Jen Rae caught my attention in a recent newspaper article (which you can find here), but I wanted to know more. I’m pleased to say she graciously accepted my questions and responded with thoughtful and entertaining answers – which it is my pleasure and delight to share with you.
Q: HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN THE VAUDEVILLE STYLE?
My favorite vaudeville inspiration has to be Mae West. Not only was she glamorous, cheeky and engaging on the screen, she also did so much good work behind the scenes. She taught me about attitude and “going for it” when you are on the stage.
Buster Keaton is another favorite of mine. Physical comedy is difficult and he makes it look so graceful. He was richly talented, and taught me much about projecting my stage presence even without cracking a smile.
There is a recent trend to incorporate vaudeville style into bellydance. The routines contain comedy, Jazz Age-inspired costumes, and cheekiness using Balkan and Jazz music. The dancer Rachel Brice and her show Le Serpent Rouge incorporates many of these vaudeville stylings.
My modern inspirations include a bellydancer from Vancouver, British Columbia, by the name of Lava. She is the director of the troupe Sisters of Alchemy . She has a love of comedy, vaudeville and can-can dance that she incorporates into her choreographies and performances. She is a delight to watch, and like past vaudeville actors, Lava is graceful, has lots of stage presence and is down-to-earth, too!
The same troupe also performs work with props that could be described as vaudeville-style. One involves my corn snake, Lady, in a basket while I try and emulate my troupe mates who balance theirs perfectly. I open the basket to find a snake, and we work with different reactions to this situation. The audience seems to get a kick out of the absurd situation this supposedly dangerous animal was found in.
I have brought my snakes dancing and double sword balancing act onto the stage as part of a local band's act. The New Jacobin Club is a great group that has been very welcoming to my ideas. With them, I have explored the darker sides of vaudeville, more into the 1920s German Cabaret genre. I have an act where I smoke a long-handled cigarette and speak in German before bringing out the snake, the opposite of coquette. Not sure if this is classed as vaudeville, but it does garner the same reaction, and it is still over-the-top!
I also dance with my snakes in a solo act called “The Temptation of Eve.” In this story, I am dressed in a coquette outfit while acting out the interaction between Eve and the snake in the Garden of Eden. Eve eats the apple right away and dances with the snake, at first shocked at the moves he evokes in her! They are all friends at the end, and Eve leaves with the snake, leaving Adam in the lurch.
I adore modern vaudeville for the paradox between a dangerous object such as swords or snakes, and projecting some lightheartedness into the situation. Members of the audience approach my snakes after such a performance, wanting to touch him and ask great questions, or try to balance one of the swords. That open and curious interaction is important to me, and I think a direct result of the approachability of modern vaudeville dance. I find that people appear very entertained by this style of dance, and that's the reason I am on the stage!
Thank you, Jen Rae! Look for her on vaudeville bills near you!