Hurly Burly

Reagan Riot

PHOTO/GEORGIA FISHER

Reagan Riot is a Jill of all trades. The busy mother of two has a clothing line called Atomic Avenue, and she runs the Desert Rose Revue and the Biggest Little Shimmy School of Burlesque. She also lectures students on the origins and history of burlesque—a funny, sexy, historically subversive routine well-rooted in the Reno area—and often pays homage to her own family roots. She even wore one of her grandmother's vintage dresses in her first show.

When Riot came to the RN&R office for this interview, she was in a floor-length coat, with crystal-studded roses behind one ear. Beneath the coverup were heavy bling and a beyond-sparkly bra top she fashioned herself—in a shade of pink to match the fans and feather boa she'd brought in an inconspicuous cardboard box. The girl's not boring.

Let’s talk about your business.

Which one? There are so many. [Laughs]

How ’bout just the burlesque stuff for now?

Well, I always enjoyed big theater, comedies and musicals growing up, so I picked up on a lot of the little pieces a lot of people would miss. As I grew older, I realized that was an actual thing. That was burlesque. I started thinking, ‘Ooh, where can I see more stuff like this?’” It wasn’t just vaudeville and variety, and there was that sarcastic humor which is very, very deeply ingrained in me. I am a total ass. But I can dress it up in sparkle and shove it down your throat, and you’ll go, “Oh, thanks! I’ll have some more!” And I get really political, but a lot of people don’t realize it, unless you’re in theater or you’re in art.

Tell me about that—the political element.

There are a lot of different ways that people approach burlesque. Originally, burlesque was satire, so it went against major politics and figureheads. Theater in entertainment was prominent; we didn’t have television or anything. … You had news, and you had your satire, and it was very taboo even to be in tights, to show anything. To be a burlesque performer was really intense, so as that grew and progressed and vaudeville kind of deteriorated, a lot of the famous comics got their start in burlesque. I like the presentational value, too. We have a ton of history here. Reno and Northern Nevada have great burlesque history, and people have no idea, or they forget that we were the entertainment capital of the world forever. … [Burlesque dancers] were the original strippers. It’s a wholly different world now, definitely. Not to knock one or the other—it’s just different.

So what are your classes like?

They’re challenging but very unique. One of my favorite students was a beautiful woman in her 60s who’d just taken ballroom. She and a friend took it together, and wanted to get a little more comfortable. Coming in and getting comfortable with your body is actually one of the most hilarious things, because there’s that dynamic of how you are with your closest friends and then everybody in general. And after you’ve progressed through the first two classes, that wall just shatters. It doesn’t just come down —it’s like broken glass.