So, I often ask myself – “Why do I do this?” This is such a lovely, broad question and this can relate to so many different things in my life – such as “Why do I have a job?” Answer: So I can pay the bills – and to use the analytical side of my brain. “Why do I stay married?” Answer: Because I love my husband and don’t want to spend my life without him. “Why do I have dogs?” Answer: Usually, because they are sweet, caring, and fun. With my current dogs, I have no idea. But there is also the question of “Why do I do burlesque?” Answer: Sometimes it is because I have no choice, because my creativity drags me to do it and, like an addictive drug, I have come to a point in my life where I can’t stop. Plus, I get to buy sparkley dresses and shoes and feathers and stuff I can’t really wear to work but love anyway. Other days, when I am physically hurt, feeling emotional or unappreciated, or just worn out and exhausted, I want to go to some form of Burlesque Anonymous and quit the addictive habit. Although maybe it should just generally be Performing Anonymous.
I imagine the speeches to go something like this. “Hi, My name is (fill in blank) and I am a recovering performer. Today is my one year anniversary of being clean and sane and stage free, but I still have moments where I hear the cheering in my head and feel the adrenaline pumping through my heart and I don’t know why I ever stopped. But then, the late nights, the sordid explanations to family members and lies about where I am going and what I am doing and all of my money spent on rhinestones and ostrich feathers. I hit bottom when I had $10.00 left in my bank account and I could either by a nice lunch or a huge $9.00 ostrich feather to adorn my hair for a show that night and I bought the feather. I broke open my roommate’s piggy bank that night to scrounge together enough quarters to buy a street hot dog.”
But, I totally digress from the point of all of this…. Although hopefully it was an entertaining regression. So, other than being insane and loving to be on stage and creative and owning my work (and making myself ultra busy and insane and super vulnerable and sometimes insecure, because putting yourself out there both increases your self-esteem and makes you very vulnerable at the same time)… other than all of that – Why do I do this thing – this performing thing called burlesque?
(There is a pause here so you can think about it, as I often do…)
Well, in the balance of life, or the balance of burlesque, the enjoyment typically outweighs the negative. But, the prime moments are those that you realize that you have impacted other people. Not just impacted them so that they say “That was lovely. I liked your performance,” or some other lovely nice thing to hear, but really impacted them. At the last DIVA or Die Burlesque, we had a mother and daughter traveling on vacation from Alabama. They were very excited about burlesque – it was the first show that they had ever attended – and wanted to discuss the concepts, the ideas. The mother asked me what I thought about burlesque and whether or not it was feminist and – as an actual Ms. Magazine subscriber and someone who has read a lot of feminist writing – I started dialoging on the importance of bringing back women’s sexuality into the feminist movement and that being a feminist does not mean that you have to stop being a sensual or sexual being – that is still a part of who we are. After this someone longer and a bit more earnest discussion, the daughter piped up. She put it very simply and I am going to paraphrase what she said, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that she felt it was feminist and supportive to have women with different body types, ages, colors, demographics, on stage portraying what they want to and showing their bodies and themselves in a confident manner. She (the daughter) was tired of seeing tiny, overly thin young women on the television who are supposed to represent the embodiment of what a woman should be. She – a very pretty and trim dancer – said she often feels unattractive and lacks self-esteem because what media portrays to her through movie, television, print, is not something she feels that she can achieve. I told myself that it was a striking statement from a young woman – from any young woman, but particularly from a young woman that most people her age would associate with having those things that she feels that she lacks. If our media is making the young women most fitting their stereotype feel unattractive and unvalued, what must it be doing to women who don’t come near to their stereotypical view of what a woman should be.
So, in that moment, I was not only happy I was doing burlesque, but I was proud of the work I do in burlesque (both as a performer and as a co-artistic director of DIVA or Die) – I was proud because I was showing this young woman that regardless of whether we fit some stereotypical view of what women should be, we (women) can get on stage, we (women) can be beautiful, and we (women) can portray ourselves as the strong, powerful women we deserve to be. While on some level it may seem like a minor self-esteem issue – those issues go deep and impact every component of our lives. When someone tells a women she is too tall, too big, too little, too whatever – the damage to her self-esteem doesn’t just impact her when she is looking into the mirror at herself, it impacts how she feels about herself on the bus, at school, at the workplace, in relationships. And at the end of the day, that can result in a myriad number of ill effects – from undesired harassment, to lower grades, to lower pay, to less respect. When you don’t respect what you bring to the table, it is hard for others to respect you.
So, “Why do I do this – burlesque, performance thing?” Answer: Because it empowers me and because it empowers others – whether the others are empowered to be a bit more open-minded, whether it helps others have more self-esteem, whether they take the step to be performers themselves, or whether they just enjoy it in the moment, what I do has the ability to touch others in a positive way. While sometimes it does hurt, because creativity and baring your soul on stage is not always an easy process, the power and the overall positive impact that comes out as an end result helps carry us through those times of negativity… There is a lot of bad in this world – every little bit of good, even if it is just a laugh or a smile helps someone carry on provide a little more good along the way.