A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for BitchBuzz pondering whether burlesque was just about glittertits and sex. At the time, I was trying to decide whether or not to continue with it as a hobby, partly because of what other people perceived burlesque to be. I was surprised to discover that some people thought it was just “posh stripping” when I viewed it as something rather different.
To me, it’s a cabaret performance style which can incorporate any number or skills/talents. A burlesque performance can be comical, radical, theatrical or downright sexy. It can tell a story without words, parody famous people and events, or confuse and therefore encourage the audience to determine its meaning themselves. It can be challenging, subversive, satirical, glamorous or just plain silly. It can involve many types of singing, dancing or circus skills, and it usually involves a element of stripping and/or nudity. This is not what customers at your average gentleman’s club pay to see. They want to be turned on, but a burlesque audience wants to be entertained. Also, a burlesque audience often includes more women than men.
There are many more differences between burlesque and stripping. The most obvious one being that strippers pay the club in order to perform and then make their money directly from their audience, whereas burlesque performers are paid by the promoter and their audience buys a ticket to come and see the show. Burlesque is also performed by people of many different genders, ages and body types, whereas classic stripping is usually reserved for young toned people with a very specific look. It may not be art but burlesque is creative, and it allows the performers themselves to express themselves via their choice of music, costume and moves. Burlesque performers often produce their own shows and this helps to bring a community feel to the scene. When organising a show, for charity or for profit, performers look to those they have worked with before and loved. It is a often a more friendly than competitive environment, with fellow performers offering encouragement and cheering each other on.
All this means that burlesque appears to fit into the entertainment industry better than the sex industry, although there will always be shows/performers that buck the trend. But then, there’s that big ugly question that’s been bugging me for ages: Is burlesque feminist? As a performance genre I don’t think it inherently is, but there are aspects of it which align extremely well with many of my own feminist beliefs. It gives control to the performer, rather than the audience, and is far more inclusive than many other types of performance. It promotes confidence and allows the performer to convey whatever message they desire to their audience. So, after years of consideration, I have decided that it is definitely possible to be a tassel twirling feminist. What do you think? Why not come and join the debate at BurlyCamp on 19th-20th May. I’d love to hear your views.
Main and final images, of Miss Lolly Pops, by Laura Jung. Second image, of Honey Schnapps, by Echo Moss. Image of Doris & Enid, guest stars of The Rebel Rebels, by Geoff Matthews.