By now you’ve probably seen the above viral video where Chicago-based burlesque dancer Michelle L’amour clenches her buttcheeks to the music of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. The moment I saw it I had so many questions spinning around my head. The first and most obvious was, “Why?” But the more I learned about Michelle – like how she started as a shy ballet dancer with boundless talent but then got into burlesque at age 22 – the more I became obsessed with her. And her butt. She started performing with the encouragement of her now husband, Franky Vivid, and has since risen to international burlesque fame. In 2005 she won Miss Exotic World and was inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame. In 2008 she opened her own burlesque instruction school in Chicago and has taught thousands of women her craft. I recently reached her over the phone to talk about her Butthoven video, Beethoven’s street cred and her advice to Myley Cyrus.
VICE: Why Beethoven and why twerking?
Michelle: Well I’ve always had the skill before it was called twerking. It’s something I do quite often, and a couple of years into burlesque dancing I thought this would be really funny if I put my whole act into my butt. I started doing songs with my butt, which was amusing in itself, and I thought, ‘I’ll just do a whole act where it’s just that.’ I literally sat on it for years before I did anything. It was a Halloween show that I performed that at. I was like ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna just do this to Beethoven and put a bowtie on my butt and there you go!'
Did you have to practice? How long did it take you to put it together?
I put that act together in about a week. I thought I’d put out some sheet music and come out as a very serious musician with no pants on. And be really covered up until the music starts to add that element of surprise. Then when it starts happening you realize ‘Oh, this is really happening, this is so...happening.’ Then I thought I’d punctuate that with a little page turn while I’m actually reading the music. Like I said I do this ‘booty bouncing,’ ‘twerking,’ whatever all the time. I bounce to any kind of music I hear. I do it in the car, I do it at home – it’s a problem.
So what happens if a really sad song comes on, like Mad World by Gary Jules?
No, haha. I don’t want to have a sad butt. My butt makes people cry anyways so…
With six million views and rising, there are probably tens of thousands of people thinking about your butt right now. How does that make you feel?
Ha. I feel good. Ya, I feel good about it. It would make any girl feel good right? Tens of thousands of people, how many per minute is that? Maybe you could write up some ass-stats for the story. I’m about to work on my buttcheeks right now actually. I was just about to workout when you called.
Sorry for interrupting.
No worries, it will be there when we’re done.
What kind of relationship do you have with your butt? Do you treat it like your baby? A friend?
Well of course I hold it very dear, it’s something I have to check on every day. It needs a lot of attention so you know I jiggle it all the time, I take good care of it, I dress it up in tiny little underwear. Everyone looks at the front but you can’t neglect your butt, it’s all about the backside.
What kind of feedback have you gotten since Butthoven went up? Is anyone offended?
Of course, many people are offended. But I’m not really doing my job if people aren’t offended. That’s what I signed up for- I’m doing an artform that’s considered rude by many, many people. But overall the response has been really amazing. Unexpectedly so – I didn’t think everyone would be so into it or so nice about it. I really didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did. In fact, a few months after the show I was really bored and thought ‘let’s put this online and see what happens.’ And this is what happened.
What do you think Beethoven would think of your tribute?
Oh dear. Well I’d have to believe he has a sense of humor. He was a rockstar back in the day so he’d have to appreciate it from that angle. But I wonder how many people have given Beethoven a listen since the video. I’d like to think that I’m giving Beethoven some street cred.
One of your upcoming projects is called The Buttcracker. Tell me about that.
It’s gonna be a December show in Chicago. I’m gonna twirl around like a nice ballerina and then I’m gonna show you what’s under my tutu.
A lot of people were upset about Myley Cyrus twerking-fiasco. How do you feel about that? Do you have anything to say to her?
What I would say to her is “Myley, less tongue, more bum.” Obviously I don’t have a problem with it, I just think I would love to teach her those skills myself. I would love to have her in my class.
Your parents are born again Christians. How do they feel about Butthoven?
I don’t even think they know. I think they probably know at this point. I did see my mom yesterday and she asked that lingering question: “So…what else has been going on?” But I felt her eyes looking for more, as if her friends had shown her the video and she wanted me to fess up. I feel like she must know something, but I didn’t really want to talk about it.
Be honest. How many times have you clenched your cheeks during this interview?
Oh my god. Per minute? I dunno, let’s say ten. I wasn’t keeping track. The clenches just happen.
Let’s get philosophical for a moment. What is the sound of one cheek clapping?
Ha, I don’t even know how to answer that question. Because I can do it – I’m doing it right now and it’s not making any noise. But it looks great.
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