Lottie Ellington in her burlesque persona; the former high school teacher was forced to resign from her job last week after a video of one of her performances made the rounds among parents. (Photo: Lottie Ellington)
Last week, a Virginia high school teacher was forced to resign from Hopewell High School after a 2014 YouTube video of her performing in a burlesque show made the rounds among parents, some of who were offended. In the video, the teacher, identified only by her stage name of Lottie Ellington, was seen stripping down to her nipple tassels, a jock strap, and knee socks, and dancing and jiggling to “Twerking in the Rain.” Yahoo Parenting reached out to the teacher, who agreed to share her side of the story exclusively with our readers.
I have danced my whole life. I love dance, I love being onstage — it’s therapeutic for me. In December of 2014, I was the victim of a drive-by shooting, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Luckily, I was not physically injured, but the emotional and psychological tolls were high: I didn’t feel safe at home and I didn’t feel safe at work, because I lived in the same small city I worked in, and the odds were good that some of my students knew the people who shot up my house. I realized that the only place I felt safe and in control was when I was onstage, so my therapist suggested that I visualize being onstage whenever I felt anxiety. Burlesque, which I’d been doing since 2011, helped me through a very rough time in my life; in a lot of ways it saved my life.
I was very vigilant [about keeping] my burlesque persona away from my professional life. I set up separate email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, and I tried to make sure that my persona looked nothing like my everyday look. I wore wigs and heavy makeup to shows and anywhere I thought I might be photographed.
I feel very confident that no one “stumbled” upon my burlesque name, and that this did not happen organically. I was outed. Someone fed the “authorities” the name Lottie Ellington, and from there all they had to do was a Google search. The video that surfaced was from the Michigan Burlesque Festival, and I live in Virginia. This was a witch-hunt, plain and simple. I downloaded the footage when it was first released so that I could use it to submit to other festivals, but outside of that I had no use for it. The last time I looked at “Twerking in the Rain,” it had only 87 views, and only now [that people have brought attention to it], according to the news, it has over 14,000.
I was offered an ultimatum [by the school]: Either resign by [last] Thursday, or the school board would meet to review all the findings from their ‘investigation,’ and I would be fired.
I want my students to know that I will be OK. I want them to be strong and to feel free to be who they are, without apology. I want my students to know and understand that the reason you need an education is because education provides you options. If I didn’t have my education, this situation could have been the end of my story. But now I have choices and options in front of me.
I loved teaching health to my students. There is so much that they don’t know, and I provided a safe place for them to get accurate information. They have so many questions and they don’t feel comfortable asking their parents, either because their parents don’t know or because they don’t want their parents to know that they are thinking about these subjects (sex, relationships, abuse, drugs, alcohol, nutrition, stress). In the city where I taught, many of the parents went to the same high school, so if they didn’t leave the area or continue their studies, they are operating with the same outdated or inaccurate information they received [when they were] in high school.
I only did burlesque shows out of town, and even started teaching classes to other performers on how to maintain their privacy, because a lot of people [who judge it] don’t know the history behind burlesque. They don’t know that while burlesque performers do “strip” out of their clothes, they are not strippers in the general sense. Burlesque is a celebration of womanhood — it is comical, political, sensual, and sometimes raunchy, and it allows the performer to be all of these things in a safe, supportive, female-identified environment.
Burlesque is art, and I am a performance artist. My acts may be a little naughty, but after a long work week, who doesn’t want to let loose and have a little grown-up fun? I kept my personal and professional lives separate in the same way that many teachers have to, because we are held to unrealistically high standards. We are supposed to be “model” citizens, when in reality, we are all human and flawed.
In the end, I am looking on the bright side. I am connecting with so many other performers who shared my fear of being outed, and I hope that, if nothing else, my story helps some of them. I plan on starting a Facebook support group for performers who are facing issues like mine or are afraid of being outed, so that they will know that they are not alone. So even though someone “meant this for bad,” the universe “meant it for good.” And I am going to do the best I can to honor that.