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St. Louis Leasing Manager Claims She Was Fired for Burlesque Alter-Ego

Categories: Blowback

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Levi Nance Photography
Victoria Burwell performs burlesque as "Vera Valentinaa" -- a fact she claims rankled her corporate bosses.
The way she tells it, Victoria Burwell arrived at her job Monday morning in good spirits. Hired in February by the Lindell Strip apartments, the strikingly blonde 25-year-old had risen to become the leasing and marketing manager, heading a team of consultants and assistants who gave tours to prospective residents -- mostly college students.

"I was on time for work, we'd had a great leasing week and everything seemed to be fine and dandy," she recalls. "Then they called me into the office and asked me, 'Do you dance outside of work?'"

What happened next ripped the tassels right off Burwell's day: She claims a corporate human resource officer began interrogating her over the phone about her other job -- as burlesque dancer "Vera Valentinaa." Burwell says she was accused of "soliciting" a resident to attend one of her shows during an apartment tour.

"She fired me over the phone," Burwell says. "She said, basically, 'We're going to have to let you go on the basis of impropriety since your outside ventures are a negative reflection on our company.'"

See also: Slideshow: Burlesque Meets the Muppets at Plush

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Anthony Sapone
Burwell says the Lindell Strip terminated her without severance pay and gave her seven days to vacate the apartment whose rent was factored into her salary.

The justification for the firing provided by the HR officer went like this: A prospective resident and his mother had been taking a tour of an apartment, led by Burwell. Afterward, when the mother stepped out of the leasing office, Burwell supposedly invited the son to a burlesque show. The son told his mother about it, and she discovered Burwell's Facebook page as Vera Valentinaa. Then she sent screenshots to the corporate headquarters of Asset Campus Housing, the Houston-based company that owns the Lindell Strip.

Burwell disputes every detail of the story. She tells Daily RFT that, as a manager, she hasn't led an apartment tour herself in months.

"I want people to understand, burlesque is an art form, and it's not something that anybody should be ashamed of," she says. "I shouldn't be fired for partaking in an art."

For reference, here's a clip of Burwell performing as Vera Valentinaa with the Randy Dandies troupe during the "Game of Thongs" show last year at Plush.

Vera Valentinaa - Calypso from Michael Pearce on Vimeo.

Burwell has been wowing crowds as Vera Valentinaa in St. Louis since 2011, and she was a founding member of the Hoochie Coochie Girls. Currently, she takes the stage four to five times a month in productions across the county, and also moonlights as a tap-dance teacher. She thinks someone must have recognized her at her day job and then ratted her out. She's seen the same thing happen to other dancers.

"It only takes one person to look at it and say, 'She's a stripper, how can she manage four high-rise apartment complexes downtown?'"

We reached out to Asset Campus Housing and tried to get in touch with the corporate HR officer who fired Burwell. Multiple messages left for her at the corporate HQ in Houston were not returned.

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Virginia Harold
Burwell didn't give apartment tours in this outfit, but that didn't matter to her bosses, she says.
"Burlesque is considered by some people to be dirty or distasteful. Quite a number of my friends have had to hide their identities," says Mimi Le Yu, a mainstay of the St. Louis burlesque scene and founder and producer of the Randy Dandies troupe.

The way Le Yu sees it, burlesque is more than just thrusting body parts at an audience.

"We're usually telling a story, being cheeky, telling a joke within a song," she says. "There is sexuality in burlesque, absolutely, but we're about getting the audience to cheer and to laugh and to relax, and to see the funny about sex."

The danger of being outed forces dancers to hide their identities on separate social-media accounts, and horror stories of lost jobs abound in the burlesque communities. Other women have allegedly had their burlesque identity brought up at child-custody hearings.

See also: Slideshow: Game of Thongs at Plush (NSFW)

Lola Van Ella, an internationally recognized burlesque performer, producer and educator, argues that cases like Burwell's shouldn't devolve into splitting hairs over burlesque and stripping. She sees the issue as a persecution of sexuality in general.

"What I do is not commercial stripping, I am not selling physical sex, but I absolutely believe that work that I do can be put into the category of sex," says Van Ella, who teaches the craft at the St. Louis-based Van Ella Studios. "I know what I do is sensual and sexual by nature, but it can be theater, political satire, feminist satire and musical.

"If the roles were reversed, and Victoria was a man, this wouldn't have come up," Van Ella suggests. "If she was doing Cabaret or Hair, where there's a nude scene, would they have fired her for that?"

For Burwell, the next step is getting a lawyer and moving back in with her parents.

"This kind of thing shouldn't happen to anybody, whether it's doing burlesque or posing for a magazine," she says. "Your personal life is your personal life."

