Return of the DIY Showgirl.
Wandering into The Shanghai Pearl’s downtown workspace/loft apartment is a bit like stepping into an exotic den of fanciful things, a glamorous costume museum-cum-workspace. In fact, it’s exactly like that- every surface, shelf, and ceiling-high hanger as you cross the threshold’s stone floors is festooned with beautiful objects either fully formed or in process. The indelible impression is that the visitor is a fortunate guest where showgirl fineries rest in their “off” time. Impossibly long, curlicued eyelashes made of feathery tendrils wink demurely from a perch. Multicolored pasties twinkle in a tiered dish, their tassels curled demurely around tiny Swarovski points. Bejeweled heels and taffeta skirts peek from cabinets and hangers. A dress form proudly displays an elaborate “barely there” gown of what appears to be nothing but beading and tiny strips of black trim. (Shanghai tells me later it’s actually made of beads, twill, satin, glue, and “showgirl math”). The room is a wonderland of detail one could easily get lost in, but there’s a definite air of organization and neatness to The Shanghai’s Pearl’s loft. You get the impression if one single rhinestone was misplaced, a preternatural instinct would kick in and she would know it.
Being exceedingly crafty is one of Shanghai’s natural talents, one especially suited to her full time pursuits of teaching and performing. In addition to being a lead Burlesque 101 instructor at Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque, Shanghai often teaches one-off classes such as the popular “How to Strip for Your Lover”. She is frequently booked in cities like San Francisco and Boston, and whenever possible she sets up mobile workshops under her burlesque craft class moniker “DIY Showgirl”. February and March saw the local return of these classes as a three-part series: For Your Eyes Only: Create Your Own Custom Eyelashes, Be More Naked! (or, Merkins 101), and the final class Headdresses, Fascinators, and YOU! takes place Saturday, April 14 in Seattle. It’s just been confirmed that due to increased demand, Shanghai’s eyelash and merkin classes will repeat in similar form in May.
While instructing me in the fine art of feather-curling, Shanghai chatted about her latest adventures (such as Orlando’s annual Nude Nights) and her hands-on approach to artistry. She recalls being compelled to make pretty things as far back as she can remember. Primarily interested in painting, she wanted to be an artist before discovering burlesque. “What’s really interesting about burlesque is that we’re always playing with inaccessibility and accessibility, but also, the knowledge to do it is accessible,” she says. “People were always asking me about merkins, and lately I’ve had a lot of questions about my eyelashes and headdresses and things…I decided to offer them in a series because I feel like it’s really empowering to make your own stuff. That’s what’s so amazing about burlesque, we’re telling our own stories, and it’s amazing when we get to make it all.”
Dreaming up and executing her own ornamentation was a creative compulsion as much as it was an obvious choice given availability and finances. (If you can’t afford or find that insanely detailed headdress you imagine, why not make it?) Always inquisitive and eager to soak up knowledge, Shanghai honed her craftsmanship skills with Lindsey Cunningham of Spotlight Fashions and from her time interning with Catherine D’Lish. These days, Shanghai relishes the opportunity to impart some of her hard-won showgirl tricks through the DIY series. Though she’s hosted larger workshops at BurlyCon, she says she prefers to keep the class size smaller- more like guided craft nights. People with absolutely no knowledge can sign up or students can bring in projects they are working on for tips or a little brainstorming.
And for those who don’t know…what exactly IS a fascinator? Shanghai tell me that it’s basically a tiny hair ornament, or as she puts it: “a doohickey you wear on your head.”
Here are the details on the next three classes in the DIY Showgirl Series:
April 14th: Headdresses, Fascinators, and YOU!
May 5th: For Your Eyes Only! (Learn how to create your own custom eyelashes)
May 19th: Naked City (Make your own g-string, plus tips on making and wearing a merkin)
Please visit diyshowgirl.eventbrite.com for more information.
As for The Shanghai Pearl, next she is headed to Colorado to perform and teach at the end of March; in April she will bring her classes to Tease-O-Rama in San Francisco and to the Great Boston Burlesque Expo.