Who is Jean Idelle?

Jean Idelle was born in Mississippi, but made history, broke barriers, and entertained many worldwide with her fan dance act.

Jean is the first Black exotic fan dancer. A Broadway talent agent discovered her at age twenty as she studied at Katherine Dunham School of Dance. She later trained to become a fan dancer.

Jean and her huge, lush white ostrich feathers broke racial barriers during her career.

Performing from 1950-1964, Jean was one of the 1st Black performers to dance with white performers during intense segregation and before the Civil Rights Act was established.

Jean was a featured dancer at Chicago’s Minsky’s Rialto Theater. She went on to headline at other nightclubs across the country and Canada, where she earned standing ovations from her adoring fans and approximately $12,000 yearly. That is roughly $150,000 in 2023.

After her retirement at 34, she married Bill Holliday, who stayed booked at clubs around the country and Canada as an MC, trumpet player, ventriloquist, and balloon artist. Often they toured together, with Bill being the only Black man in the cast and the master of ceremonies in her troupe.  

The couple was featured in Jet Magazine in 1953. Unfortunately, Bill passed away in 1971 at the age of 57.

In 2012 Jean was inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame, where she performed her eight-minute signature dance at 82. That same weekend, she taught a class, The Art of Performing with Ostrich Feather Fans.

In 2013, Jean was featured in the Burlesque Hall of Fame exhibit, Not So-Hidden Histories: Performers of Color in Burlesque.

That same year she was featured in The Jean Idelle Story, and in 2015 in the film Getting Naked. She has also been honored by the American Heart Association.

See photos and a video of Jean’s performance at the Burlesque Hall of Fame event below. Do not forget to comment and share with your friends. I would love to hear your thoughts on the great Jean Idelle!

Karma Eve

Jean Idelle Burlesque Hall of Fame – 82 years old!

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