7 Things for your Wilmington Weekend
By John Staton | StarNews Staff
"Calling yourself the Bad Girl of Burlesque is a bold statement, but that's how Mary Contrary of Savannah burlesque troupe The Dirty Dolls bills herself. The Dirty Dolls. who bend the old-school feel of burlesque with rock-show energy - as well as juggling, fire and aerial arts, belly dancing, and more - have drawn acclaim for being a LGBT-friendly act that doesn't pander to men. They'll make their Wilmington debut during a show at Juggling Gypsy. The troupe, which has been around since 2013, also includes Orlando's Dantei Grace, a circus performer, and Jacksonville, N.C.'s Rusty Dawn... "
It's a tease, not a strip
By Kenneth Rosen | Savannah Morning News
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary" begins the English nursery rhyme - but little Mary probably never fixed a flat tire in heels. It resonates deeply with Mary Johnson, who adopts the verse to her stage name as a burlesque dancer. "I never set out to be different,it just alwasy happened, And it's finally orking for me, " she said. As the founder and principal dancer of The Dirty Dolls lesbian burlesque revue which got its start in September  with the show at Club One, JOhnson hopes continued demand from LGBT community will show support the show far into future as the popularty for these shows increases in the Southeast.
DO sat down with Noel Anderson (Endless Summer) and Johnson to talk about their upcoming shows with Ivy Les Vixen at Club One, their last of the year, and what it means to be a neo-burlesque dancer today.
Q: How has the response been since your first few shows?
Contrary: It's been really good, actually. A lot of people had their doubts.
Q: About what?
Contrary: Just about a lesbian burlesque troupe.
Summer: Just there being enough numbers at the club. Most gay clubs are for the guys in the end, even though we sort of mix. It's particularly bad in Savannah. Here there's not a hie scene, and it's mostly for the guys.
Contrary: That's usually what happen. Places throw one lesbian event and then they're like "Oh, it didn't do as well as we thought it would, so we're not going to do that again."
Summer: Every event needs traction, needs time.
How does neo-burlesque differ from traditional burlesque?
Summer: There's not fan dancing, feather things. It's not Dita Von Teese. And she's wonderful, and both are good for different reasons. It's definitely current, modern, a little bit of anything goes, which is great.
Contrary: It's really great, because I think all of us ave classical dance training, so we have that type of grace and poise, and it has sensuality of classical, traditional burlesque. But then the music, the costumes, the subject matter is very modern an I think that makes it more relevant, more exciting, more relatable to people.
Summer: Burlesque is a disciple, just like any other art form. If you're going to do neo, you've got to be smart - keep those historical elements in mind ad then find a way to bring them into a current style.
How do you do that?
Summer: Well, you have to remember it's a tease. It's not a strip.
Contrary: I'm always trying to figure out new ways to take stuff off, and new ways to make it almost like a game. I tried something where I was taking everything off without using my hands. It's just, having some sort of artistry.
Summer: And telling a story, without a spoken narrative. You're still a storyteller when you're up there. I always try to have a concept of some sort.
How long is each act, or set?
Contrary: It's always three, and that's a length of a show.
Summer: Also, once they've seen you take it off, they do know what they're getting, so you can't go on forever.
Do you do this full-time? Is this something you plan on doing forever?
Summer: I don't. [Contrary] does. I love performing. I've been doing it since I was 4. It's a lot of fun for me and it fills a certain need that I have. But, no, ultimately I have completely different career goals, plans. And my knees wouldn't make me do it that much longer.
We keep coming back to that, the fact that burlesque is never what it seems.
Contrary: A lot of people think that we're strippers, and you hear that with go-go dancing and that's the No. 1 way to get a spiked heel in your eye socket. It drives me nuts... Certainly burlesque did start out as strippers. But now it's taken on a new life form. It's a celebration of being sexy.
Meet Miss Mary of Dirty Dolls Burlesque
By Bill Deyoung
Mary Elizabeth Johnson, trained dancer and fine artist, has an alter ego. By night, she's Mary Contrary, vixen and tease, leather/lace-clad frontwoman for the all-lesbian neo-burlesque troupe, the Dirty Dolls.
