Earlier this month I introduced you to the cast of BurlesQ, a sizzling cabaret revue at Modern Showrooms of Alexis Park. In that article, available here, I explored the mystique of the classic showgirl, her evolution through the decades, and how she has become integrated into contemporary burlesque.
In a future chapter, we’ll visit with dazzling Tonya Tovias (pictured above, lower right). Today I’ll introduce you to dancer Kelly Long, another member of the talented collection of performers who make up BurlesQ.
Kelly Long can accurately be described as a “lifetime entertainer”. The Baton Rouge native relocated to Gainesville at the age of thirteen, and her eyes were always focused on the art of dance.
“Like most little girls, I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I soon realized I had a passion for it and a natural talent. I was a part of local dance studios in both Louisiana and Florida and was in their dance companies. I trained with many amazing teachers and guest artists growing up in all various styles. Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Tap, Musical Theater, Pointe, Partnering, Hip Hop….name it, I was in a class for it!”
New York and Las Vegas are the two biggest cities when it comes to entertainment. As fate would have it, an NYC audition for Bally’s legendary JUBILEE! was the catalyst for Kelly’s big move to Sin City sixteen years ago.
“I got hired on the spot and moved out to Vegas the following month. My mom helped drive my car and anything I could fit in it out to Vegas…and the rest is history, My mom always tells the story about how she flew back home to Florida after dropping her 20-year-old daughter off in Las Vegas! Who does that!? Haha! But she knew I was focused and would be successful in anything I set my mind to.”
Family support is often the cement that holds an entertainer together in the tumultuous world of show business. For Kelly, that continued through the years and still does.
“I am very lucky to have such a supportive family. My dad is my #1 fan and I’m pretty sure he brags to anyone that will listen. I definitely get my talent from my grandparents. They danced in a folk dance troupe in Louisiana and to this day my Grandma (Belle) says I got my dance talent because she use to rock me to sleep and dance with me in her arms. I 100% agree with this!”
“I have two siblings, a brother, and a sister. I am the oldest and very much have those characteristics of the “older child”. My baby sister actually lived in Vegas for five years and worked in Event Planning. Our paths often collided when working on the same events…Anna as the planner/PR and me as a performer.”
“I will never forget my mom calling and saying how she couldn’t imagine all the performers who recently moved to Las Vegas with the biggest hopes and dreams literally come to a screeching halt because of COVID. She was like ‘Kelly…imagine if that happened to you right when you moved to Vegas, would that have changed the course of your career?'”
“So crazy to imagine that…I have had many friends move on from Vegas because of the pandemic. But I will say for the ones who are still here and have stuck it out, Vegas is back! Shows are in full swing and corporate events are busier than ever. The past year has been one of my busiest and most successful to date.”
It’s not widely known, but entertainers often work additional jobs and “gigs” (conventions, runways, publicity events) for additional income. Many of the advertisements on Vegas resort walls and elevators feature performers as “regular people”, playing in the casinos and enjoying photo-ready meals. It’s an opportunity to have fun, spend time with their colleagues, and even do a little self-promotion.
“For the first 8-9 years in Las Vegas, I was full-time in shows. Working 5- 6 nights a week, sometimes doing up to 12 shows a week. At the same time, I started branching out to agencies and event companies for “gig work”. So while being in full-time shows, my freelancing career took off as well. I am very grateful it did because that is primarily where most of my work comes from. You get to set your own schedule and say “yes” or “no” to as many events as you want. And you get to catch up with performers from different shows.”
“My most memorable event was the surprise after-party for Celine Dion’s retirement from her Caesars Palace show. She had a private party at Mr. Chow’s restaurant and I was part of a cast of dancers who surprised Celine with a performance out by the pool, played by her live orchestra from her show. She stood on the balcony and watched us dance and give her the ultimate send-off. To have Celine Dion look down at you, clap and blow kisses, is something I will never forget.”
Kelly has been a part of many legendary productions besides Jubilee! Her resume includes Rio’s “Show In the Sky”, Steve Wyrick’s magic shows, Legends in Concert, and Sirens of T.I. Production shows are a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with noteworthy celebrities and idols of entertainment.
“In Jerry Mitchell’s “Peepshow” I got to work alongside Holly Madison and Coco Austin six nights a week. We were lucky to have a lot of celebrities come to our show too…that was a cool perk.”
Being a dancer comes with the harsh reality that career longevity is usually much shorter than with an “average” job. The iconic Vegas Showgirl has proven to be an exception.
