An Interview With L’il Dutch

When I first returned to DC “from abroad” in 2009 one of the powerhouses in the local burlesque scene was Li’l Dutch. Besides being an inventive and super fun performer (I laughed until I cried when I saw her do a number dressed as a ballerina to The Blue Danube Waltz). She also booked the Palace of Wonders, and with Rev. Valentine created the Capital Tassels ‘n’ Tease workshops that gave many of DC’s major burlesque performers their start. She’s been on hiatus for a while but is making her much-longed for and anticipated comeback this Saturday to host Valentine Candy Variety presents: Tiki Tantrum!  I got to chat with Li’l Dutch recently about what she’s been doing on her time off and what she’s currently working on.

Tiki Tantrum poster

Lucrezia: When and why did you get started in burlesque?

Oh wow, I guess in 2006. And why? Because I always liked it and after my mom passed away in 2005, at a young age of 58, I sort of created a bucket list and that was on it. I told myself I’d try it and if I liked it – awesome, but if not – then at least I tried.

You took a break from performing for a while. Why?

Yes, honestly, I got burned out. I needed to focus on my day job because that’s what keeps the lights on, and I had my son!

And now you’re back!

Yes but in a different respect – I won’t be dancing but MC’ing, which I’m honored to do and can only hope I present the performers as well as they need to be. It may be for this one time or maybe once a month, who knows?! I’m excited to work with and see so many friends again and meet new friends too!

And this show is Tiki-themed, which is near and dear to you…

Of course! I’ve been a collector of Tiki for almost 20 years and have been involved with the East Coast’s largest Tiki event, The Hukilau, for almost 10 years, as well. I love it! It’s mid-century escapism at its finest.

What is The Hukilau and what is your involvement?

The Hukilau is a fabulous “convention” if you will, of Tiki pop culture and all things Hawaiiana, held in Ft. Lauderdale, which is where The Mai Kai is – the country’s oldest and most revered Tiki palace. I was co-organizer for about four years and this year I’m returning to the event as vendor coordinator. We typically have anywhere from 400 – 800 attendees.

Is there entertainment there as well?

Absolutely, a few years ago even Angie Pontani and Murray Hill were there. Lots of stuff and exotica music, Los Straightjackets have performed and Rev. and Candy were their go go dancers! Lot and lots of band from the states and even Europe and Japan. Burlesque, vending, seminars, fashion shows, mermaid swims…

Mermaid swims?!!? I want to do that!!!

YES! Marina the Mermaid and her school of mermaids. There’s a hotel bar that sill has the portals that look into the swimming pool. One year we booked Trixie and Monkey and he dove down and looked at everyone in the bar… with full monkey suit on!

Do you think your love of Tiki culture influenced your decision to do burlesque?

I think it’s just really a love of mid-century culture all around. We also collect the furniture, clothing, art, etc. I grew up with my grandparents still having mid-century furnishings and party culture as much of their regular lives, so I guess I get it honestly.

Capital Tassels poster

There’s been a lot of discussion of the history of the DC burlesque scene lately. When did you and Rev. start The Capital Tassels ‘n’ Tease workshops and showcases?

It was maybe in 2011? We just knew there was a need/desire for it. At the time I was also booking The Palace/Red Palace so it was a really good fit for some week nights that really gave people opportunity and brought in a lot of business too. The workshops were super fun. I absolutely LOVE helping people try something new and especially when it helps them realize how awesome they are.

What a great philosophy! What makes a good burlesque act?

If you can see the person’s character in it. And I don’t mean “character” like how their costume is designed but see a real person in there somewhere under all the fringe and fishnets. If people can’t relate to the performer in some way and that wall isn’t broken I think it comes across as flat. So in my case when I was performing I like to use music people could relate to, humor gags as “mistakes”, anything that would make the audience forget about everything else around them and in their lives for even just a second and become immersed in the experience. We’re all so busy and have so much stress, even 5 seconds is good for a laugh or a wow. I think as long as someone puts their heart into something and isn’t a phone-in the audience recognizes it. It’s easy as a performer to forget how smart your audiences are and it’s so important to always remember that perspective. So for the March show I’ve been watching a lot of Liberace intros to his shows – although I don’t have a Scott Thornton to drive me out in a Rolls and won’t have a mink coat on.

Candelabra?

The club would probably frown on that unless they were battery-powered candles.

When was your last show?

I think it was April 11 – it was a Capital Tassels ‘n’ Tease. I know and I did this cool number where I turned my costume into a classic Playboy Bunny uniform and it was to a jazz version of “The Bunny Hop.”

Do you think the scene has changed since then?

Honestly I wouldn’t know! My son is really my main focus now so I’ve tried to keep in touch, even peripherally, but you know… I LOVE LOVE being a parent more than I ever imagined I would. It’s really the most amazing thing I’ve done. Although of course I miss fake eyelashes and rhinestones once in a while. I’m super thankful Rev. and Candy asked me to do this. Let’s face it – I’m a suburban mom now and I drive a mini-van and LOVE it! Seriously, it’s amazeballs! So the thing is I love where I am now, but of course I miss the flash/trash of burlesque shows. I watched Drag Race all through my maternity leave and ever since then religiously so I can only hope some rubbed off.

You were involved in getting Elvis Birthday Fight Club started.

I was involved in the advent of EBFC with Jared and Kate Davis. I was a co-producer for a few years and performed burlesque and some fight scenes too. It was a lot of work but totally worth it. I also participated in Yuri’s Night but never in an official producer role. I was also fortunate enough to be booked for the last two Lobster Boy Revue shows and through that I got to know one of my very best friends ever, Kittie Glitter.

You recently started a foundation in honor of your mother. Tell us about that.

Thanks, yes. It’s called Jane’s Food Closet and it’s established at, and for the school where my mom used to teach before she had to retire on disability. The food pantry is designed to help about 300 students and their families who need support with food, toiletries, school supplies and seasonal items. After I had my son, I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing it was to have a child and how heart-breaking it would be, as a parent, to struggle to provide for them. I had to do something. This year, last week, was the tenth anniversary of my mom’s passing so I could either sit around and be sad about it or do something and I chose the latter.

What kind of stuff can we expect at the Tiki Tantrum?

Oh Lord… a good time overall, and I’m a nice person, even as MC, I want people to have fun and feel comfortable. It’s easy to forget that not everyone is comfortable with burlesque and low-brow performance and may have been brought there by their friends. My job is to make sure everyone has a good time and then some!

Li'l Dutch. Photo by Stereovision Photography.
Li’l Dutch. Photo by Stereovision Photography.

VC Variety Presents Tiki Tantrum featuring Alyssum Pohl, Alex Doll, Maria Bella, Candy del Rio, and Rev. Valentine and the much awaited return of Li’l Dutch is this Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 10:00 PM at the Bier Baron – 1523 22nd  Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets are available at the door, or online.