Burlesque and Harvard may seem mutually exclusive. However, Dolores Sparkles, who was a medieval studies major at the prestigious Cambridge, Mass., university, entered the world of burlesque in late 2018.
Sparkles, 32, joined a burlesque class on a whim at Studio Vitality in Cedar Rapids 18 months ago. While performing with her ukulele at a Halloween show at The Mill last year, she was asked if she had any interest in performing burlesque.
“Since I had taken the burlesque classes I thought, why not give it a try,” she said by phone from her Cedar Rapids apartment.
Sparkles, who didn’t divulge her real name, will perform Saturday (1/18) at The Mill in Iowa City. She previously penned and performed some songs with unprintable names and lyrics for a December 2018 burlesque show at Iowa City’s Yacht Club.
“I had so much fun with how much freedom there is with burlesque,” she said. “I don’t consider myself much of a dancer, but I can do what I want. I do a dance and a crazy reverse strip. It’s not sexy, I just throw my shoes around and maybe I’ll switch up my pasties.”
Sparkles draws from a clown class she enjoyed while living in New York.
“What I do is an unusual story,” she said. And so is her saga of moving to Cedar Rapids.
Her family moved here from Ridgefield, N.J., about 14 years ago, when Sparkles enrolled in college.
“My dad was a disabled veteran. He was fed up with (the high cost of living) in New Jersey,” she said. “My dad came up with this crazy idea that if we could get a house under $80,000, he would move.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Her father found a deal in Cedar Rapids and he, his wife and son moved to the Heartland. Sadly, her father died the following year and his wife died in 2017, so Sparkles’ brother, who is 16, moved in with an aunt in Easton, Pa.
“The house is on the market,” Sparkles said. “I’m living in an apartment and my brother, who is half of my age, is doing well across the country. I’m trying to figure out my next step.”
The witty writer/performer recently played a festival in New York.
“But I don’t want to move back there,” she said. “I’m going to stay around here. I’m thinking about moving to Iowa City now that I’m over the culture shock of moving from New York. I can’t say enough good things about Vitality. I love Penguins Comedy Club. I’m so into comedy.”
Sparkles isn’t familiar with iconic burlesque singer-songwriters, such as John “Dr. Dirty” Valby, but she is a huge fan of contemporary musical humorists like Weird Al Yankovic and Flight of the Conchords.
“I love funny songs and I’ve discovered there’s a lot of people out there like me,” she said. “I particularly like the bawdy songs. I’m drawn to it. I’m going to try to keep adding to this show. I’m hoping that I can do some more shows at The Mill. I think there are possibilities in this area, since there are two burlesque clubs — Rebellion Burlesque and Bawdy Bawdy Ha Ha. I love that the people in our area support burlesque. It really is an amazing art form.
“Burlesque is giving me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do since my mother died. After she passed away I wanted to do something impactful.”
Sparkles admitted that her show might be a bit much for her mother.
“I can’t say that she would have loved the show, but I think my dad would have really enjoyed it,” she said. “Burlesque humor was right up his alley. My brother and my aunt saw the show in New York. My brother told me that he loved the show and is really proud of me. I’m taking a chance.”
If You Go
• What: Dolores Sparkles & Friends, with circus arts performers Champagne Sideshow and standup comedian Josh Francis
• Where: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
• When: 9 p.m. Saturday (1/18)
• Tickets: $12 advance, $15 show day; Icmill.com
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
• Artist’s website: Doloressparkles.com