From Days of the Year: “World Burlesque Day celebrates the dance form that is burlesque. Burlesque is a form of entertainment similar to a cabaret. The type of burlesque that people talk about these days closely resembles the kind of shows that were made popular during the early part of the twentieth century which would consist of strippers, comedians, and a master of ceremonies.”
To celebrate we’re sharing some past posts about our burlesque experiences:
I love to dance, and this year I have been exploring various dance forms as a way to keep myself entertained during COVID restrictions. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to join weekly Zumba classes, try Afro-Cuban dances, and learn basic steps during weekly powwow workouts. Last week I spotted an Introduction to Burlesque dance class on Facebook, so I signed up. I was rather shy about it though. After all, I’m pushing 60 and I grew up believing that anything resembling burlesque was either inappropriate or degrading to women. I only told a couple of friends, after the fact.
My attitude has been shifting, though. I have gone to a couple of burlesque shows with the above-mentioned friends, and discovered a place filled with proud women (and a few men) of various sizes, ages, abilities and ethnicities performing for supportive families and friends. I was fascinated by the range of acts. Some were highly comic, while others, such as those using a suspended hoop, involve incredible balance and core strength.
More recently, I read this great article about the history of burlesque by Dita von Teese, one of the art’s superstars. In her introduction to the class, our teacher spoke about this history, and the fact that burlesque can be both sexy and outrageous, mocking conventions and exaggerating for effect. She had been a dancer on the burlesque scene in Toronto for six years before moving to Ottawa, where she now teaches at a local dance studio.
With that, we began practicing: struts, toe drags, poses, turns, dips/bends, covering and uncovering our face, breasts, pelvis and butt (by turning away or using sharp or smooth movements to show them off). The instructor also taught us about the two main styles to use for character development: dancing like no-one is watching, or knowing that someone is watching and playing to it. I had a lot of fun strutting around my living room, feeling remarkably confident in my sweatpants and comfy slippers. I didn’t need a corset, high heels or feather boa – just my chin up high and some swagger and imagination. Figuring out how to do poses gracefully was harder, but some things, such as chest thrusts and rolls were easy as I had learned to do them in bellydance classes.
In some ways, the best part was the end of the class, when we all took the time to see each other in the little Zoom gallery. There were young women, slender women, big women and women older than me. Some couldn’t wait to show off new skills for their husbands. Some just enjoyed the feeling of empowerment that came with being uninhibited for 45 minutes. Burlesque didn’t provide the level of cardio workout that I like from a dance class, so I won’t sign up for the full course, but it was definitely a lot of fun, and I would happily look for YouTube videos to practice on my own occasionally.
Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.
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.
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.
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.
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.