Two years ago, the woman who would become Elle Dorado was a professional figure skater from Long Island visiting New Orleans with her fiancé. They were walking on Decatur Street when a sign advertising “Bustout Burlesque” caught their attention, and she immediately bought tickets.
She watched the show and knew right away she had found her calling.
“It was the live jazz band, and the production quality is so wonderful; I was just totally enamored with it,” she said.
Two of the performers that night were Ruby Jewel and Coco Lectric and, as fate would have it, Dorado and her beau ran into the dancers on the street the next day.
“We struck up a conversation and became friends,” she said. They became such good friends, Dorado said, that Coco Lectric “ended up marrying my husband and me. She officiated at our wedding.”
“I got to the point where I said, ‘I love this (burlesque) so much, and if I don’t do it now, it’s never going to happen,’ ” Dorado recalled. Back on Long Island, she put together an act, videotaped it and posted it online. Bustout Burlesque founder Rick DeLaup saw the video and invited Dorado to perform in the monthly show.
“So, my second performance ever was with the company that I was hoping to get a spot with.” Dorado calls it “kismet.”
She moved to the city and in 2014 was crowned “Queen of Burlesque” at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival after performing what DeLaup called an impressive striptease in which she showed off her ice-skating skills.
At 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, at Harrah’s New Orleans, Dorado will pass her crown to one of eight women competing for this year’s title. The contest is just one of the highlights of the festival, which opens Thursday, Sept. 17, with a meet-and-greet party at Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street, where burlesque veteran Rita Alexander, the Champagne Girl, will hold court.
The rest of the festival features workshops, parties and shows with performers from the United States, Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand. In all, some 50 dancers will converge on the French Quarter for what DeLaup describes as a “pretty amazing” sight, with people all dressed up and strolling from one event to the next.
“There are at least 2,000 burlesque festivals around the world. Every year, one or two new ones pop up. I mean it’s just exploding. But the New Orleans Burlesque Festival is really considered one of the top and maybe even the second most known and respected festival, after the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas,” DeLaup said.
All of the festival activities are open to the public, with tickets available for the workshops and shows at NewOrleansBurlesqueFest.com.
At 2 p.m. Friday at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., Leslie Zemeckis will read, sign and discuss her new book, “Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr.”
At 5 p.m. Friday, the first workshop will be held at the AC Hotel New Orleans, 221 Carondelet St. “Belly Dance with Mad Shake Appeal” will be taught by Rasa Vitalia. Tickets are $30.
At 8 p.m. Friday, the “Queen of Burlesque” show at Harrah’s New Orleans will feature eight contestants vying for the title accompanied by a live jazz band. Elle Dorado will perform, as well. Tickets are $48 and $53.
At 11 p.m., the newly crowned queen will preside over the “Queen’s Ball” at the House of Blues with burlesque performances in her honor. General admission is $22; limited reserved seating, $37; table seats sold in pairs only, $52; balcony seating is also $52.
At noon Saturday at the AC Hotel, Ginger Valentine will conduct a workshop titled “Floor Play” and tickets are $30. At 1 p.m., Missy Lisa holds a “Twerkshop” and tickets are $45. At 3 p.m., Rockwell De Vil conducts a “Pin-Up Styling” workshop, with tickets going for $45. The last workshop of the day is at 4:30 p.m. Tickets for “Jim Thornton’s Jazz for Burlesque” class by James G. Thornton are $30.
The Saturday night show, “Mondo Burlesque,” is at Harrah’s New Orleans at 8 p.m. and will feature performances “that have driven audiences wild at clubs and theaters around the world.” Tickets are $32 and $38.
At 11 p.m. Saturday, the fest moves back to the House of Blues for “Bad Girls of Burlesque,” described as “a rowdy, standing-room-only show.” General admission is $22; limited reserved seating, $37; table seating, $52; and balcony seating, $52.
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Hazel Honeysuckle conducts a “Pastie Pops” workshop at the AC Hotel for $30.
From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, a “Closing Tiki Party” will be thrown at Tiki Tolteca, the upstairs bar at Felipe’s Taqueria, 310 N. Peters St. Tropical attire is encouraged, and the party will showcase local and international burlesque dancers.