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Posts tagged as “feminism”

Leslie Zemeckis Continues Filling In History with Feuding Fan Dancers

Special To Topanga Journal

Viewing the “fan dance” in the year 2018 is a quaint, cutesy activity on par with listening to an old radio play or riding a horse.

From the comfort of your own home, in front of the glow of your laptop computer, you can search for the dance online and get its general gist. The dance will involve a lady, maybe nude, maybe merely scantily clad, and she’ll be holding two large ostrich feathers in her hands. She’ll use the dual objects to cover herself, and now and then—purposefully or otherwise—she’ll allow a brief glimpse of skin to the audience’s prying eyes. That’s what the crowd—men, mostly—has been waiting for, and they’ll hoot and holler their approval at the sight. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

It’s fun, in an outdated, mostly innocent, sort of way. It’s a hobby for the privileged or curious, largely unnecessary for the general public to know or understand, certainly with no role in pushing the world’s culture forward. It’s time has come and went, sort of like that old form of the English language with its awkward misspellings and phrasings. Interesting to see, but in an era when you can see literally anything from one’s smartphone, we’re well past the allure that the fan dance originally created. For better or worse, we’ve moved onto more outrageous forms of self-expression.

“When it was first introduced, the fan dance was notorious and titillating. It was the inevitable next iteration of the showgirl spectacle, and like any innovation, that meant there was a large profit in it. This meant, like every other invention throughout history’s long game of leapfrog, there was a fight over who started it, and therefore, who owned the right to perform it.” Rick Paulas

But of course, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first introduced, the fan dance was notorious and titillating. It was the inevitable next iteration of the showgirl spectacle, and like any innovation, that meant there was a large profit in it. This meant, like every other invention throughout history’s long game of leapfrog, there was a fight over who started it, and therefore, who owned the right to perform it. 

For the fan dance, this culminated in a battle between Faith Bacon, “the world’s most beautiful woman,” and Sally Rand, one of the world’s most famous showgirls of all time.

This fight is the driving force throughout Feuding Fan Dancers, Leslie Zemeckis’ fascinating and page-turning dive into the lives of Bacon and Rand. But the book isn’t so much a stodgy legal thriller satisfied with merely picking the nits of creative ownership, but rather widens its scope to become a meticulous, behind-the-scenes analysis into the intersection of show-business and femininity in post-Depression America. 

I won’t spoil the ending, or announce who prevails, other than to say, it doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that here, finally, is the story of these two largely forgotten women. Part of that is because of the lack of media affordances that didn’t yet allow the ease of recording, but largely it’s been due to publishing gateways frankly not really caring all that much about the stories of women. The book’s ultimate goal—and increasingly the goal of Zemeckis’ work—is correcting those wrongs by filling in history’s blanks.

Leslie Zemeckis has been on a hell of a roll. Her 2015 book, Goddess of Love Incarnate, told the story of Lili St. Cyr, the so-called “highest paid stripteaser in America,” while her recent documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer highlighted Mabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer. With Feuding Fan Dancers, it’s become even more clear how Zemeckis sees her role in the cultural discourse.

History, it is said, is the story of the winners, but really, it’s the story of those who storytellers consider powerful. Historical analysis has long been dominated with the stories of men, for the obvious reason men have largely held positions of what’s been considered power. But contrary to the inherent narrow framework of storytelling, power is not a top-down hierarchy. Kings get dethroned, managers retire or are ostracized, congressional officials retire or get impeached. Actual, real power comes from those changing society at its base. And one arena for that shift—the one that Zemeckis has chosen to focus on—is the world of popular entertainment. When it’s at its most potent, that is the true nexus of democracy and organizing, of creating and spreading propaganda strong enough to change the world.

It’s this lens that makes Zemeckis’ work important and vital, particularly in today’s post-Trump era, when the world’s most powerful positions are held by overtly feckless buffoons. The emperor has no clothes, but never really did, and there was never really a true emperor at all, just someone who happened to be sitting in a big chair. Now, like always, true power resides in the largely nameless figures who push the cultural football further down the field. They don’t campaign to get elected, or own billion-dollar businesses, or live in castles. They take what once was, and make it what it will be. Quite often, contrary to high school history classes, these figures are female. And now and then, they may even wear nothing but enormous ostrich feathers.


