My Life in Burlesque: We Are Not ‘Disgusting’

Let the record show that ladies who take their clothes off are not bad people.

Recently, a burlesque dancer in Alabama was banned from performing or even DISCUSSING burlesque, in order to maintain joint custody of her children. Her friend (also a burlesque performer) commented, “Somehow burlesque, the satirical comedy it portrays on stage and the sensual exploration of sexuality that does occur in some performers’ numbers, is somehow horribly disgusting and therefore nullifies a mother’s right to her children…

DISGUSTING. Photo: Trevor Kelley
DISGUSTING. Photo: Trevor Kelley.

Keep in mind that the allegedly bad conduct of the children’s father was not taken into account at all.

I don’t have kids, but this is very, very sadly not a surprise to me. Consider the following:

  • When I was still taking classes and had only performed once (in a group, at a student show), my teacher warned us that we had to be careful about disclosing our burlesque activities, especially those of us who worked with children, and/or at educational institutions. My teacher was referring not just to performing, but taking classes.
  • My friend and fellow performer was told by her brother that if she were to continue burlesque, she would not be allowed contact with her young nephew.
  • Many burlesque performers have separate social media accounts under their stage names.
  • I do not (as I maintain several social media accounts already), but after I started performing regularly, I took my last name off my account. When I talk about burlesque, I refer to my stage persona in the third person.
  • Most burlesque shows have a photographer present, but the audience is not allowed to take pictures or video. This is not only announced at the top of the show, but enforced.
  • While my friends, siblings and some of my coworkers know I’m a performer, I am not “out” to my employers, or my own parents.

All of this? Is a problem.

Some people prefer to keep their professional and personal lives private, and of course that is completely acceptable and should be respected. Some are “out” to all they know, and their families, employers and significant others are peachy keen with it all. But many of us are somewhat in hiding because we’re afraid of judgments like the one above. Of losing our jobs, our children, and respect as a whole. Of being seen as deviants and bad people who are a danger to children and society in general.

Not right, at all, but this is the way it is now.

My best friend, ever-supportive of my endeavors, attended the debut of my holiday solo. I was also dancing in two group numbers that evening, one of which involved us pulling a man out of the audience. Later, my friend told me, “You know, his friend started taping it. I mean, I think people want to show their friends, because burlesque is different and cool…but they don’t think about you guys, who have lives outside of it and might not want videos posted everywhere.”

Damn right. Like I said, my bosses don’t know. Another woman in the group number works with young children. Thankfully, I spoke to a producer later and found out the video had been deleted while the producer watched. Close shave.

It’s sad we have to worry. That our sexuality and our bodies are seen as harmful. That even though we are regular people, good people even (ours is an incredibly supportive and loving community), people with jobs (sometimes in the sex industry, mostly not) and relationships and interests just like everyone else, we’re still viewed as “disgusting” and unworthy for our art.

I promise my next post will be more positive. This time, though, I had to speak out, under my stage name, of course.

Listen to me discuss nerdlesque on the OC Dweeb podcast.

Learn about the new home of The Kiss Kiss Cabaret, where I am an apprentice, on Broadway World. And help us raise money for it!

Come see me perform at Gorilla Tango Burlesque and The Kiss Kiss Cabaret — email for showtimes and discount codes.

By 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.

14 replies on “My Life in Burlesque: We Are Not ‘Disgusting’”

Actually, women who strip ARE disgusting. They demean themselves and our gender by offering themselves up as sexual entertainment, perpetuating the notion that women’s bodies are meant for Objectification and titillation… Gross! I wouldn’t allow my children to be around women like that because I don’t want to reinforce the “look at my tits” culture being perpetuated by these women who lack self respect or class. You may not find them disgusting but that is DEFINITELY a matter of opinion!! Women will never enjoy gender equality because women like this have given into patriarchy and instead of fighting against it, are trying to get the attention and confidence they lack by baring their tits and begging for applause. Nasty :(


Thank you for your comments. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Indeed, burlesque (both watching and performing) is not for everyone. Some of my own friends have not seen me dance because they are uncomfortable watching someone they know take her clothes off, and/or because they don’t understand how I see it as feminist. I respect and honor their views, and their comfort zones.

However, I’m going to interject a few of my own views:

1. You mention “getting applause (or cash) for tits and ass”. First, like with any performance, applause and reaction can vary. I’ve been in shows where audience members glared at us the entire time, or checked their cell phones. Positive attention isn’t something burlesque performers, or any performers for that matter, can rely on. Second, with regards to cash. It’s a rare burlesque dancer who makes a living performing. One troupe I’m with does a “tip get” in the middle of each show to supplement our per-show pay. The other one, we do no tip get and we’re paid a flat fee per show. None of this constitutes a living wage. All of us have other jobs – even those in burlesque who ARE able to make a living, are also teachers, producers, etc. and hustle non-stop.

2. I find your use of “disgusting”, “demean”, and “nasty” to be indicative of how you likely judge other people, burlesque dancers or no. I don’t have children, but if I ever do, I want to teach them to accept others for who they are, rather than put people in categories according to how they look, what they enjoy doing, etc. Human beings are worthy of respect.

3. The way I see it, stripping and burlesque dancing are two different things. Stripping is sex work, and is client-focused. Burlesque is performance art and performer-focused. Both are worthy of respect.

4. I would encourage you to see a burlesque show. Should you do so, you will see that it’s far more than “tits and ass”, that a large number of audience members are women, and that it’s a very body-positive environment with a lot of humor and fun.

Well women and feminism aren’t monoliths. And while it is devastatingly easy to say that we “demean all women by offering yourself up, willingly, for objectification while the rest of us suffer from the misogyny you are feeding”, it frankly just isn’t that black and white. I’d invite you to actually learn more about the history of burlesque, as well as the current culture of burlesque and neo-burlesque, and see if that sort of mind frame could perhaps still stand so determined. A great place to start, other than getting up on a high horse in a comment section because something threatens what you believe to be the only way feminism should operate, is to check out the New York School of Burlesque’s blog (to which full disclosure, I co-edit) and our latest post by Darlinda Just Darlinda, a burlesque dancer, performance artist, and feminist.

Perhaps seeing that we aren’t total num nuts who just don’t know any better (a common refrain used against any sort of woman who deviates from being a “good woman” and yes, “a good feminist” and is all too similar too the logic of pro-life men who think that women should not have access to abortion because “they just don’t know better”) would help expand your ideas of what burlesque is (as opposed to stripping, but frankly, why it’s also dangerous to hate on stripping / sex work) , why the struggle for equality is not defined by such easy terms, and why the inherent hate of women unrobing (yes, even by feminist) is very linked to internalized sexism. I really do invite you to not be so judgmental, especially seeing as it does nothing at the end of the day to promote any sort of betterment. It just makes you feel better or more superior.

Or, if it easier to just yell about bad feminists and women in a comment section, please have at it. I don’t think that sort of opposition would stop Emma Glitterbomb, nor myself from something we both passionately love and has expanded our lives vastly. And I think Miss Glitterbomb has done excellent work here by pointing out how loaded it really is when women take off their clothes, and your comments only seem to offer up more evidence to that.

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