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Pin-up queen conquers USA

Bettina May celebrates her new U.S. green card with some flag waving. - Sensational Pinups
Bettina May celebrates her new U.S. green card with some flag waving.
— image credit: Sensational Pinups

Bettina May turns heads to cinch elusive green card

The world of burlesque has become even more noteworthy, thanks to iconic pin-up model Bettina May.

May, a Monday favourite and creator of Victoria’s first two neo-burlesque troupes, the BettiLu Bombshells and the group now known as the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue, has just received the first-ever U.S. green card awarded for burlesque.

Now, May can proudly call herself an official “Alien of Extraordinary Ability in the field of Burlesque, Pin-Up Modeling and Vintage Style Instruction” — a category that had to, in part, be carved out for May when she moved to New York in August of 2010 and began her application process. The exclusive process only approves a select few applicants each year, most of whom are Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Academy Award-winning actors, Olympic athletes and the like.

“Two years is an awfully long time to be biting your nails,” May told Monday in a phone interview from New York. “It was such a huge relief to hear the news.”

May, who says she will maintain her “proudly Canadian” citizenship, will now be allowed to work in the U.S. in any field she likes, vote, even leave the country — something she hasn’t been able to do for more than two years.

“The moment I found out, I called my parents and said ‘I’m coming home!’” says an excited May. “I already have a list of my first must-dos in Victoria, like visiting Lotus Pond Vegetarian Restaurant, driving down Dallas Road, eating Ketchup Chips!”

May began her career in Victoria where she started to receive international acclaim for her work in classic pin-up modeling. The multi M-award winner starred as Monday’s own classic Bond Girl in a 2006 cover.  She was also featured in an episode of the HBO series RealSex about the rebirth of modern pin-up. Then, May was hired by a touring vaudeville show based in the U.S. in early 2009, on the first-ever work visa handed out to a burlesque performer. She toured non-stop for a year and a half, hitting almost every state.

Since May made New York her home in 2010, it’s no surprise she’s risen to the top of her field, performing at the best cabaret venues and dinner theatres, like Duane Park and Webster Hall, while modeling and helping women unleash their inner bombshells in her pin-up classes during the day.

“For the immigration process, I had to do a lot of work and fill out so many forms proving that burlesque is an important and valuable art form,” says May. “I think it really says something that this kind of card has never been awarded before … and now I am holding one in my hands.”

May’s devotion to classic, vintage-style Hollywood glamour has made her a commodity. She has performed on Real Housewives of NYC, and for celebrities like Brooke Shields, Jude Law and Kanye West. She has also been featured regularly in The New York Times, New York Post, Shimmy Magazine, Dynamite Magazine in Germany and Portuguese Vogue.

While she’ll only be in town for a week, May is already prepared for her fans. She’ll be hosting a special private pin-up class on Oct. 20 in a vintage home in Vic West from noon to 6pm for all the women ready to try their own hand at glam-style modeling. And for those looking starry-eyed in their own direction of the Big Apple, May says don’t give up — especially now.

“If you have a dream, you just have to work really hard and don’t let it go,” she says. “There were so many people who told me what I wanted to do was not possible, but I didn’t believe them. I just kept going. And here I am.” M

To learn more about May or to sign up for her one-time-only class, visit her website at PinUpClass.com.

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