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Democratic Superstars Mingle With Activists In Topanga

Special To Topanga Journal

It was a star-studded Democratic Saturday afternoon in Topanga as a green lawn was rolled out for the progressive elected officials and activists. Before the program began activists and legislators mingled on the deck enjoying vegan Thai food and drink, marveling at the view and enjoying the company of fellow progressives.

Kriss Perras, Publisher & Editor Malibu Arts Journal

By Kriss Perras

When the program began progressives were elated to hear Alan Minsky has taken the helm as Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). US Representative Ted Lieu gave the first award as the program got underway. He had arrived early and was swarmed by activists and constituents. US Senate Candidate Kevin De León, who was receiving an award,  comfortably mingled with activists and constituents. The annual event garnered about 200. California State Senator Ben Allen, awardees Jackie Goldberg, Ani Zonneveld, comedian and Zonneveld’s friend, Mona Shay, Alan Minsky, Lila Garrett, Harvey Wasserman, Mimi Kennedy, Susie Shannon, Russell Greene, RL Miller, Michelle Sutter, Larry Gross and even CODEPINK was in the house! 

“My disappointment has turned to outrage. Complicity and capitulation will not shield essential human rights from Donald Trump and the Republican enablers marauding on Capitol Hill.” Kevin De León

Congressman Lieu was there to present the Tim Carpenter Courage Award to activist and honoree Zonneveld from Muslims for Progressive Values. Shay treated the activists to a mini roast of Zonneveld, who then spoke of her work for women’s rights to free Muslims imprisoned in their home countries. She ended her talk with an inspirational song as the audience cheered her on. Goldberg received the Lifetime Achievement award for her long-standing career as a leader and activist both inside and outside the party. Her award was presented by activist Gross from Coalition For Economic Survival and Director of Region 12 off the Democratic Party. Goldberg got the crowd going with her fiery speech encouraging them all to increase their activism. 

DNC member Shannon and environmental activist Miller, early supporters of de Leon’s Senate race against Feinstein, presented his award. De León spoke on progressive values and the hard fought passage of his bill SB100 all the way to Governor Brown’s signature and enumerated many of the other bills he had passed as a California legislator and leader of the California Senate. Toward the end of his speech he donned a dark blue cap with the gold embroidered numbers 100% to symbolize the bill’s renewable energy goal by the year 2045. This was historic because no other economy as large as California’s has committed to 100% clean energy. Feinstein had refused to debate de León and after his speech the reasons were obvious. Most recently he laments the leaderless Democratic Senate on the Kavanaugh hearing. 

“My disappointment has turned to outrage,” said De León in a statement. “Complicity and capitulation will not shield essential human rights from Donald Trump and the Republican enablers marauding on Capitol Hill. I would sooner walk out into the streets and protest with people we represent than remain in that Senate chamber where diplomatic bluster is worth less than the paper the members’ talking points are printed on. We deserve better because too much is at stake.”

The event was held at the Topanga home of Dorothy Reik, President of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains (PDSMM). Attendees were treated to a clear view of the city lights of Los Angeles below and the stars above as the sun set.   



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Michelle D’Arbanville: Topanga As Mentor

Special To Topanga Journal

Michelle D’Arbanville has had many mentors in her life. The community of Topanga has been one of them. Originally from Orange County, her world was one of privilege but also prejudice. From an early age, Saddleback Mountain was her backyard where she became acutely aware of the “protective, sacred sense of nature.” Each morning, when she arrived at middle school, it was the nature of prejudice and intolerance that she was forced to face. 

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo

She was a minority, albeit a white girl, from a well-to-do home. She was involved in theatre and “Indian” ceremonial dance as an elementary school student, a Jew in a place where her religion was not the majority and a female at a time when a prescribed life for young women was the norm. Anything outside of that narrow realm meant consequences. Subsequently, She bonded with other girls who didn’t fit the mold. She and her friend Karen, who was Japanese-American, were “teased and ridiculed by other students.” When D’Arbanville saw others being disrespected and violated, she stood up and said, “No! I do not accept this!” The consequences for having a strong thought and expressing it were many. Within her group of friends that also included others of white privilege, there grew a common commitment to embrace and embody inclusion for all. D’Arbanville still remains friends with many of those women and men. “These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.” 

