Canadian pin-up model becomes U.S. ‘resident alien of extraordinary ability’
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Bettina May can shimmy like nobody else and she’s convinced U.S. immigration authorities of it.
The Canadian burlesque performer and pin-up model managed to get her U.S. green card as a “resident alien of extraordinary ability,” a category reserved for scientists, IT specialists, athletes, celebrities and someone “unique in their field.”
Her first plans now that she has landed immigrant status in the United States? A trip home to Victoria, B.C.
“First and foremost, it means I can come back to Canada to see my parents. I haven’t been able to go home for two and a half years,” May told the Star while she was waiting for her green card.
Leaving the U.S. would have meant “a very slim chance of getting back in,” she said.
“I’ve been homesick.”
May launched her career, based on her vintage 1940s style, in western Canada 10 years ago as a pin-up model and moved to New York in 2009.
Self-employed, she sponsored herself in her application to stay in the U.S.
“New York is the best city in the world for burlesque and I can make a living here. But Toronto also has an awesome burlesque scene,” she said. “Now I’ll be able to visit the other half of Canada and know I can come back to New York.”
She also runs “pin-up class workshops” that teach women the art of makeup and hair styles that hearken to the World War II glamour girl era.
“A lot of younger women never learned how to do their hair or makeup from their mothers,” she said. “It can be a huge transformation for them to become more self-confident and positive about their bodies.”
May took her stage name from her great-aunt Betty, also a redhead, whom she idolized as a sophisticated and impeccably turned out world traveller. She had graduated the University of Victoria with a degree in political science when she realized her own vintage style of glamour could be her livelihood.
“I’d always had more of an hourglass figure but it wasn’t until I saw old pictures that I realized, ‘These women have curves and hips and were the glamour icons of their day. There was something about it that was sweet and innocent and still sexy.”
Her shows feature a leisurely sultry striptease that ends with a just a brief flash of nudity.
Despite her U.S. status, the 33-year-old granddaughter of Saskatchewan farmers said she remains proudly Canadian and lists socialist politician Tommy Douglas as one of her heroes.
“I’m still a Canadian citizen and I will always remain so. But it’s nice to have that ease of movement.”
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