Angela Eve and I work together at a topless joint on Bourbon Street. We spoke in the locker room while she brushed her hair and I applied gloppy eyelash glue.
Angela Eve’s the hardest working stripper at Rick’s. She lures convention goers and Saints fans from their seats with the ease of a seasoned pro and marches them into the $60 dance area all night long. I’ve watched her convince customers to spring for the exorbitant VIP dances where dancers can score up to $800 an hour in a private room the size of a bathtub with beaded curtains. Angela-Eve’s focused and tenacious, which makes a good dancer a top moneymaker. She wasn’t lowered by butterflies onto some magic carpet ride life. She works hard and doesn’t give up, which makes her stand out. The other thing that makes her unique at Rick’s is her lack of spandex. She’s corseted, double bra’d and ruffle-backed. She favors platform boots instead of the six-inch Lucite pole-grabbers and she’s got muscles on her arms from her aerialist workouts. She’s a classic freckled beauty in a vintage Betty Page ‘do, with a silk flower above one ear, and she’s got a frank way about her. We talked about what it was like stripping during Katrina and its aftermath, her photo documentary project with her partner Anastasios Ketsios and her burlesque troupe. When I called her from LA to continue our discussion, Angela Eve was back in Chicago, out of breath from chasing her landlord across town with very late rent. This seemed odd, considering her champion hustling skills. Where did the money go? Like most dancers, she’s busy funding her real labors of love where the money is not: burlesque and photography.
The Rumpus: Where did you grow up and what was it like? What were some significant early sexual experiences and the attitude about sex in your family?
Angela Eve: I grew up in a town an hour north of Chicago called Gurnee/Waukegan just south of the Wisconsin border. It was new suburban subdivisions life in a small town. It was fun and a total drag at the same time. I never felt I totally fit in. In 6th grade we moved from Waukegan a community that was once up and coming but the economy changed and the area was becoming a more low-income urbanized area. My parents were CPAs and Realtors and wanted to move to a more white-collar suburbanized situation to fit into their life style. I was always looking for something else, even as a young girl. Once we moved I quickly adapted a new cutting edge style and attitude of alternative/rock/punk (or so I thought, more like suburbanite trying for something different) to stick out and feel noticed.
The years from 6th grade through high school were volatile I was rebelling and my father was a white collar alcoholic (great DAD but lost his way for a bit). My parents were going back and forth on divorce but at 15 my father was hit with an ultimatum from my mother to go to rehab or we were leaving. He went to rehab and has been sober ever since, but before that you never knew what shit was gonna go down. After my Dad became sober toward the end of high school I was going to extra curricular classes at the art institute of Chicago in the city and trying to adapt to new sober life with the family. It was kind of weird for me and that’s when I started exploring making and selling jewelry and starting my gypsy life in the summer.
My father was never abusive towards us he was always very loving and actually way more nurturing then my mother but just like to get trashed and go on binges and could be unreliable. Sometimes I didn’t blame him cause my mother would turn into super bitch and I hated her most of these years. My mother is a strong woman and she needed to be stern during those years and had good reason to try and keep the balance, but when your a kid you don’t get that and I could see is my mom making my life a pain in the ass. Our family was the usual suburban household in my opinion: family plans getting screwed up, fighting, yelling and parents separating-Your usual mid-western world.
Sex was never a topic that I really remember being an issue except when my mother started to bust me in Junior high with my older boyfriend. When they were separated my dad would stay with us at the house he would go out drinking on the weekends and my grandmother would watch my sister and me. It was always easy to sneak-out and hook-up with my crew, party and mess around with my boyfriends.
My first experience with sex was in Junior high at age 13, but I had started foreplay when I was in grade school as early as 7/8 if I remember correctly with neighbor girls and boys. We would play innocent games and explore each other’s bodies to see what felt good and what was going on. I was always up for exploring and a bit deviant. I never had actual sex until I was 12/13 and of course it was with high school guy that lived up the street and I felt obligated to have sex with him cause he was older and pressuring me. I worked very hard to have an older and more cutting edge look more then my peers. I wanted to be accepted by older guys. At the time my parents were separated so it was easy to sneak out and party. I was living large as a 7th grader hanging at high school barn parties and have older boy friends with motorcycles.
I would regularly sneak my boyfriend into my room to have sex when my mother wasn’t living with us. One night my mother came home to check-up on us, and my grandmother was there, but clueless. Well, my mother had a sixth sense to her and she just knew I was up to something so she came home unexpected and found him in my bed. He ran out the house with no drawers on my mother smacked me hard and I was grounded for a month. Eventually in high school I told my mother I wanted to go on birth control and she was cool with it. Sex was an experiment. I did what I felt was expected of me in my position with the older guys I went out with. I foolishly used pull-out method when I was young, dumb trusting my older and (I thought) smarter partners word that it was a full proof method. I eventually smartened up took matters into my own hands and progressed to condoms. I didn’t hate sex but I didn’t really know how to enjoy it either. I didn’t know what good sex was until I meet my first long-term boyfriend when I was 15, he was 17 and we then went out for about 6-7 years.