“These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.” Michelle D’Arbanville

The healing aspects of nature brought D’Arbanville to Topanga more than once before she settled here. Just out of high school, she, Michelle Waxman, at the time, hitchhiked from Malibu to Canada at age seventeen. On her travels back, she found her way to Humboldt State College where she took courses but was urged by a dear friend there to seek out the Dell’Arte School of Mime and Comedy which was just opening in Humboldt. She took her friend’s advice and fell in love with the physical theater work that is Commedia Dell’Arte. It was there D’Arbanville met one of her mentors, a well know mime master named Carlo Mazzone-Clementi from Padua, Italy. He inspired her “to learn how to take the fall” physically and figuratively, in her life. She fondly recalls a quote from Carlo, “The ground is your friend.” After six years of study, she travelled to LA to pursue acting, writing, directing, teaching and the facilitating of community programs. She later left for New York to continue her theatre work. She was also inspired by the book, Improvisation for the Theatre, by Viola Spolin.   

“When I moved to Topanga in my mid-thirties, I had a summer opportunity to bring and facilitate, for the first time at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum theater, the work of Commedia Dell’Arte, the sixteenth century form of Italian improvisational theatre that celebrates, through the storytelling of the archetypical life of migrants, the comedy and tragedies of their lives, of all of our lives.” At that time, she was also a facilitator of “The Council Project” through the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at Palms Middle School, a program that was steeped in First Nations traditions, formerly called Native American traditions, empowering others through dialogue. D’Arbanville also taught the Dell’Arte techniques at various LAUSD schools through the STAR program, a United States government education initiative. At Crossroads School in Santa Monica, she facilitated a life-skills program developed by the school called, “The Mysteries Program,” which focused on the empowerment of children through dialogue. In Topanga, D’Arbanville has also taught performance at Corazon and staged her work, “A Howling Necessity, Cry Out Your Weakness” at the Topanga County Library. 

D’Arbanville attended local and regional women’s groups that encouraged the creation of her own performance pieces and found participating in these groups to be a rite of passage. “We are always in a creative matrix, always in comedy and tragedy, in the pain and joy of life.

Moment to moment, we are in change.” Through many sweat lodge ceremonies, guided by her teacher, Wallace Black Elk, she’s gained a deep understanding for compassion and wholeness for humanity. Topanga’s circle of community and its reverence for the land of the Chumash and Tongva-Gabrielino tribes has made a true impact on her life’s vision and work.

“Topanga has given me a subtle awareness of this, and the knowledge to risk, to trust. It comes back to the somatic awareness – how we deal with the body. We are walking with a lot of fear and trauma in our bodies and somatic work releases the fears and trauma. When it comes to culture, a multicultural community makes us powerful. I’ve gotten my strength from Topanga to continue my work of education through tolerance.” She and her husband, Philip D’Arbanville, established, “Living Wellness: A Global Action Network for Change” that has established numerous programs including, Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity and Harmony, Sounds of the Sacred, Songs of the Earth, Film & Theatre for the Soul, and Care for the Caregiver. Her passion is for “empowering the community through its gentle release of tension and celebration. By taking action individually and collectively for universal and social responsibility, together we can inspire changes that help elevate humanity.” 

When asked how she responds to the chaos that seems to be engulfing our country and world at this point in time, she quotes the poet, Rumi, ‘There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise’. D’Arbanville believes that this is the time to come together and transcend the boundaries of hatred, prejudice and fear. “My childhood propelled me into the work I have done and continue to do. Humanity inspires me. Protestors are my favorite people right now. I am excited by the noise, we need to change.”

Living Wellness will present its 12th annual celebration of “Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity & Harmony” at the Topanga County Library on Saturday, October 6, at 2 p.m..