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com


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59 comments
markie19
markie19 topcommenter


11 days ago

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DeleteShareLikeReplymarkie19Jul 20, 2014

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markie1918 hours ago


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Lisa Wagner Webb
Lisa Wagner Webb

Mimi Le Yu isn't this one of your fellow performers? Either way it is horrible for her to be fired.

Thee Lovingcup
Thee Lovingcup

If the leasing manager was advertising an event that has nothing to do with leasing the apartment and person paying her doesn't want that to happen, you are FIRED! Just like I can't take time at my job to tell people about ______ fill in the blank.

Leslee Brown
Leslee Brown

Well I don't think we are getting the entire story. For the most part employers can't restrict your off duty life however in Missouri they hire and fire at will.

Jeffrey Scott
Jeffrey Scott

Oh please, like the people that rent the apartments could care less..Owners must think they are higher on some pedastal than they think they are..

Niade Yorb
Niade Yorb

it is a clause in many "employment agreements" you must sign for your job - that they have the right to fire you for your behaviour outside of working hours - best to bring in donuts everyday - hard to fire someone when they bring in donuts :)

Norma Cole Sosko
Norma Cole Sosko

I dont think your job needs to be in your after work hours business. As long as what you do doesn't effect your performance then its no ones business.

Anne Jansen
Anne Jansen

So I guess they shouldn't continue to let Danielle Colby, American Pickers of American Pickers be a part of that highly successful show on TV? She's an awesome gal and her other hobbies and lifestyle has nothing to do with her performance on that show. Oh, you didn't know she did burlesque before this posting? Well, so now she should be fired? Uh, no, I don't think so. She should sue them. That's the equivalent of firing someone because they enjoy fishing or some other physical hobby outside of work. It's just as arbitrary, don't you think???

Amelia White
Amelia White

Regardless of opinions on the matter Missouri is an At-Will state meaning employers may fire you at any time for any reason and are not required to disclose the reason for termination.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

I believe in the right of an employer to fire anyone for whatever reason. Just because the hire you, it does not give you the right to work there forever. What she needs to do is demonstrate her ability to get residents in that apartment to move to another apartment complex. Mail them all postcards of her dancing and state she is now working at another apartment complex - come see her for better leasing terms. then watch her former employer cry.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

Makes no sense, as her dancing was off-hours and under a different name. It could not possibly reflect back on her apartment office job. It's a he said/she said thing. If she spoke to this man about her outside job, what a little baby that he goes running to his mommy to tell her. Methinks there is more to this story.

I recommend this woman perform on the sidewalk outside the leasing office. Not much they can do about it. She has a right to protest.

Cest Lavie Boheme
Cest Lavie Boheme

I hope this blog makes her burlesque star ascend so she doesn't have to take any of these crappy jobs anymore. Oh and Danny Wicentowski: "ripped the tassles off her day" LOL. Not everyone in St. Louis is Catholic, but the culture reeks of mother/whore dichotomies forced on every woman here. I can't prove it, but I am pretty sure I got fired from a sex toy store for explaining to male customers what the female clitoris is... oh, and when I called the MO Employment Division office to see if I could report them, the Employment division threatened to hang up on me for using the word "clitoris" explaining what happened... turns out worker's in Missouri have no right to anything, not even to take a break for going to bathroom (actually only five states guarantee a break for any reason, it is not protected federally either. No wonder the men here don't know what the clit is, you can't even say the word without people freaking out!...

Caitlin MDosz
Caitlin MDosz

Roy, I'm saying the mother's intent was to ruin Victoria's career by researching the pics and sending them to her boss in the first place. Regardless of if the company acted on it or not, the mother's intent was clear in sending the pics. It's sad that the mother had nothing better to do with her life

Rhonda Miller Crocker
Rhonda Miller Crocker

That's SAD,,, entertainment, DON'T LIKE IT,,, DON'T LOOK,,, we're Adults,, DAMN, GROW UP,, there's SO MUCH WORSE things to bitch about,,

Shawn Moyer
Shawn Moyer

Well, of course she worked for the Lindell Strip Apartments.

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

Valid points, good luck with your show today!

spelllivebackward
spelllivebackward

Lindell Strip's corporate slogan: "Live How You Want at The Lindell Strip!" Guess that doesn't hold true for employees doing things on their own time...