Rumpus: When and why did you start dancing? Did Burlesque come first or stripping?
Eve: I started dancing after touring for years selling my Jewelry I designed on music tours. I needed a way to make a cash living that would help supplement some of my income that I was making touring. My touring cash started to slow down and I went through a nasty break-up with my boyfriend and Biz partner. I need a way I could make some quick cash but allowed me freedom and time to help keep my biz going while things where slowing down and my partner left me with mountains of debt. Dancing seemed to make the most amount of sense. Shortly after that within a year of dancing I created a Domme style vaudeville street show for Ozzfest tour and from that the burlesque developed out of it. This was 20002-2005. So Burlesque came first and then the stripping followed.
Rumpus: Do you think being a Burlesque performer gives you an edge over other dancers? How in the world did you learn how to hustle and can you teach me your skills?
Eve: I think burlesque gave me stage presence and my style adopted from burlesque has given me a look that is different from the norm in clubs and that seems to give me a edge and a easy gateway to hustle. As far as learning to hustle I learned that years and years ago when I started to touring and living on the road at a young age. In that life you either sink deep or swim fast and if you don’t learn to hustle quick you’re stuck and broke in some fucked up place. Working the floor is just like going to a Grateful Dead lot or working an open festival grounds hand swinging jewelry, pipes, drugs or whatever for that matter. Before I became a professional vendor with a nice stylish booth and show with a groovy contract on music tours, I would renegade and hand swing all sorts of stuff from town to town out of my van with a jackass boyfriend. In so many different situations: Like I said the Dead/Phish lot, the beach and hotels at spring break, NASCAR, other sorts of Rock and music shows in parking lots, the streets of San Fran and LA to the market in Nawlins and then all the way up to NYC. You name it I’ve probably have been there trying to hustle my handmade Jewelry/art. What I’ve learned? You have to move quick be charming fast, read your customer quickly and figure out what they want so you can get to the next costumer with-out slowing down or getting busted. Time is money and you have a window of time before you have to pick-up and go to the next show or duck out. It’s the same thing as you hit the floor at a strip club except the clientele is a bit different, but everything else applies.
Rumpus: What was it like stripping and taking photos in NOLA during Katrina?
Eve:I Went to NOLA during Katrina initially with my boyfriend Anastasios Ketsios and our photography assistant Justin Sandberg and latter Amy Terri joined on our second trip to help do animal rescue. Initially I wanted check on all of my friends who were living there and me and Tasso wanted to shoot the real story of what was going on. We realized the press was only on Canal Street and they didn’t know what was really going on in other areas of the city. The first trip we made organically turned into a 3 and a half year mission to tell the story that we felt needed to be heard.
The National Guard was there to patrol the streets not help us but I found my friends and we brought supplies for people. Everything was running out like water. They evacuated the convention center first, which was the first thing I photographed. We had our van with supplies people had donated like food, water, blankets and dog food. We drove people to drop off points and gave them information.
The thing you heard that no one talks about when they talk about Katrina were animals crying and howling. I couldn’t take the sounds of their suffering. I said to my crew, “We got to get these animals out. They’re dying.”
It was Day 8 of Katrina and we were in the upper 9th and Marigny area. We broke into a house with tools and there was an old dog. We coaxed him out of the house and picked him up, put him in the van and took him to a make shift shelter a local started for the abandoned dogs. It took 3 months to figure out whose dog he was. It turned out that dog belonged to a 70- year old man. I found the man through his caretaker online. The dog was so happy to see her. It was a great moment. Me and Tasso went back to his house in 2006 when we were doing a fallow- up shooting session and he was in tears when we introduced ourselves to him and he knew who we were.
During Katrina, stripping was intense. I was dancing next to women who were making money to fix their houses that were destroyed by the floods and they didn’t have insurance. Dancing was profitable and busy but dancing is a means to support myself and my other projects. During Katrina, it was a means at the time to keep my post Katrina project afloat. The website to the project is http://www.homethiswas.com.
I would work at the clubs at night and then go to the 9th ward and shoot all day. It was very moving to be there. The thing is it was like being in a war zone and I felt conflicted. I was building my career out of other people’s suffering or maybe just documenting their suffering, but it was all around me and I couldn’t avoid it so I documented it. It was strange and moving to be there.
I found a dead body outside of Decatur and Elysian Fields and a lot of murders happened.
Rumpus: What did you do about the dead body? How did you feel about it?
Eve: I didn’t feel anything. We had to move on. Now when I think about it, and see the photos I’m sad. That was someone’s son. Someone’s husband or boyfriend or Dad. But in survival mode, you can’t feel stuff like that. You’ve got to keep moving. It was every man for himself.
Rumpus: How many clubs have you worked in altogether?
Eve: Club Eden, Visions, Ricks (and this is just a funny fact but I’ve had the record for the most amount of lap dances at Visions and Ricks in the history of the club, don’t know if that’s still true of Visions, but it is for Rick’s). At Visions they used to give out sweat suits.
