I never thought I’d spent my weekend sewing rhinestones on to G-string. Nor stalking the internet for 4 hours to find a 80s leopard print thong leotard. Nor dipping myself in glitter and whirling around the stage semi naked for a room full of strangers. But there are some things, like Kinder Happy Hippos and high pressure showers, that after trying them once you never want to live without. And it turns out that Burlesque is one of them.
The first thing people ask when I tell them about my glittery side hustle is, “sorry, what is that?” Burlesque is an art form which has its roots in comedy and satire, coming from the Italian ‘Burlesco’ for ‘farce’, and evolved through the ages to include elements of strip tease, theatre, dancing and cabaret. It can be as gently sophisticated as donning a rhinestone studded Moulin Rouge gown and twirling 6ft fans. Or as outrageously bizarre as dressing up as a giant block of cheese and throwing slices of Edam into the audience out of your pants.
One common misconception is that it’s stripping for people too shy to call it stripping. It’s not. As one glittered glamour puss of the scene once told me, “stripping is sales, burlesque is entertainment.” Stripping is about taking off your clothes and selling the illusion of sex to punters. Burlesque is about crafting an entertainment piece with character, concept, narrative, structure, meaning etc. Yes, in Burlesque you might take things off but it might just be one glove. And there’s a plot motive for that. Sometimes I prance around in an illuminated, glowing neon pink bra and g-string and spray myself in gold hairspray. Sometimes I dress up as a sugar cane plant and waft around the stage being, well, sugar-cane-planty. Both are burlesque.
I started six months ago, largely because I was utterly depressed with the endless drudgery of my life. I’d walk to work each morning thinking how the high point of my day was lunch. And when your lunch is a packet of Uncle Ben’s rice, you know you’ve got a problem.
I was 22, and could see nothing but flat, stale years of dulling, grinding boredom stretching out in front of me. Surely, I’d ask myself at the microwave as the rice went round and round, there was a more exciting world out there than this?
And that’s when I found Lily Loca’s burlesque academy on EventFinda. It promised confidence, thrills, excitement and a sultry, feminine magic. The tagline was “be brave.” It was all I needed. I signed up, did the course, and haven’t stopped rhinestoning since.
But while listless boredom was the surface factor that kicked me into action, I was also driven by something deeper. I’d felt the increasing feeling that I’d lost control of my own body.
Now, I don’t need to tell you how politicised the female body is. If it’s not radio jocks telling me that I’m asking for it by wearing a short skirt, or toothpaste companies telling me how to achieve happiness via hydrogen peroxide, it’s the constant barrage of messages everywhere from women’s magazines to water cooler conversations about ‘nice girls’ that bombard young women with rules about how to exist. Especially against the backdrop of my own #metoo experiences, I’d increasingly felt trapped in a body that was dictated by what everyone else thought I should do, say and be. I felt trapped, hopeless and utterly disempowered about my own life.
But there is a strange, subversive, intoxicating magic about burlesque. The power, the exhilaration, the ecstatic thrilling high of standing on stage and showing your true self to the world is the most blisteringly, blindingly empowering experience I’ve ever had. No women’s leadership conference has ever made me feel so alive, so ecstatic and so powerful in my own fleshy case.
The process of constructing, rehearsing and publically presenting my interpretation of my body made me feel as though I’d reclaimed my identity. I’d taken an active, hilarious and thoughtful approach to defining myself to the world.
And the more I talked to fellow performers, the more I realised how empowering the experience is for many of the glittery tribe. So many performers began because they wanted to reclaim some lost part of themselves, some have struggled with eating disorders, some with toxic relationships, or some with a lack of purpose, excitement or meaning in their life. Burlesque allowed many of them to conquer this, recreate how the world sees them, and above all, just feel alive.
You’d think that it would take incredible amounts of confidence to get out there and shake your glittery thang for strangers. But it’s actually the reverse, it’s the process of getting up and shimmying your boobs at a stranger that gives you confidence.
For me, it is therapy disguised as a class A high.Support Villainesse