Lola van Ella
Lola van Ella

That was my whole point about not all of it being good. You could apply that to any art form, really. If what you saw was predictable and boring than it sounds like a bad show. Sorry you experienced that. I've seen some bad concerts, viewed terrible art installations, and have seen some truly terrible theater. Does it mean I'll never go to another concert, art gallery or play? Of course not. And yes, if a performer is amazing, I would watch them dance in a paper bag. And a good show is about the curation and production. If you saw a predictable, boring show, with a whole lot of the same thing, that is not a well curated or produced show. I've been to shows like that. No fun. It's why I focus more on variety shows and building theatrical productions. Lots of anything that's the same is boring. I get plenty bored with burlesque, but that doesn't mean that there isn't value to it. Don't put blanket statements onto an entire art form.

Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

She didn't ruin her career, her employers are responsible, sue them. Hit them where it counts.

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

I've been to a burlesque show, it was repetitive and predictable. It's stripping with an alleged "art" aspect to it. If you take the sexual part out of it and you stayed fully clothed you think anyone would watch it?

Chris Ohkwari Manning
Chris Ohkwari Manning

That's dumb. No labia or nip, so who cares? Unfortunately with anything that has high publicity and you do something less than reputable in the public's eyes, you must suffer. Like porn star teachers

Brian Mull
Brian Mull

Lola, Jameson obviously doesn't get out much. Being in a basement without sun for awhile does cloud the noggin.

Lola van Ella
Lola van Ella

This is a question I have been asked plenty of times, and I am preparing for a show at the moment, that has been paid for by the City of Maplewood; but burlesque, to me, is theater. Just like in any art form, plenty of it is terrible, but for me, I am creating an act that can do any number of things. I create to make people laugh, I create to inspire thought. I use burlesque as a medium to highlight any number of social issues. And yes, sometimes I just want to be a fierce, sexy, amazing, stripper. Because I'm really good at it. And I'd rather do that on a stage, in a gorgeous costume, performed really thoughtfully with a lot of specific choreography, in front of a large, arts loving, theater audience, than on the east side, but that is just MY choice. I would never judge anyone for wanting to do that either. I make my living with my art and I really love what I do. And many people, the majority women, love how free, and empowered, and fun, and sexy burlesque is. Being on stage feels like I am home. It evokes a feeling of love and bliss and that I am doing what I feel I was meant to do, and that is, above everything, to entertain people. To bring some beautiful escapism to someone's stressful day. To let people have fun and experience something live, something fun, and something beautiful.

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

And she didn't get fired for her hobby. She got fired for promoting her adult entertainment side job while representing her company.

Steve Dixon
Steve Dixon

Welcome to Missouri! Right to hire, right to fire. I don't agree with it, but it is well within the rights of the company to fire her for whatever they want as long as it doesn't fall under discrimination laws.

Melonie Brock
Melonie Brock

Obviously you've never been to a burlesque show!!

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

Well good for you, but how is it "art?" What feeling does burlesque allegedly evoke besides trying to arouse or tease??

Melonie Brock
Melonie Brock

Burlesque is most definitely an art and it's beautiful. Is it sexy? Yes but in my humble opinion, I don't care if she was stripping. So now strippers are bad too? I don't see how burlesque hurt her day job. I hope she sues the hell out of them and wins! Societies views on women are disgusting and sexist!

Lola van Ella
Lola van Ella

Well, I make my entire living from my burlesque career. So, there is that. But that has NOTHING to do with the article. Someone is being discriminated against because of their choice of hobby. And her art is her art. And it's subjective. It can be "dumb" to you, but fulfilling to others.

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

If she actually did say come watch my burlesque show while on the clock then she shouldn't have done that. If she kept those two worlds separate then the company is in the wrong. You can't be surprised when a company gets mad at an employee who's representing the company and also promoting something like burlesque/stripping.

Caitlin MDosz
Caitlin MDosz

Basically, a mama's boy's meddling, prude mother couldn't mind her own business & took it upon herself to ruin this woman's career

Jameson Clerk
Jameson Clerk

Burlesque is like stripping but without making money. Seems dumb.

libster_77
libster_77

Just like you smell of ignorance.


captainscorpio
captainscorpio

True, but in this case, they *did* give a reason. Other cases in at-will states have hinged on that distinction. Kind of like, they have the right to remain silent, but anything they say can be held against them. 

marigolds6
marigolds6

@JamesMadison Nearly all of the apartment complexes around here have non-compete clauses in their contracts, which apply even if you are fired. Yes, it is stupid that apartment complexes have non-competes, but Missouri allows that so they do.

captainscorpio
captainscorpio

Amusement, pathos, tragedy, outrage, sympathy... the general art range of emotions.

Xander_Lovecraft
Xander_Lovecraft

She's already said multiple times that she didn't, and you'd know that if you gave enough of a shit to read the entire article. Now, go take your middle-school trolling elsewhere.

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