at pictures from the first time I met you and saw you perform. And that was exactly a year ago.
Dot: It was! It was at Sara’s (Lippgloss Crisis) birthday party (at Café 9).
lsg: Exactly. And there is a picture of you where you leaned right into my camera and looked right at me after you’d whipped off your powdered wig and you stuck your tongue out at me (completely rock n roll style!)
Dot: I remember that!
lsg: And all I could think at that moment in time was “OMG! I love her and I want to have her babies! I fucking lover her!”
Dot: And we can do that now in Connecticut!
lsg: That’s right. Isn’t it great that we live in this state?
lsg: First question. How and when did you decide that you wanted to perform burlesque?
Dot: I used to play roller derby with the Connecticut Roller Girls. This is back in like 2006-2007. There was a girl in the league who did this very neo-burlesque act. It was out there. And I watched her perform during a show that we were having and I thought “I could do that.” I looked at my husband and said “I could totally do that!” And he said “Sure you could.” So after that, I cajoled Polly Sonic, who’s a New Haven artist into taking a 4 week class at the New York School of Burlesque with Jo “Boobs” Weldon (school Headmistress). It was an essentials class so it was pretty much everything you need to know about burlesque. And then, at the end of that 4 weeks, I debuted at the Slipper Room in NYC and I’ve been in love with it ever since. That was in January of 2009 so I’ve been doing it for a little over 3 years.
lsg: How funny is that. I can’t even imagine that process of just going “Hey, I could do that (burlesque)!” and doing it.
Dot: That’s sort of how I live my life though. I used to play roller derby. I used to fly trapeze. I perform all the time. So, I’m just not afraid of jumping out there and saying “I can do that” and trying. And if I fail, I fail but if I find something I love, I just keep going with it.
lsg: And I think that’s why I love you so much. You’re inspirational that way. You’re just balls-out, just go! So you had 4 weeks of training?
Dot: Well, I’ve taken other classes since then. I take a lot of dance classes when I can. There is a whole wealth of classes you can take. It’s not just 4 weeks and go and just you’re at this high level. A lot of the stuff that I’ve learned along the way I’ve learned from wonderful performers. Also I think that having a theatrical and musical background helps me a lot because I can, I don’t want to sound like a diva, but I think I can command a stage. (lsg note: No. She REALLY does command a stage!) I never feel lost on a stage. There’s always something to do. So there’s a lot of other training that is outside of the classroom.
lsg: What inspires your performances? How do you come up with your routines?
Dot: That’s a good question. That’s a hard question, actually. I feel like there’s usually one thing. There’s either a costume piece I have or a song I have and I tend to think of burlesque performances with a beginning, middle, and an end. So I kind of plot a story line that goes with it. Sometimes I’ll do a show that has a specific theme. Like the Nerds show we do with Lippgloss Crisis or in April, I’m doing Bon Appetit Burlesque in Northampton and they’re doing a time travel theme. So sometimes I need to come up with an act to fit the theme but generally there’s just one element I build off of.
lsg: Do you have a favorite performance? And if so, what and why?
Dot: I don’t perform things I don’t like so I don’t know I feel like a mother choosing her favorite child! I’d probably have to say that my favorite act is the one I’m taking to London. It’s my first opera act. It’s “Glitter and Be Gay”. I feel like that’s something that people generally haven’t seen and I like doing things that are fresh and new to the audience.
lsg: That’s a great segue into my next question which is about your opera singing. You are an opera singer. Tell me about that. Was it burlesque first then opera or do you have the two loves?
Dot: It is opera first. It’s always been opera. I have my Bachelor’s degree in opera and my Master’s degree in musical theater. I’ve been singing all my life. My father was a singer. I’m a singer. I teach voice. So, I’m surrounded by that. And when I started performing burlesque, one of my long-term goals was to include opera in it because I like using all the tools in my bag. I was always so nervous about doing it because I thought “What if I fuck up? And what if I hit a terrible note? What if my corset doesn’t come off?” I mean, I have all the regular panic attacks that burlesque performers sometimes have about clothes coming off or not coming off. And then I have vocal technique, phrasing, and if I’m singing in another language, I’ve got to get the language right. Then I realize that you can straddle both worlds and its fine. Its fine if I fuck up a note because even if I fuck up something in a burlesque routine, no one is going to criticize you unless it’s a complete hot mess. It really just fit together so much better than I thought it would and the first time I did “Glitter and Be Gay” I thought, “This is what I should have been doing the whole time.”
lsg: You’re performing in SWAN Day CT for the first time.
