In the beginning, when asked why was I wanted to do burlesque, my answer was simple: I want to take off my clothes.Now, this is true in its simplicity, but as you can see, it is definitely a type of answer we would call “simple.” As someone who almost always has an issue articulating herself, preferring to express my point in the written word (cue the snobbish book face), verbalizing has always been more of an obstacle course in words and sentences that don’t always come out as I’ve arranged them in my brain, rather than that which comes easily in writing with time and great editors. But as I have listened more and watched those around me, I have developed more of a language to answer this question. Burlesque – it frees me.
I’ve been thinking about this freedom and what it means as someone who is just beginning, someone who does not exactly know where to go, or really, does not know the blood and tears that can come with the sparkle and shine. Of course, it also begs the question of what it means to “entertain” and to be an “entertainer.” That’s the hook with burlesque, in whatever style: it’s really, really good when it is entertaining. This question perpetually exists in my mind, best described by one of my favorite writers/ burlesque queens, Sydni Deveraux. “I am talking about going on a long, never-ending walk with yourself down the path of being an ‘entertainer.’ It’s long, sometimes lonely, sometimes awesome, but constantly evolving and passionate (if not always in the positive way).”
Entertainment – the fleeting glorious. It’s electricity.
Personally speaking, burlesque frees me in a way that I could have not even have imagined. It frees me from looking at art as I did for so many years – the institutionalized, official, and Soetheby’s collectable (even while resenting it). It also gives me a community of women to admire and honor – the type of women who, like my mother and grandmother, are salty, nasty, hilarious, ballsy, sensual women, who make no bones about who they are and what they are here to do. It gives me a language that I can speak, one that, while examined, is not academic or distanced, but visual, glamorous, rib-cracking hilarious, and tongue in cheek. It frees me from the fear of how my love for painted lips and tight skirts automatically gives pass to those who assume that this expression of femme is somehow license to touch without asking, to devalue, to walk over to me as I buy my groceries and ask, “How much?”, not wanting to know how much at all, but wanting to instead make me feel so very small by indicating that I am a “whore” and that being a “whore” is wrong (seriously, is taking money for sex really the worst thing one can do?). It frees me to experience something that is deeply unique unto itself by way of individuals interpreting something that is already somewhat undefinable. Its magic, its love, and really, before I get too mushy here, it’s empowering.
“The world polices women,” writes Merri Lisa Johnson, former exotic dancer, writer, and author of Jane Sexes It Up. “Even now in this so-called post-feminist era – into silence about sex, socially constructed modesty, and self-regulating repression of behavior and fantasy…we live inside the contradictions of a political movement that affirms and encourages expressions of female and/ or alternative sexualities, and the ‘real world’ of workplaces, families, and communities that continue to judge women harshly for speaking of sex, much less expressing one’s ‘deviant’ acts and complex erotic imagination.” For me, burlesque has provided a space to take hold of these things, to let go of a past that was about tight, narrow borders, whether from what could be defined as “art,” to what bodily autonomy meant, to understanding that one can indeed go up on stage and enjoy one’s body publicly – without being brought back down to violation, whether verbal or physical. It has provided encounters of people whose own experiences have humbled me. It has provided sparkle and glitter, makeup, and a love of pretty, pretty things. It has provided an education, one that seems to have no end in sight, wherever this thing goes.