Rumpus: What keeps you coming to New Orleans to dance when you live in Chicago?
Eve: I always knew if I went to New Orleans to work, I would be provided for. I don’t know how I knew that but I always figured something out and found friends and jobs.
The atmosphere in New Orleans is magical. It’s so my city–where I belong–but I can’t get everything I need right there now, but it teaches me a lot. I hang out too long and too late then it’s time to leave and go home. New Orleans has good and evil and you have to be prepared for both. I was mugged twice in one day when I came to sell jewelry and photograph cemeteries. At some point, you have to laugh about that.
Rumpus: You mentioned that you’re close to your parents. Do they know what you do for money and how do they respond to your decision?
Eve: I have a very close relationship with both my parents and they are still together to this day. That was a very hard time on them but they stuck through it and they are very supportive of what I do. They have always been great people and my parents both know that I dance for a living. They always knew I was a burlesque performer but it took a few years to get them to be open to exotic dancing as a viable source of income.
I never fully disclosed that info, but once the economy dropped and they lost a lot and were humbled is when I felt they were open to accept an untraditional source of income. Once the corporate, suburban, white-collar world crumbled around them they were open to accept the alternative world’s way of dealing with money.
Rumpus: You travel from Chicago to NOLA frequently to dance. I also travel from LA-NOLA because it’s worth it to me financially. Do you feel torn between cities or do you think you’ll settle either here or in Chicago?
Eve: I always feel torn and it is a huge pain in the ass but also a great time as well. I’m used to this kind of transition I’ve lived it most of my life and I’ll always be traveling in some sort of way but I do get burnt out.
Rumpus: Why don’t you dance in Chicago? Do you do animal rescue in Chicago?
Eve: I know to many people in the industry, as in clubs, bars and producing. I like to keep my burlesque productions and dancing separate and respect the privacy that I have with my boyfriend. Also, the clientele in Chicago blows.
Rumpus: Has the recession affected your ability to support yourself dancing?
Eve: It has made it harder that’s for sure! The money was great during and right after Katrina and it’s still better than Chicago, but I’ve noticed a slump. The fact is, I leave my state to work here, so it’s still worth it to me. There’s not as much throw-away money in clubs like there was even a few years ago and people hold back a bit more.
Rumpus: Tell me about your Burlesque troupe in Chicago.
Eve: I’ve developed the show and my solo reputation over many and I’ve reached national/international status. It’s a twist on traditional burlesque with avant-garde elements. My solo show is a mix of traditional, aerial skills and avant-garde theatre edge and I build my sets and costumes with my production team “image collective.” My reputation is at a top level in Chicago and has been voted by Chicago Magazine and The Chicago reader in the top 3 shows in burlesque. It’s also a huge pain in my ass and I’ve included more info in my bio about the shows if anyone would like to know more.
Rumpus: You’ve spoken about the bohemian movement being alive and well in NOLA. Can you say more about that and the fact that you feel wanted and accepted more in NOLA than other places as an adult entertainer?
Eve: I‘ve traveled a lot and throughout my life and always go back to Nawlins. I know I can get what I need in New Orleans at many different points in my life. I always feel accepted there. The artists, musicians, dancers that flourish there and live there really want to be there. There is no real industry for moving up in the national scale of fame and fortune in your chosen craft. People that create there and live have to be supported by their peers and the community to survive financially and creatively. Sure everyone makes money off of tourism. You gotta get the community to support you and that’s what I Love. It’s a very sheltered city from the rest of the country and that also why I think there is a lot of acceptance there. I’m certain that there is some sort of magical energy flowing in that town considering that it’s technically under water. Over the years so many strange encounters with energy there has taught me a lot. I’ve learned so many Lessons of life and I’m sure when I’m old I’ll settle there. I’ve had some of the best things and the worst happen to me there. To survive in that city you gotta accept that and roll with it I feel you can’t let the extreme energy eat you up and spit you out cause it will. Staying balanced in the city that is consistently unbalanced but balanced at the same time is a true art. That’s why bohemian culture truly survives there having extremes like that on a day to day basis creates true discoveries in the simplest to the most extreme experiences, for me that’s a true bohemian life. So many cities these days are way to structured and have to many restrictions to have this vibe. It’s the closest place I’ve ever consistently have gone to over my life that is the similar energy and community that would organically come out living on the road and touring with the type of community I did for so many years.
Rumpus: Do you want to stop dancing and just do your Burlesque troop? Where do you see your life in 5-10 years?
Eve: I’d love to just do burlesque, but it’s unrealistic. There is no money in Burlesque shows! The future. I don’t know really but I’d like to stop dancing in clubs and hopefully have a successful burlesque fashion line and not living in Chicago but the west coast with a successful touring show creating cool art and getting recognized for it. I’d like a family and a kid somewhere in the mix.
Photos by Romy Suskin.
The Rumpus Sex Blog.
More from Antonia Crane’s Recessions Sex Workers series.