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Behind The Garter Belt: Melody Mangler by Tanya Cheex

I met Melody Mangler years ago at the very first Vancouver Burlesque Fest and I was immediately taken by her fireball style and sexy yet comedic approach to performance. I wasnt’t the only one noticing as The Burlesque Hall Of Fame awarded her “Best Debut” in 2009 for her breathtakingly beautiful Venus act. The 4th Annual Toronto Burlesque Festival is very excited in having her headline this year on the Saturday night Gala. –Tanya Cheex

1. What is the importance of costuming to the burlesque performance.? Do you come up with the act or the costume first?
Costumes are an essential part of Burlesque. The costume can set the character and mood of a particular piece and can inspire fantasy and draw an audience into the world the performer creates. Costumes are a burlesquer’s dance partner. For me, I create numbers from many different start points but the costume is always one of the first elements.

2. When did you realize that your costumes had to be custom made and not off the rack?
I made the very first costume I ever danced in. I don’t think I ever danced in something that wasn’t either vintage, altered or made especially for the performance. I think it’s very important for every act to be unique and it can be challenging to do that with an off the rack outfit.

3.What inspirations do you draw from?
I draw inspirations from a lot of places – old musicals, John Waters films, classic Burlesque – generally anything really camp or really gaudy..

4. Do you get inspired from vintage burlesque photography, movies or performers?
Absolutely. I am just in love with panel skirts and soft bras right now. I also love all the wacky and strange costumes from the Ziegfeld girls.

5.What are your favourite costumes that you’ve made? What was the most challenging?
I love my serpentine cape that I debuted recently in Vegas, it is so fun to go “swish”! One of my most challenging was a Victorian dress with giant side bustles for a vampire number. The bustles were constructed so that I could hide girls in them. The girls would creep along with the dress and emerge part way though the number.

6. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while making something?
I can’t say that anything particularly funny has happened while making costumes, but I have gotten into a lot odd and sometime ridiculous conversations while sewing on film sets.

7. What materials do you get the most excited about working with?
Tulle!! And stretch sequin fabric.

8. Explain the importance of closures and fastenings on costumes for the burlesque artist?
I find that the closure you use will set a tempo for your dance. If you want to glide, use a long zipper. If you want to bang your head, use snap tape..

9. What was your most bizarre costume?
I made a 30ft penis and balls that got puppeteer like a Chinese dragon. We went through the whole crowd and then ejaculated seven dance ribbon sperm girls.

10.What tips can you offer those who aren’t crafty?
Don’t be scared to try. I didn’t know anything when I started but with help from my husband and others I have been able to figure out a lot. If you don’t have the time commission a local burlesque dancer or designer to make your costumes, or even just hire them to help you. They’ll appreciate the work!

11. If you had an unlimited budget what would you make? The sky’s the limit!
A huge ballroom gown that when uncovered and flipped inside out would turn into a giant chandelier that would attached to the ceiling and I could swing inside of. That has been my dream for years!

12.There’s a recent insider controversy about how many Swarovskis one can put on a costume. 
I say the skies the limit but no matter how many crystals you use, it’s still you up on that stage that has to have an act to go with them.

13.What batteries fuel an outfit? (eg. Charisma, smile, non tangible thing)
I feel making the outfit dance with you. Really using your costumes potential and finding interesting and surprising ways of taking things off. I’m a big fan of making my costumes so that they turn into surprising things.

14. Where can we learn to make our own costumes- what workshops do you offer?
I offer ‘Craft Time with Melody Mangler’ on occasion when I have the time. I go over fun things like , making mini top hats, tulle boas, feather curling and shaping, making your own applique’s and many other fun projects that will help spruce up your wardrobe.

Any other info I should include?
I will be bringing booty shorts and my hand stitched pasties to the Toronto Burlesque Festival, and I am taking custom orders if anybody wants anything made specially for them.

–Tanya Cheex, Rhinestones & Whiskey, 07.12.11
Photos may not be used without permission.

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Burlesque Hall of Fame