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Remembering Ricci Cortez

I’ve been thinking a lot about legends lately, especially since I’ve been working hard on the 2011 Legends Challenge for Burlesque Hall of Fame. I’m so thrilled with the response to this campaign, with 14 benefits happening all over North America! I love seeing the burlesque community band together to ensure their elders can be honored at this annual event.

Some of the most profound and moving moments I’ve experienced have been watching legends perform at BHOF. I dug up this remembrance of Ricci Cortez that I posted in 2008 when she died:

Ricci Cortez, a living legend of burlesque, has died.

Ricci was a firecracker of a Texas broad, and I was lucky enough to see her perform once. I will never, ever forget witnessing her completely off-the-cuff performance at Exotic World in 2005, the last year it was held in the Helendale, in the middle of the desert.

I was sitting in the very front row of the makeshift foot-high stage, in a beige and pedestrian cramped hotel conference room, filled to the bursting point with neo-burlesque starlets and vintage vixens. It was nine million degrees, we were packed in there like sardines, and I kept popping out of my backless dress, with my bare legs folded up underneath me and my red glitter toes tucked under the lip of the stage. I was crammed in between Nadine Dubois & Sexy Mark Brown when Ricci was convinced to get up there and do a completely impromptu performance.

She was wearing a simple black pantsuit with silver accents — no costume, no pasties, no boa, no rehearsal. She got up there and worked the fuck out of Night Train, and just knocked everyone’s socks off in the entire room, playfully switching back and forth from coquettish faux-shy to flat out freakin’ RAUNCHY. An audience comprised mostly of men & women her grandchildren’s age where literally screaming their voices raw as she worked the stage. I can still see, clear as day, her bright cherry red pout — contrasting against her ultra-bronzed skin — and her hugely expressive eyes, as she leaned over, mere inches from me, and made the most innocent yet totally lascivious gesture towards my friend Mark, who then turned three shades of beet red.

It’s definitely stands out as one of the most striking and poignant performances I’ve ever witnessed, since it just goes to show: you can stick $2,000 worth of rhinestones to your costume, you can hire a professional choreographer and scads of backup dancers, you can spend thousands of dollars on big flashy props, you can plan and plot and obsess over every last minutiae of your routine, but when it comes right fucking down to it…

…a real professional can just get up there, on the fly, at 80 years old in her pantsuit, and knock everyone’s fucking jaws down to the floor, armed only with her humor, style and panache.

ricci cortez

Click for Ricci’s performance in Helendale, 2005

Click for Miss Indigo Blue’s amazing tribute to Ricci, performed at BHOF 2010.

–Sparkly Devil, Blood, Sweat & Glitter, 04.09.11


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Burlesque Hall of Fame