“As someone who is “aging” and now in my thirties, I can completely agree that the Vegas Showgirl is ageless. I am still doing what I love and would say I have gotten better with age. So many of us ladies have grown up together here and love our jobs so much that we will do anything to keep them. Self-care, eating healthy, and a couple of facials along the way definitely help.”
“As women, we realize that as long as we take care of our bodies and looks, we can work in Vegas for quite some time. I just worked a show with a dancer who was ten years younger. The twenty-year-old me might not have envisioned the path that I have taken. But being in Vegas, you are exposed to so many different types of dance styles and shows and it felt so natural for me to try something new and get involved in the burlesque world.”
BurlesQ made the bold move to open when most shows were still shuttered and would remain so for a long time. I asked Kelly if she questioned the wisdom of taking on such a challenge.
“Absolutely not! When I heard a show was going to open and they wanted me, I was like “when and where do I need to be?”. You can ask any performer in Las Vegas about the pandemic….at that time of uncertainty, everyone was itching to be back on stage. It really was eye-opening and it made me realize how much I loved being a performer.”
“I tell people that the audiences we had in the first couple of months being open were the best! While it could only be a maximum of fifty people and 25 feet from the stage, they were so happy to be out at a show and their support was amazing. Fifty people sounded like five hundred to us!”
Sharing such a daring experience might have created tension within the cast. Instead, they bonded as a tight-knit group and continue to move forward as a family of sorts.
“We are a VERY tight-knit group. All the girls you see performing are part of the “OG” cast (as we call it). NO competition in our group of ladies. The resume of every single woman is admirable….and you can only imagine the stories that we have.”
Long performs in BurlesQ under the name “Maxine Gun Kelly”. Producer Cari Byers helped her to select a character that reflected her Southern roots.
“I was going to be doing a country number and needed a name with some edge. Picking “Maxine Gun Kelly” (a little play on Machine Gun Kelly) is just so fitting. I’m a type-A Leo firecracker and this was the perfect fit. There are swings that cover us when the original cast is out. These girls have their own different solos that reflect their personalities, so it’s like seeing a new show again.”
Kelly and her longtime partner Kenman Vanderpool are avid sports fans. They met in the entertainment world and continue to collaborate through Kenman’s current career in Construction Management.
“I never thought I would end up with a fellow performer. We met in “Show In The Sky” (he was a dancer/aerialist), then went on to perform together in “Peepshow” for over three years.”
“Kenman and I LOVE house renovations. We could not be a more perfect match as a couple. I come up with some crazy design ideas, he can do the manual labor and knows how to build and construct things. We bought our first house in 2015, tore it apart, and put our own personal touches on it. We had such great feedback over the years from friends and family with the pictures I would post.”
“We decided to sell our house, lucked out, and found a gem at the right time. The house was the perfect flip for us and we coined it @bighouseprojectlv, aka “The Big House Project.” I started a page so our friends and family could follow this crazy journey. People ask when we are going to have our own show on HGTV. Maybe someday we might!”
Comedienne Rita Rudner once joked that our local school playgrounds have stripper poles instead of monkey bars. I asked Kelly what she feels about parenting in Vegas and if it requires special rules and tools.
“It’s all up to the parents and the values they instill in them. Kenman and I are very similar in our Southern/Midwest mentalities and will raise our future kids like that. I wouldn’t bring my kid down to the Strip at 11 pm!”
“This town has so many events and things for locals, and kids would be so lucky to grow up in Vegas. We would like to have kids soon and absolutely can’t wait to raise them here. Our children right now are our dogs Kate and Jaxson. Kenman only allows me to dress them up for Halloween. But we do have them sport bandanas a lot.”
One last question: What’s a perfect day off for Kelly Long?
“A day just relaxing at home is always amazing…but typically we are doing a million house projects! Kenman and I love going to concerts and shows. We have been season ticket holders at Smith Center since day one. We have seen over sixty shows there. We love the arts and hope that more people our age will start supporting local theater to keep it open for years to come.”
“I was very sad to see both Jubilee! and Folies Bergere close. Those are the classic showgirl shows that truly represent Las Vegas. I hope something like this will come back one day.”
“On July 30th we will celebrate our 300th performance at BurlesQ. For a show that was opened during a pandemic and hoped to stay for at least a couple of months, this is such an accomplishment!”
BurlesQ performs every Friday through Sunday at Alexis Park Resort. Showtime is 9:30 pm. Tickets start at $49.95 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Audience members must be 21 years of age or older.