Off the top of your head, what’s the most important thing a burlesque performer needs to have? It’s hard to narrow down. Costumes, makeup, a routine, music, eyelashes that don’t rip your skin off, pasties that don’t fall off, and always, always more of everything.
Actually, these are all secondary. Let me clarify. I think these are all secondary. What I think a burlesque performer needs most is confidence. An unshakable, rock-hard, steel vault of confidence that not even the worst of the external forces of the world that wait with dripping lips of poison can touch. A confidence in one’s self that at its very core, the one deep inside your gut that is your island, your center, and essentially, your self, must be kept alive, and breathing, whether it’s to capitalize on the rewards of life or as a weapon against the ultimate sadness we all face. Ultimately, it’s reductive to think that just burlesque performers need it. We all need it.
I like to think I fool people with my brassy, foul mouth, my tattoos, giant hoops, and the perma-snarl I often wear in public, that I am indeed, confident. That hopefully, my self-deprecating humor and making light out of the things that rattle me the most is enough to have people consider me “doing okay.” I have a vast array of tricks and methods that are meant to reassure everyone–especially myself–that all is all right. Everything is fine–mostly me! I am so okay right now, it hurts I’m so okay. Except to be real here, it’s not the case at all. My insecurities eat me inside and out. I am so fearful of the world sometimes that its easier to just silence myself and remain convinced that I didn’t want to say/do/try that thing anyway. I have had nights when I have laid awake for hours, anxiety consuming me about everything from the job I hated that I had to go to, to wondering if the people who read my work would think I was a misinformed fake who somehow wormed her way into this space with nothing but the sheer luck of the Irish, to worrying that my sister or mother would die and I wouldn’t be there.
I worried about my body, constantly berating it for its failure to work and look exactly how I wanted it. I worried about how ridiculous I looked when I ran into things–forgetting that I am blind in my left eye. I worried about money, about work, about my relationship, and whatever else you can throw in there, I worried about it. Most of all, whether or not I was good enough. And I was never good enough. Never.
From the moment I woke up to the moment I feel asleep, ultimately to wake up to grinding my teeth in a furious fashion in some fit of anxiety, I flagellated myself. You name it, I was it. I took pleasure in the self-directed insults and disappointment, the constant reminders of when something happened to me that it was my fault. Of course it was. Why wouldn’t it be? In a way it was easy to myself. As one of my favorite authors Toni Cade Bambara said in her book, The Salt Eaters, “Just so’s you’re sure sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter.” It was only when I told my mother of how I had been feeling suicidal over something as ridiculous as debt that she looked at me and said, “Why? Why would you ever feel that?” that I finally became self-aware of this toxic mind frame. Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I keeping this so quiet? I needed to re-center. I needed to change. I needed to do what I loved and to love myself, even in the most gentle, simple way. I needed to finally do what I wanted, one of which was burlesque.
On my burlesque journey, I’ve ended up in World Famous *BOB*’s radical workshop, Ultimate Self-Confidence. I can’t tell you exactly what World Famous BOB covered: a magician cannot reveal the secrets unless one becomes a magician or even takes just one two-hour course in magic related thinking. I will compromise though: Here’s the description of the class from the New York School of Burlesque:
Confidence is something that is only true when it is created by ourselves and *BOB* will guide you through a series of fun and sometimes challenging exercises to create “courage references” that are guaranteed to stay with you long after you’ve left class. Come ready to work and be prepared to amaze even yourself!
But I will tell you about *BOB*. She was/is hard knock. She is hilarious. She is inviting and loving and is a hell of a burlesque performer. She is “a girl*who had to become a drag queen*to learn how to become a woman.” She is able to mix a martini in her cleavage while dancing and keeping a smile on her face AND look stunning while doing so. She is the teacher that led me to learning self-confidence and learning that I have to take it day by day, taking the negative thoughts and not banishing them, but making them so they are a quieter murmur in the face of a more positive space of mind. She provided me a space to lay myself bare and to open myself to the radical possible. I can never repay her for that.
What I love about burlesque is that it is a world that is constructed to not escape this one, but to imagine it as something else. A world where sequins and fantasy are like currency and there is reward in creativity, humor, and elegance–however you define it. It provides a space for possibility to become actuality, a place where you can say all you want about the societal traps of women’s sexuality in a 2-minute Dolly Parton song and most importantly, it provides a space where womens bodies are worshipped for the way they are. Not the way they should or need to look, but the way they are. Sure there might be some asshole in the crowd screaming, “You’re fat! You’re flat-chested! You suck!” But those assholes are few and far in between, folks who are so disappointed with their own disposition in life that they garner only their negative, oppressive power to take out on those who are daring to create and be. They are nothing but an echo of reasons on why having confidence is the single best tool you can ever have. Because as they are yelling on how they would rather fuck a blow-up doll than you, it doesn’t matter. You are on stage creating magic. If anything, we need so much more magic in this world.