Real Life

Real life: My life as a burlesque star!

Behind the masks, we were all hiding shocking secrets.

By Mitchell Jordan

Velvet Amour, 69, Brisbane, Qld shares her true life story:

Slamming my foot down hard on the brake, I screamed in terror as the car skidded off the road.
This is it, I thought, realising the brakes weren't working.
Crash! I slammed into a pole. Next thing I knew, I was in hospital.
"You're lucky to be alive," the doctor said, explaining that I'd come out of the car crash with nothing but bruises and a nasty cut that had almost sliced off my right thumb.
But a week later, I felt nauseous and weak, so I went back to the doctor.
I had a gangrene infection in my hand.
"It needs to be amputated," the doctor insisted.
"Over my dead body!" I snapped.
I was 21 and had my whole life ahead of me.
This was not going to happen.
I found a specialist who could clean the infection without losing my arm.
It was a great relief, but it meant my right arm had to remain in a sling for months while I recovered.
The pain and discomfort made it impossible to continue my job as a cook.
Before long, I was living in a caravan, unable to afford more than a tin of baked beans for tea.
I'd always been an optimist, so to cheer myself up I visited the local hotel where a band was playing.
The sound of live music brightened my spirits immediately.
Springing to my feet, I started to dance to the rhythm.
It was limiting not being able to use one of my arms, but it beat being stuck in a caravan.
"I love the way you move," a voice said out of nowhere.
Squinting in surprise, I realised it was my old boss, Barbara, from the fish and chip shop I'd worked at as a teenager.
She explained she'd just bought a new nightclub in Albany, and wanted me to dance on opening night.
"You're joking!" I cried.
Couldn't she see I had one arm in a sling?
During a professional photo shoot in 1978.
"I'll pay you $20 to do a 10-minute show," she said.
Realising she was serious, I spent the next two weeks developing a performance in my mind.
In that time, my arm healed enough to remove the sling.
It was like being set free from a cage.
I tore down the green chiffon curtains covering the caravan windows and sewed them into veils that I'd attach to my arms to give me a mythical appearance, and covered my bikini in sparkly diamantes.
On opening night, the 200-odd punters all packed into the room and fell silent as Barbara took to the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest," she began, introducing me.
The room went dark and jungle-themed music began playing.
A spotlight flashed suddenly onto the large cane basket I was hiding inside.
Slithering upwards from the basket, I raised my hands in the air seductively and swayed my hips, dancing like I was a snake.
I didn't let on, but glimpsing the enthralled look on the crowd's faces sent a shiver of pure excitement down my spine.
Applause echoed throughout the whole room when I finished.
"Knew you could do it," Barbara grinned, handing me the cash.
No more baked beans for me! I could finally afford to eat properly.
My dance was such a hit that I started performing each weekend.
I'd just come off stage one night when Barbara came over and grabbed me.
"Someone wants to meet you," she said, motioning to an older man who looked like Santa Claus with his plump body and flowing white beard.
"I'm Don," he said, shaking my hand. "But everyone calls me Big Daddy."
Don ran a club called La Riviera in Perth, almost five hours away.
"I watched you dance, and I liked what I saw," he said, offering me a regular job on the spot.
I started dancing there straight away.
But La Riviera was a different type of club, specialising in seductive burlesque dancing, which required me to go topless.
I saw it as a challenge and learnt the art from the four other dancers, who became like sisters to me.
On stage in the Perth nightclub in 1976.
Each night, I'd dance solo in the rich, red room full of chandeliers and lanterns.
With feathered headpieces and tassels attached to my body, I felt proud of myself – and it showed.
Managers from clubs in Brisbane and Melbourne all fought for me to work at their joints.
I made my way around the country, earning $1000 a week, and later learnt to sing so I could perform cabaret shows as well.
As my first investment, I bought a sports car, making sure the brakes worked fine before I took it for a test drive!
From 24, I was known as Australia's Queen of Burlesque, and later, Miss Body Beautiful and Miss Nude Australia, Queensland.
Men were always quick to compliment me.
"You're beautiful," they drooled, offering to take me out.
I had relationships with some of them, but none wanted me to continue dancing.
"I'm not giving up what I love best!" I told them assertively.
The clubs were my home, and the other dancers my extended family.
One stunning blonde, Brandy, and I grew very close.
She was a master of the moves and a crowd favourite.
But one day I arrived at work to sad, stunned faces.
"She's dead," one of the girls wept.
Brandy, 22, had shot herself in her lonely apartment, leaving behind a note which read: "I can't go on."
Her death shattered me.
On stage, I smiled and tried to pretend she was still alive.
After all, the show had to continue, but I ached for Brandy.
I witnessed other girls lose their lives to drugs and alcohol, too.
For many of them, performing was a way to forget about their pain.
Determined not to fall into that trap, I danced in Egypt, Japan and Hong Kong to great success.
Me now with my book, My Bare Lady.
"Get off, grandma!" one man cried.
That can never be me, I promised myself.
So when I reached my forties, I decided to call it a day.
I wanted to bow out gracefully while I still had youth on my side.
Now I do belly-dancing and have published a memoir called My Bare Lady.
My time as a burlesque dancer gave me a truly exciting life, and I'm so glad I followed my heart.
I loved being on the stage and the freedom it gave me to be myself.

read more from