Dot: I know! I’m getting my cherry busted!
lsg: Why are you involved and what does it mean to you?
Dot: Oh gosh. It’s huge. It means so much to me. It’s not just a gig. In my mind, burlesque is so empowering to women. A lot of people say “No, it’s stripping. There’s no power in that.” And burlesque is stripping; however, I choose what comes off when. I have an extremely wide palate of creativity. There is so much wonderful female empowerment in burlesque. So, how great it is to be part of SWAN Day which is all about women and celebrating women? So that’s wonderful and I’m really excited. I actually got into it because I did a show with Jennifer Hill (SWAN Day CT organizer) and…you were actually there! That’s the one where I lost my pasties and froze my ass! (lsg note: Yes. Yes, I was. Dot was performing a routine in her wolf costume. She spun around to remove her corset and, to the surprise of the entire audience – and herself! -, her pasties came off with the corset! Holy wardrobe malfunction!) That was a fun night! That was the night she and I met and she asked me if I would do it and I said “Of course! Thank you so much.”
lsg: You are competing in the World Burlesque Games in London! Woo Hoo! “Best Newbie” category. Holy Hell! How did that happen? That’s amazing!
Dot: One of the things that I love about burlesque is that you don’t really need to audition for things. You know, by word of mouth you get gigs and you network just like anything but you generally don’t have to make your video for things except for festivals. And I applied to a few different festivals and I saw the one in London and I thought “Well, hell. I’ll just submit my information. I’m not gonna get it.” Then all of a sudden, I got this email saying if you are receiving this email, you are a finalist in the World Burlesque Games. I almost shat myself! I couldn’t believe it. I had submitted the video of me doing “Be Glitter or Be Gay” and I guess they must have liked it!
lsg: I took a look at some of the places that are being represented and…Dude! New Haven, CT! Come on! You know obviously, I’m going to be rooting for you sister!
Dot: Well, thank you! We’re doing a quote unquote get Dot to London show on March 16th at Café 9. Lippgloss Crisis is producing the show. The host of the show is going to be Hors D’oeuvres who is the MC at Bon Appétit Burlesque. All of my favorite performers have said they will come and donate an act so I can actually get to London.
lsg: Gotta love Lippgloss for that. She’s just awesome!
Dot: That’s my girl. She’s such a good friend of mine.
lsg: Well, we’ll promote that show at LBR. We want to make sure you get what you need to get to London. You’re representin’ CT, girl!
Dot: New Haven in the house!!
lsg: If you could perform and have any band/musician in the world play live with you, who would it be and what song would it be?
Dot: It would definitely be The Tiger Lillies. I adore them and, I don’t know. They do so many crazy, dark cabaret songs. I’m not sure what song I would pick. They are my favorite and I love them. If we talked about something local, I love the band Bipolar Jukebox and I’ve actually talked with them about doing something together.
lsg: I like to end with a nonsense question. So, since it’s Valentine’s Day, and it’s our one year anniversary…
Dot: Aw. I love you!
lsg: I love you too!
Dot: Did you buy me a diamond?
lsg: I didn’t buy you a diamond but do you really need a diamond, honey?
Dot: For pasties!
lsg: HA! What is your favorite Valentine candy?
Dot: Favorite Valentine candy. I. Like. Chocolate. I like chocolate. I’m an easy kind of girl. Give me a box of chocolate. You know what I really like? It’s not Valentines-y but I really like them. Lindt makes a white chocolate truffle with crispies inside it. It’s not very romantic but it’s good.
lsg: Oh that sounds wonderful! Oooh yeah…
Sigh…Dot and chocolate all in one interview. Heaven.
Please join Dot Mitzvah and Lippgloss Crisis on March 16, 2012 at Café 9 in New Haven as Dot’s friends perform a benefit in her honor to help her get to London in May.
Dot’s performance that got her into the World Burlesque Games finals…