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Artist Toby Salkin: “The Women’s Movement Wanted Us To Be Free”

Special To Topanga Journal

A member of Women Painters West and the Topanga Canyon Gallery (TGC), Toby Salkin has her heart in Topanga Canyon and the San Fernando Valley, and it shows in her paintings and collages that light up the room with colors reminiscent of this region. Salkin is a committed member of TCG’s collaborative space in the center of Topanga, Her story of commitment to art, the women’s movement, family, and the gallery is evident in her enthusiasm for life and the creative process. 

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo


TJ: What brought you to California from the East Coast in the mid-70s?  

SALKIN: My first husband, Jay, was a sales manager in the toy business. He had come out to California from New York on business, loved it and wanted us to live here. I thought it was a great idea, so we moved.  

TJ: What did you want to be when you grew up? 

SALKIN: An artist. I was always drawing as a child. I remember painting my first oil painting in probably first or second grade.  

TJ: Were your parents supportive of your ambition?  

SALKIN: Always. My aunt was an artist, my mother’s sister. Art was a very important part of my life growing up.   

“Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper.” Toby Salkin

TJ: You said you lived in New York. Did you study art there?

SALKIN: I took high school art classes. I thought I wanted to be a decorator, so I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was married at twenty-two and had two children soon after, so we moved from New York and bought a house in a new development in Pine Brook, New Jersey. On warm nights, after the kids were bathed, I’d sit on my front stoop wearing bell bottoms with my long hair parted in the middle enjoying coffee or a glass a wine. I found out later from a neighbor who eventually became my friend, that she cried to her attorney husband that when she saw me that there were hippies in the neighborhood! I decided I needed to go to my local YMCA and take art classes. I had a fabulous teacher, a woman who encouraged me. One day she called me out of class and asked if I wanted to join a group of women painters who met at her studio to work. I was elated. At the time, I was doing cubist work in muted colors. When we moved to Westlake Village, California, it was the saddest thing to leave that class, because I loved it so much. I was so overwhelmed my last day at the Y, I accidentally walked out of an emergency exit door and sounded the alarm!  

TJ: Did you continue your art studies in California? 

SALKIN: One of the friends I made at Westlake Village was also an artist who told me about Everywoman’s Village in Van Nuys. This organization had opened at the time of the original women’s movement. It was a great space for women to paint, but, unfortunately, it’s now closed. I studied painting in Los Angeles with Alex Vilumson, a Russian artist who I would say brought me into the light. He had me using bright colors which I still use today. Most of my paintings start with red. I just love the bright intensity of it. Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper. I’m drawn to this. It just makes me happy.  

TJ: What is your approach to color? 

SALKIN: When I put my bright colors out on my palette, I don’t have anything definite going on. I just start on an idea. I use a lot more colors than most artist do. I also use black. 

TJ: What is the biggest challenge when starting a painting?

SALKIN: I think it’s usually around the idea of wanting to paint the next day but not yet knowing what to paint. Then I wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning with an idea, I think about it, and the next day I start by drawing on canvas. I very rarely start with a piece of paper. I often use photographic images that inspire me. I just finished a series of portraits of famous artists, including Picasso. One of my recent collages depicting war is called, “Make Love Not War,” that old slogan from my activist days in the Sixties when I was a hippie, even though I was married.

TJ: What part of the painting process is most challenging when painting? 

SALKIN: I start the painting, and I’m very excited. Then, after a three or four hours, which is the maximum I paint at one sitting, I look at it. At first I love it, then I hate it. That part is the most frustrating. I walk away from it but force myself to go back in a day or two. By the time I’m done I usually love it. 

TJ: Do you recall as a young female artist any struggles you faced amongst your male counter parts? 

SALKIN: The women’s movement always wanted us to be free. I always was. I was a woman who did what I wanted to do. I was able to be a stay-at-home mom, and I painted as well. Lately I’ve been thinking about the 60’s, and there’s no doubt about it, men were in control. I was very aware of this. I supported the movement and worked for the Democratic Party. One day, when I rang a doorbell while canvassing for the party, a woman opened the door and said, ‘Shouldn’t you be home with your children?’ ” 

TJ: Before you began painting in Los Angeles full time, what other passions did you possess? 

