My Life in Burlesque: On Swagger, Sparkles and (Han) Solo

“I’m just not used to wearing pants!”

So said I backstage at a performance of Boobs on Endor: A Return of the Jedi Burlesque (otherwise known as, You Can’t Make This Shit Up). That night I was Han Solo, who in our show is played by a broad in a bra. And really tight, ass-flattering pants that I was struggling to get over my high-heeled boots. Because other than workout clothes, pj’s and costumes, I haven’t worn pants in over a year.

Outside of burlesque, my personal style could accurately be described as “eight-year-old girl in the body of woman who likes her cleavage.” You know that overall-tutu combo Urban Outfitters had about a year ago? “Oh honey no,” my sister said when I tried it on. “Oh honey, YES!” I retorted, and promptly wore it to a dinner party. Where everyone else was sporting khaki trousers.

Urban Outfitters overall tutu

Yet, since last month’s closing of Temple of Boobs: An Indiana Jones Burlesque, the roles I play in nerdlesque are primarily the ones played by men everywhere else. Egghead. Commissioner Gordon. Ewok Elder (Jedi‘s narrator, who is addressed as “Granddad” by Ewok Youth). R2-D2 (yes, a droid, but I always assumed he was a boy droid). Most recently, Jaime Lannister and Jon Snow. And the role model of every boy who came of age in the ’70s and ’80s (in Jedi AND A Nude Hope): Han Solo.

Han Solo in Return of the Jedi
Damn, the charisma.

I fell into Solo somewhat by accident. I wasn’t originally cast in the Return of the Jedi show, but due to some company attrition ended up understudying the roles of Ewok Elder (whom I’d read for in callbacks) and Han (whom I hadn’t read for in callbacks). Original Cast Han ended up having to bail in the middle of the first rehearsal when we were doing character work, so I was giving the task of writing down my impressions of the galaxy’s biggest badass.

Emma Glitterbomb as Han Solo
Photo by Eve Studnicka. (Leia played by Glitterbomb’s good friend EV Velour.)

Keep in mind I didn’t see the Star Wars trilogy until I was 16 and dating a nerd boy. I still don’t know who the minor characters in the background of Empire Strikes Back are. I relied on my memories of sitting in a movie theater when A New Hope was rereleased in 1997.

“He’s a frat boy!” I yelped. “He likes to be the hero! He’s kind of blustery and noncommittal. But he likes Luke. He thinks Leia’s really pretty. He’s a good dude underneath it all.”

"Carbonite." Photo by Eve Studnicka.
“Carbonite.” Photo by Eve Studnicka.

Weirdly enough, I ended basing my Han on a friend of mine, a former fraternity brother himself. (Aaron, if you’re reading this, I’m not sure if you recognized your own mannerisms while watching A Nude Hope, but thank you.)

A month into Jedi rehearsals, I auditioned to share the role of Han in A Nude Hope, the nerdlesque troupe’s longest-running and best-selling show. Nude Hope Han is a coveted role. I’d just quit another troupe because I was tired of what I felt was constant pressure to be “pretty.” (By “pretty” I mean “thin.”)

I got the part. Now I wear two different pairs of sexy pants. One of them tearaway. Sometimes in the same night if I’m doing both shows.

And I’ve never felt freer in my life. I can insinuate that an audience member has a small penis. I can swear really loudly. I can stand up on a chair and point my blaster in Obi-Wan’s face. Hell, I got a bloody nose onstage one night (that’s a whole ‘nother post) and got cheers when I came back out for our “Macho Man” group dance. Audiences eat it up. It’s physically impossible for me to be in a bad mood when I’m playing this character.

In contrast, my solo work (burlesque acts I costume, choreograph and perform outside of burlesque) leans toward the feminine. Almost hyper-feminine. My most recent act is set to Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and involves feather fans, flowing fabrics, and the colors peach and pink. And I’m as comfortable in that element as I am kicking galaxy ass.

Emma Glitterbomb fan dance
Pink! Fans! MJ! Photo by Rayme Silverberg.

How the hell did a girly girl end up playing the ultimate guy? I ask myself this all the time.

Thanks to a friend’s Facebook page, I found this article, where a lesbian mom struggles with accessorizing her baby daughter and wrestles with her own personal contrasts. I’m not a mother, but I identified so strongly with her words:

 I am feminine in so many stereotypical ways: I love shoes and make-up and getting my nails done is one of my favorite forms of “me time.” But these are things that I feel the need to justify. I find myself adding disclaimers and pointing out the ways in which I am not as traditionally femme…

I struggle with this constantly. “I play dude characters,” I think while donning Han’s pants, “but I AM ALL WOMAN.” Changing back into my dress post-show, I tell myself, “yes, a good half of my street wardrobe is comprised of lace, ruffles and tulle, but I also have an advanced degree.” And then I ask myself why I have to justify every single choice I make, onstage and off. Why I can’t just do what I like and not worry about the “masculine” and “feminine” labels?

The author goes on to ask:

But why can’t I just be a woman who kicks ass? Or better yet, a person who is a whole complex being, and as such has a blend of masculine and feminine qualities? To be human is to have a mix of traits and the faster we acknowledge that we aren’t cardboard cutouts predetermined by the way we pee, the better off society will be.


Emma Glitterbomb as Ewok Elder
Ewok Elder. Also a “boy.” Photo by Christopher Neseman.

If you need me, I’ll be practicing my Jon Snow pout. In my favorite pink T-shirt with cupcakes on it. Wiping leftover glitter off my arm.

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Emma Glitterbomb

Emma Glitterbomb is a burlesque dancer in Chicago. Writer by day and vixen by night, she's a proud company member of Gorilla Tango Burlesque and a founding member of Madame Hatter's Moonlight Marauders. Emma has danced with Beast Women, the Better Boobie Bureau, Festival of Flesh, the Kiss Kiss Cabaret, the comedy show Menage a Hah! and the blues band Miss Jackie and the Sass. Say bonjour at eglitterbomb(at)gmail(dot)com.

5 thoughts on “My Life in Burlesque: On Swagger, Sparkles and (Han) Solo”

  1. You continue to be an incredible inspiration. You are quite marvellous at being you. Thank you for sharing this. <3

    Also: I really must watch Star Wars. I shall watch it this weekend, and be most disappointed, I'm sure, that Han Solo does not in fact do burlesque on screen.

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