So sometimes people ask me, “What is burlesque anyway?” So, I will start with a definition from the online version of Oxford Dictionaries: 1) an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody and 2) a variety show, typically including striptease. That’s a pretty broad definition, and in my opinion, I like it!
So, as burlesque has gained interest and attention over the years it is interesting to note various comments, articles, blogs (yes, yes, I know – not unlike my own right here thank you very much) about burlesque… What burlesque is, what it is not, what it should be, what it should not be. People have a lot of opinions about burlesque. I am going to repeat that. People have a lot of OPINIONS about burlesque. And most of it is just that – opinions. I have seen people say that you HAVE to do a lot of things in burlesque, all of which are (in my opinion) merely their personal opinions:
1) you have to wear heels
2) it isn’t really burlesque if you don’t use classic moves
3) you have to take off your clothes
4) you shouldn’t go on stage until you are amazing – otherwise it isn’t really burlesque
5) you can only learn to do it the right way from a handful of teachers
6) your costume has to be sparkly
7) and on, and on, and on…… doesn’t it stop?
So, first let me tell you that these things are NOT true. You don’t have to wear heels, you can even be barefoot if you want to. You can use whatever moves you want to – classic or not – it all counts! You don’t have to take off your clothes – you can take something off without revealing everything, you can take nothing off at all! You can even put more clothes on than you started with! All burlesque! If you wait until you are amazing to go onstage, you will never be amazing. Being amazing requires practice in front of real people in real time…. Lots of people can teach you how to do burlesque and there isn’t a “right way.” I like sparkles on a costume, but it is not required. I have never seen anyone thrown off stage for a lack of sparkles. So, these are opinions, and people like to have opinions. And they like to share those opinions. The problem is that many people do not (or never did) understand that what they have are opinions – they think they have facts. And there may be some facts that are important (like it is easier to take off your stockings if you take your shoes off first – maybe not impossible because I am sure you could think of ways to take them off simultaneously, or rip holes in them to take them off first), but everything that people believe is not going to be a fact.
That said, I am going to share some opinions other than my own here today!! Wheee! When I was in Cleveland for the Ohio Burlesque Festival, the amazing and just Wow! Foxy Tann kept reminding the audience – several times during the shows – what burlesque is…. What is burlesque? She said it is whatever you want it to be! Again, another comment worth repeating, and so I will! Burlesque is whatever you want it to be! And I agree with her! It can be singing, dancing, drag, aerial, comedic, dramatic, sideshow. Most of the performers took off clothes during the Ohio Burlesque Festival, but there were many that did not. It did not lessen their performances. (It was a pretty damn amazing festival, BTW). We want burlesque to be an inclusive, well-represented and diverse group of performers!! The more diverse the performers and the show (even having some acts periodically where people don’t take off their clothes) makes for a more interested audience and a happier audience. I always say at burlesque shows – “Don’t like an act? Just wait 5 minutes for the next one!” If we were all alike in our style and demeanor then shows would be BORING….. I love vanilla ice cream. But I would get pretty darned tired of it if that is all I could eat all day every day. I would be like, “Hey, could someone get be some broccoli? Raw, cooked, I don’t care but broccoli sounds pretty f-ing amazing right now.” My husband was surprised at one of the first festivals he attended with me because he “GOT TIRED of SEEING BOOBS!” When that is all that you are doing in your act, is getting to your boobage, and you have a huge amount of acts with the same style, the same type of music, the same type of costume, the same type of body, etc. it increases the likelihood of boob burnout!!! Viva la difference!!!
This applies to a lot of things. I get students that ask me if they can use XYZ music. I tell them that they can use whatever music they want to use! I use primarily modern (different types and genres), but I have some numbers to classical music… some of them are pretty classical – like a “Russian” pointe number I do… but then the number where I come out an old decrepit woman, kill a baby and eat its heart, turn young, and then have a heart attack and die is also to classical music! Do not constrain yourselves!
I also just did an online class with the inimitable Satan’s Angel. It was a really great experience and I recommend it for any performers out there (along with Bombshell Betty’s new online training – Tease! Bang! Boom!). Anyway, in our conversation, I asked Satan’s Angel what she thought about non-classical burlesque. (I had worked on a classical piece with her, but most of what I do is NOT classical). She said, it isn’t her favorite thing, but back in the day, performers had different styles. There were comedic strips, and singing strips. People didn’t just do straight strip – some performers did other things. Even in the world of the classical strip back “in the day,” they weren’t all the same. Watch video of Gypsy Rose Lee, Ann Rand, Ann Sothern! Totally different women, totally different styles, and yet all well loved in the burlesque world. We don’t have to all be the same thing on stage. We should not all feel the need to be Dita Von Teese… Dita is already Dita – we should strive to be whatever it is and whoever it is on stage that excites us and excites the audience.
Last year I performed at a festival and several co-workers who had never ever been to a burlesque show came to see me perform. At the end, the winner of the best act (which was amazing) was loved by everyone. My coworkers said things like “Oh, yes, that act embodied everything about burlesque.” How did they know? They had never been to a burlesque show before. They knew because they liked it!!! The performer put herself into it, and she got the audience into it! So, they went to one show and now they are burlesque experts because they know what they liked (and they know what they didn’t like so very much.) Were they right or wrong? I am sure that some agreed with them and others did not. Again, opinions…. My favorite burlesque act may not be someone else’s.
So, burlesque is in the eye of the beholder. Make it what you want to make it. Present yourself as you want to be seen. It isn’t wrong and it isn’t right. It is ART! It is PERSONA! And underneath your performance, it is all YOU! And aren’t we all beautiful….