“Mary Contrary is just me,” Johnson explains, “but enhanced. When I came up with my character, I put so much thought into it. I wanted to use my own name. It’s very closely based on myself, but really intensified.”
Yes, the Dirty Dolls’ show is decidedly sexual —they appear, scantily clad, walking the walk and dancing the dance, once a month at Club One—but it’s not really a grindy girl-on-girl strip act. Nor is it old-school burlesque, with balloons and feathers.
Neo-burlesque, Johnson says, “is about celebrating being sexy, being beautiful, feeling beautiful. If you look at all the different things that are popping up, go-go-classes, pole fitness classes, burlesque classes, there’s all these different things that one can do. Because anybody feels great when they feel sexy. It’s empowering.”
A native of Arlington Heights, Ill., Johnson—who’d studied ballet and modern dance in her hometown—arrived in Savannah 11 years ago to study painting at SCAD. Once she got her BA, she went to work as a go-go dancer at Club One.
It always felt natural, because I like entertaining people,” she says. “When you see people light up just because you’re there, that’s the best feeling. You can completely change their mood.
“Even little things like remembering somebody’s name, or if they just got dumped, they feel special. It means to much to them that you remember them. I’m just a normal person, so for it to mean that much, it’s really great.”
She was invited the join the Florida-based “drag king” company Spikey Van Dikey & the Aftermidnights, and her first performance in the all-gay troupe was in front of 3,000 people for Pensacola Pride.
“I’ve always been told that I was sexy, even when I was quite a bit younger,” Johnson explains. “This is a natural thing. People are always like ‘Isn’t it awkward taking your clothes off onstage?’ Even the first show, it wasn’t uncomfortable. I wasn’t nervous about that. I was nervous about not tripping over something on the stage.”
Lesbian burlesque has an enormous fan base in the South. Two years ago, Johnson started working with Orlando performer Ivy Les Vixens, and they still dance and play together, week after week, throughout Florida and Georgia (and beyond). Ivy, in fact, is a co-founder and frequent member of the Dirty Dolls Burlesque revue.
“It’s really hard to find girls who fit what we’re looking for,” says Johnson. “Because you have to be able to dance, you have to be gay, you have to be able to travel ... and you have to have your own vision, because nothing’s more annoying than girls who want to be in the troupe, and they come in and try to be identical to me. The same music, and the same kind of costumes.
“That’s why Ivy and I get along so well, because we’re at exact opposite ends of the spectrum. But we totally get each other.”
Johnson’s partial to metal and other heavy music. “I only use music that’s really passionate for me, that I really love,” she explains. “It has to be something that I enjoy. They’ll say ‘How’s she going to do burlesque to Pantera?’ And it happens, and they love it.”
The next Dirty Dolls show at Club One takes place Friday, April 11. The audiences, Johnson stresses, are often quite diverse.
In other words, the fantasy show isn’t just for gay women. As with so many LGBT events, your preference is your preference, and that’s that. Define your own hot and sexy.
“So many girls ask me about starting to do what I do,” Johnson adds. “And I always say “You really have to love it, and love your audience.’
“I think that’s one thing that Ivy and I have in common that people pick up on—we really, genuinely enjoy it. And we enjoy who we’re performing for. It means the world to me that people can tell. Otherwise you can’t do it.”
Dirty Dolls Burlesque @ Pour Larry's & Club One
By Jim Morekis
The local Dirty Dolls burlesque troupe travels extensively throughout the Southeast. They could easily perform elsewhere this weekend if they wanted to.
But this is Pride Weekend back home, and Dirty Doll Mary Contrary says there was never a question where they’d be.
“The Dirty Dolls’ first show was in the basement of Club One during Pride 2013. We’re still thrilled to be Savannah’s only event catering to LGBT women. As such, we can’t imagine not being here to celebrate,” she says.
