Annie Weinert, better known as, “Red Hot Annie,” is an award-winning Chicago burlesque performer and owner of Vaudezilla, Chicago’s top rated burlesque troupe. Annie travels across the United States and internationally for competitions and performances, but her greatest accomplishment, perhaps, is the impact she has on other women, as well as her views on sexuality, inclusivity, feminism and the importance of “making room” for other people.
When I started taking burlesque classes with Annie about a year ago, my entire world changed. The opportunity to be vulnerable with a group of women of all shapes and sizes was so impactful, and I realized that when women share their nude bodies with an audience, they are doing so for themselves just as much as they are for the audience. To me, burlesque completely undermines the notion that when women are being sexy or sexual, they are doing so just to please or gain attention from men. Burlesque allows women to turn sexiness and sexuality into an act of self-fulfillment and autonomy, rather than a liability or an invitation.
For Annie, burlesque is more than an art form; rather, it is a mechanism for empowerment. In order to spread her ideas about femininity, Red Hot Annie is creating the documentary, “Light My Fire: The Burlesque Diaries,” which will explore modern sexuality as well as the importance of creating a more inclusive space for all women.
1. What led you to become a burlesque dancer?
I started on stage at age 15, doing musicals and plays. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I felt like I wanted a bigger challenge – instead of rehearsing someone else’s lines and blocking for 8 weeks and then putting a show on for 4 weekends, I wanted to create my own work and to have a repertoire that I could perform for as long as I wanted to. That’s when I found Chicago’s cabaret scene– a couple of my girlfriends were performing burlesque, and when I saw the show, I thought, “this is it, this is what I want to do.”
2. How did you come up with your stage name, “Red Hot Annie”?
I knew I wanted to keep my real name, and I wanted it to skate the line between ridiculous and kitchy, while still being able to be sexy when I wanted it to. I also loved the idea of referencing my last name (Weinert), which is often mispronounced as wiener (a source of endless annoyance when I was a child)!
3. What is the premise behind the documentary you are creating, “Light My Fire: The Burlesque Diaries”?
I hope to create a documentary that that allows me to capture a shifting culture in the way we perceive women and femininity. I would love to use the art form of burlesque and our approach towards teaching it to examine the spectrum of what makes something feminine, and why burlesque has such a huge potential to open our minds and hearts. I’d like to share what it means to create a more inclusive space.
4. How did you first come up with the idea for your documentary?
The truth is, this is something that’s been simmering for a while. I’ve always felt like it was really important to create an inclusive feminist, body-positive space, but it wasn’t until I started working closely with artists like Ms. Mister Junior & Po’Chop that I started to really listen.
It’s easy to say that “the art” is what people are responding to, but I think showcasing and empowering diverse artists is fundamental to the voice of this documentary (and maybe the voice of this generation, at large). It can’t be about some white lady telling you “this is sexy and empowering” – it has to be about asking questions that acknowledge a spectrum of feminine/masculine influence and maybe help push us further into the dialogue.
5. What about burlesque as an art form, as well as your personal philosophy, inspired you to start this project?
To be honest, I got tired of pretty people doing pretty things for no other reason than that they were pretty.
6. Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve by creating this documentary? Why is it so important to you?
This documentary is important to me because burlesque has changed my whole life – it’s changed the way I perceive sexuality, it’s made me sit up and notice my privilege, it’s made me examine how I’ve approached adversity with other women – and I hope this documentary would give others the opportunity I’ve had to step outside of myself and look back in at how my identity has influenced nearly every interaction I have with others.
7. In what ways do you believe that burlesque empowers women?
I think everyone must decide for themselves if burlesque empowers them. I can’t speak for others’ experience, but I find burlesque incredibly empowering.
8. Do you consider yourself a feminist? What does the term “feminist” mean to you personally, and as a burlesque performer?
Yes, I’m an intersectional feminist. To me, that means making room for everyone.
9. What role do you think burlesque plays in promoting body positivity?
Visibility is key in creating inclusive spaces. The fact that burlesque encourages a variety of body types to be seen on stage fundamentally promotes body positivity.
10. Have you received any negative feedback about your career as a burlesque teacher and dancer?
Overall, I think people have responded extremely positively to my work as a burlesque dancer and a teacher. I can’t say that I’ve had experienced any particularly negative reactions.
11. What is your favorite act to perform? When did you first perform this act?
I’ve got several favorites. My most well-known act and one of my favorites is called “Art-Tease-T,” in which I wear a canvas that’s painted like a dress and paint myself out of the costume, which was created in 2010. My second favorite is “In The Mood for Dr. Long John,” which I created earlier this year – it’s a sort of quirky classic burlesque act about going to the dentist, and features a couple of my favorite Bette Midler songs.
12. Are there any burlesque dancers who inspire you most?
In no particular order, some of my favorite modern burlesque dancers include: Julie Atlas-Muz, Lada Redstar, Russell Bruner, Perle Noire, Peggy De Lune, & April O’Peel.
Some up and coming performers I can’t wait to see more of include: Kirby Marzelle, Coco Das Vegas, Champagne Mademoiselle, & Vanna Tease.
13. What advice do you have for both men and women interested becoming burlesque dancers?
My best piece of advice is to find a good mentor who will challenge you, while encouraging you to develop yourself as a performer. Find someone who is very secure – a mentor who is threatened by your success is no mentor at all.
If you live in the Chicago area, you can sign learn more about shows and classes by visiting the Vaudezilla website. Otherwise, support Annie’s documentary by donating to her Kickstarter campaign. You have until Tuesday, November 18th at 3:30 pm!