burlesque · fitness

Burlesque: bawdy body positivity

I’m in NYC this weekend, visiting my friends Martin and Andrew. I love love love it here– the stimulation of street life, plus the collective enjoyment of food, drink, things, people, and sensations all knock me out. In a good way.

Friday night, we went to a burlesque show at the McKittrick Hotel, called Bartschland Follies. The creator and host of the show is Susanne Bartsch, icon of New York nightlife. She’s been everywhere: hosting parties at the Copacabana in the 80s, raising money for AIDS research with her Love Ball, and being the subject of a recent Netflix documentary.

Our Friday night outing was to see her, along with a varied cast of characters, doing a wide variety of entertaining acts. Of course there was pole dancing– one of the dancers, Opera Gaga, also sang an aria mid-dance.

Opera Gaga, singing while pole dancing.
Opera Gaga, singing while pole dancing.

There were strip teases, a drag king emcee, drag queen emcees, and novelty acts aplenty.

One of the other emcees, Shequida, was funny and talented (she’s a trained opera singer) and, it turns out, very nice. Here’s us– her graciousness extended to not minding fan photos in the bathroom after the show.

Me (on left) and Shequida, hanging in the ladies' room.
Me (on left) and Shequida, hanging in the ladies’ room.

I’m still processing some of the messages from Friday night’s experience. For now, here are a few thoughts:

I’ve been to mostly-male strip clubs where the performers were all women with thin bodies that conform to a very narrow notion of attractiveness and sexiness. I’ve also been to strip shows (think Chippendale’s from way back when, although apparently it still exists) with all male performers of a certain body type and age. This experience was very different from those. How?

I felt happy and comfortable and safe and secure and attracted and included in the sexy funny outrageousness.

There were so many different bodies doing so many funny and sexy things, it was hard to keep track amidst the wash of feelings. But was no need. It was all good all the time. I didn’t feel like some of the show was designated for me, and some of the show was targeted for other groups of people who weren’t like me (whatever that means). All the performers were there to appeal to anyone. Here’s a grainy photo of me with a fun dancer.

Me (on left) with a nice dancer.
Me (on left) with a nice dancer.

By deliberately including me in the audience, the performances were (in Martin’s words) shared, not transactional. They felt (and made me feel) open, seen and appreciated. I also took this in to mean that my body, too, was seen and appreciated. And that it can continue to be seen and appreciated.

For me, body positivity is not a state I manage to embrace very often. Maybe I don’t need to. Tracy has blogged about body neutrality as another option– see some of her posts here and here.

For most purposes, I tend to agree with Tracy. But for one late night in NYC, I enjoyed a heaping helping of full-on bawdy body positivity. Thank you, Bartschland Follies!

Readers, have you had experiences with burlesque and body positive or other messaging? If you’d like to share them, I’d love to hear from you.