SALKIN: I sold real estate for thirty years, was a real estate office manager, and trained other agents. I loved it. 

TJ: When you’re not painting a specific subject matter, how do you approach the concept of abstract art?  

SALKIN: Abstraction is more difficult. I starting thinking it’s going to be one thing, but it becomes something else.   

TJ: Tell me about your love of painting old and antique cars? 

SALKIN: On a rainy summer’s day, I was waiting for my son in a house he had rented in East Hampton, Long Island. The home, belonging to a New Yorker cartoonist and writer, was filled with a variety of art books I had never seen. As I was enjoying going through the books, I looked up and saw an old Chevy parked in a covered area. I took a photo of it and later went home and painted it. I started looking at other cars, and soon old cars became a subject matter of mine. 

TJ: Do you work in any other art medium besides oil painting and contemporary collage? 

SALKIN: I’ve done stone carving and assemblage works with manikins. I love collage. Collage  artists are the ones who always have their heads down, picking up stuff from the street. I have a huge collection of papers, newspapers, old books etc. that I use as materials for inspiration. 

TJ: According to The Topanga Canyon Gallery website,

a group of artists got together in the spirit of the first Topanga Artists’ Guild in the 1950’s, and formed a collaborative space showing works of members that include, to this day, well-known as well as emerging artists from the greater Los Angeles area. Its mission is committed to “keeping art in the canyon alive.” What is one of your earliest memories as a gallery member, and how does the gallery work?   

SALKIN: I’ve been a member for about six years at its present location at Pine Tree Circle.  When I first joined, there was a wall dividing the space in half, front and back. Some of the artists came up with the idea of creating one big room. Instead of having work by artist members featured every month in the front, we now fill the space with four featured artists every other month, and a group member show on alternative months. Each member sits the gallery for a total of eight hours per month. You must be juried in to become a member and each artist pays a yearly membership fee. We also rent the gallery one month out of the year to an art organization for display of their work, and we conduct an annual tour of our artists’ home studios. 

TJ: Describe your art in one word.

SALKIN: Playful

TJ: Describe yourself in one word. 

SALKIN: Confused. No, eclectic!


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Jill Burgeson & How She’s Helping To Change Music: Fender Play

Special To Topanga Journal

Already up for her job as VP of Marketing at Fender Guitar, Burgeson told us of the new project the guitar giant she is recently working for has just launched. It is called Fender Play, the complete learning app for guitar players. Burgeson heads up the marketing for this new project. 

“I’ll be working on this new app called Fender Pay,” said Burgeson. “Essentially it is a subscription based app. It is videos that are awesome. Let’s say you want to learn how to play acoustic guitar. You go through the app. You choose acoustic guitar. There are all these lessons for acoustic guitar. Everything is filmed. It is basically like having a private lesson for way less money and by professionals.”

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Fender Play is Fender’s new subscription based private lesson app. It is a video-based learning platform for iPhone and desktop applications. It has hundreds of easy to follow instructor-guided video lessons that use a song-driven, personalized leaning path that enables even brand new players to master chords and riffs quickly. The app asks a number of pertinent questions when the user first opens it. What is the user’s preferred instrument and genre, like acoustic or electric guitar and pop or rock music? There are a few other steps to set up the app.

“You go through the app. You choose acoustic guitar. There are all these lessons for acoustic guitar. Everything is filmed. It is basically like having a private lesson for way less money and by professionals.”

Jill Burgeson

Once you’re set, the instructor starts by teaching the basics, like how to plug in an amp, attach the strap to the guitar and the basic guitar anatomy, like the bridge, tone control, pickup selector, the strings, pitch and string names E,B,G,D,A,E. The music based learning comes from some majors in each genre like U2, Shawn Mendes, The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Meghan Trainor, Carrie Underwood and others. The curriculum was created with prestigious music programs such as the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Musicians Institute of Hollywood. Then it is a matter of applying yourself with the lessons the same as you would with a private instructor. The lessons are clear and easy to follow. The app is affordable, especially for the in-depth instruction the teachers provide.


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