It’s not all about the application of pasties, let me tell you. Not that they aren’t awesome, sparkly and pleasantly distracting. All that glitters is not gold after all – mine were purple with bows. It’s not just the music, the sexy beat, carefully selected to get the crowd going. It isn’t the thunderous roar of applause from an adoring audience at the edge of their seats, hanging on every last flick of the wrist. It isn’t the delight of playing dress-up as a grown woman, feet adorned with elegant shoes, gloved fingers and layers upon layers to slide off onto the stage floor. It isn’t even the exquisite choreography, the dramatic flutter of fans in the fan dance. What burlesque class taught me is so much more than that.
But first – let’s backtrack a little. How did I even end up here? Well, I used to date a fellow who was completely enamoured with all things pinup and retro. As a result, I had a closet full of vintage dresses that exuberantly celebrated my curves. I did pinup photo shoots and I learned the fine art of “pinup pilates” – laying on your back with legs posed in the air holding for the camera flash, with a cheesy, plastered-on grin. We went to a few burlesque shows with friends and I was bowled over by the magic and excitement of it all. I thought, “I need some of that in my life.” So I signed up for a class, because you only live once. I expected to learn the lost art of old-fashioned “removal,” but I walked away with a lot more than that.
Like I didn’t have it already, but there it was. I’m naturally a spitfire, with a dry sense of humour and an ability to silence detractors with a zinging one-liner that stings like a carefully aimed towel after gym class. Burlesque is a performance art, and it helped me conjure confidence when I felt like it was waning. I did an “as if.” I learned to pretend “as if” I was the sassiest girl around that you don’t ever want to mess with, and I channelled “her” energy when mine felt weak.
I struggled with eating disorders and as part of my recovery I seek out activities that enhance body confidence. The movement patterns we learned in burlesque were about learning to enhance “assets,” at least visually. It’s about taking the feminine (or the masculine in boylesque, or gender-bending burlesque) and significantly and unapologetically exaggerating it. Moving through the dance sequences, I learned the most effective ways to showcase the very best parts of me aesthetically. The present is even more exciting when it’s well-wrapped (or well-unwrapped, as it were).
It’s really not just about getting naked in front of people and exhibitionism. It’s performance art. Some people think that burlesque is about degradation, objectification and disempowerment of women. The reality is that as a performer, I’m the one who decides what the audience gets to see. I’m in charge because I’m the artist. I can take off just a single glove and make it exciting because it is also about anticipation and attitude. It’s hot because with my movements and body language I have told you it’s hot. Nobody tells me how much I have to take off to make my performance compelling. Maybe all that’s coming off is a boa. That’s my call, and you will like it and say, “Thank you, Miss.”
I really didn’t understand exactly why I loved burlesque so much. Upon further reflection and through class discussion, I grew to understand that it’s really about the element of surprise. When a random woman does something naughty or titillating, that can be exciting. When a lady does it, it’s even hotter because you don’t see it coming. “Where did that come from? That woman came in here with pearls and elbow-length gloves. I did not expect that sass with all that class. Who is she?” I realized what piqued my interest was [bctt tweet=”the way the unexpected elevates an action that’s already intriguing.”]
We were a bunch of women who don’t do this sort of thing professionally. It was incredibly outside of our comfort zones, but we were all in it together. As a group, we borrowed the sultry magic of a scintillating performance artist who was there to coach and mentor us. We cheered each other on as we explored sensual movement with virginal, awkward silliness. We were a glittery team discarding hang-ups and rejoicing our femininity.
Looking back on the experience, it’s exciting to strip away the layers and find the meaningful lessons that I can integrate into my daily life. I will probably never be a professional performer, and my dance moves may never be observed other than in my own kitchen by my cats. While it didn’t lead to a career change, the lessons of sass, body confidence, boundaries, insight and sisterhood were all mine, along with a set of perfectly glimmering pasties to go with some shiny, elbow-length gloves. I don’t know that my banker would necessarily approve of the investment, but then he’s never been hit by one of those gloves flying through the air