Selene Luna lives in a building once inhabited by Lucille Ball, and whatever magic Ball left in the walls seems to have rubbed off. Luna radiates old Hollywood glamour, and it’s not just the kitten heels or the torpedo bra. She’s got a quirky humor reminiscent of the red-haired comedian, made naughty by a touch of Bettie Page sensuality and the girlish charm of Betty Boop. It’s that kind of presence that has made Luna one of the most recognizable faces in the city’s burlesque-revival scene.
Watching her slither and shake onstage, it’s hard to believe that Luna is technically handicapped: At just 3 feet, 10 inches, she faces a life full of daily challenges.
“I’ve come to terms with the word disabled. Simple things, like going to the grocery store or driving a car, are difficult for me. The world isn’t made for little people. Not that it should be.”
Luna may be struggling, but she isn’t complaining. In fact, she credits being a little person with inspiring her as a performer.
“People were going to stare at me no matter what,” Luna explains. “I made sure they did it on my terms.”
Although Luna always knew she wanted to be an actress, she never expected to become a dancer. But nearly a decade ago, she was invited by friend Michelle Carr to perform with the burlesque troupe Velvet Hammer.
“I was terrified,” Luna says. “I had never done anything like that before.”
But she agreed to perform a striptease act, viewing it as a challenge. “After that first time onstage, I was hooked.”
Luna has been performing with Velvet Hammer ever since. The idea that stripping can be empowering to women usually gets feminist eyes rolling, but in Luna’s case it was absolutely true.
“Before I started dancing I had a lot of issues with my body,” she says. “Burlesque has helped me make peace with myself.”
Though Luna is most widely known as a burlesque dancer, she’s also a seasoned actress who has appeared in theater, film and television. While she’s played a variety of dramatic roles onstage and in independent films, most of her work in commercial film and television has been what she calls “midget in a costume” jobs.
“Elves,” she groans, “my show-biz nemesis. I hate playing a Christmas elf, but I love the paycheck.”
She finds these kinds of roles dehumanizing, but considers it no different than the stereotypes other actors have to play to make a living.
“The black pimp. The Latin housekeeper. The murderous trannie. Hollywood does not discriminate. Hollywood humiliates everyone!”
And even Hollywood can change. The last few years have seen a number of little people featured on prime-time television shows such as Boston Legal, Nip/Tuck and Carnival, not as punch lines or costumed characters, but in dramatic roles that reflect real, complex lives. It’s likely only a matter of time before Luna gets the kind of role she’s been hoping for. But whatever happens, she doesn’t intend to quit her burlesque career. The elf ears may go, but the pasties are staying put.