About hometown audiences, she tells us,
“We perform throughout the east coast and Midwest but there’s something very special about our Savannah audience. They seem to understand and appreciate what we do on a different level. I always want our show to be more than just a sexy striptease. Savannah audiences recognize and enjoy the artistry and creativity that doesn’t always resonate with other audiences.”
Mary confirms the general sense about Pride Week activities, and LGBT-oriented events in general: That as a celebration of inclusiveness, they welcome anyone.
“You see plenty of straight people coming out to support their LGBT friends. Gay and straight parents bring their children out to enjoy the festival. It’s no longer just for gays and lesbians,” she says.
“It’s always been important to me that everyone feels comfortable and welcome at our shows. It ties right into the purpose of Pride: creating a sense of community and acceptance.”
The Pour Larry’s show features a 6 p.m. meet ‘n’ greet with the ladies; all proceeds benefit Savannah First Responders.
Get dirty and nerdy with burlesque show at The Guild Hall
By Molly Hayden
The Dirty Dolls Burlesque Revue is back with a vengeance, this time bringing nerds to their knees with a sexy, scandalous evening dedicated to comic, movie and gaming favorites in an event they’re calling “Dirty Nerdy.”
Held at The Guild Hall, a clubhouse of sorts for tech enthusiasts, creative coders, gamers and performers, the event is Savannah’s only 18 and older burlesque show.
And while “sexy” isn’t a word you normally associate with The Guild Hall, Mary Contrary and the Dirty Dolls will change your mind.
“It’s a diverse crowd, but so is the talent and that’s why it works,” said Contrary, whose lesser-known name is Mary Johnson. “Our show is contemporary and eclectic, edgy, cute and raunchy all at the same time. Some of our girls are very aggressive; some girls are adorable and poppy.”
From toe-point ballerina acts and pig-tailed pop numbers to strip tease rock ‘n’ roll Bettys, the show promises to be a nonstop hour of entertainment.
“We tailor the show to the interest of the audience, but the acts that I book are all so different that everyone is going to have a girl they like,” Contrary said.
Specializing in neo-burlesque, a revival and updating of the traditional burlesque form, Contrary started the troupe in 2013. The Dolls have since put on top-notch monthly shows at Club One in Savannah, and divide the rest of their time performing in a variety of clubs and events nationwide.
While the work can be demanding, Contrary has managed to make it her full-time gig. She spends her days organizing shows, booking acts and working on choreography; every weekend she’s performing in a different city, showcasing her talents with a variety of acts.
Despite the rigorous schedule, Contrary can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I’ve always danced, since I was tiny,” she said. “When I went to college, I was torn between dance, painting and photography, but I ended up go-go dancing at a club and it was a nice progression into the world of burlesque.
“When I first stepped on a stage during a burlesque show, that was it. I felt that vibration and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” she added.
Her arsenal of sexy swag and personal style is not so much an act, but an extension of her own personality. She said the show is her, only intensified, and this adds to its authenticity.
It helps that she buys bags of red glitter by the pound, owns 50 pairs of pasties and wears a sash made of M-16 bullets - regardless of whether or not she’s working.
“I can be pretty intense sometimes,” Contrary said.
"Lesbian Burlesque Finds Following"
(Network News, December 2015)
"Dirty Dolls Bring Sexy Back to GuildCon"
"Get Dirty and Nerdy with Burlesque Show at The Guild Hall"
(Do Savannah/Savannah Morning News, July 2015)
"Dirty Dolls at Club One and Pour Larry's for Pride Weekend"
(Connect Savannah, September 2014)
"June SHEGirl: Mary Contrary"
(SHE Magazine, June 2014)
"The Dirty Dolls and the Vixens Who Love Them"
(Network News, May 2014)
"Meet Miss Mary of the Dirty Dolls Revue"
(Connect Savannah, April 2013)
"Dirty Dolls: The Burlesque Show"
(CityXtra, April 2013)
"It's a tease, not a strip"
(Do Magazine/Savannah Morning News, December 2013)
"Edgy burlesque revue stirs up Savannah's Lesbian Scene"
(Network News, November 2013)