We here at Pin Curl are making our very first journey to BurlyCon this month and we couldn’t be more excited! If you’re like us, you’re probably super excited but also a little overwhelmed by all the information, activities and FUN in your near future. So a gal (or guy!) has gotta plan, right? We decided to put together a handy dandy guide for all you first-timers out there to make navigating BurlyCon 2013 even easier!
This can be nightmarish for some of us habitual overpackers – (ahem, me) but I digress. BurlyCon offers the following suggested packing list, which will be super helpful while trying to talk myself out of bringing everything I own.
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that according to BurlyCon, the event “is intended to be a weekend ‘off’ from show mode so be sure to dress for comfort! If you think you’ll need a glamour fix be sure to pack accordingly.” So no, you probably don’t need 4 of your most over-the-top outfits per day like you might at BHOF (unless that’s just how you roll; then go on with your bad self!) Here is the sample suggested packing list from BurlyCon’s email list:
- Comfortable clothing – think yoga pants!
- Comfortable shoes
- Dance wear for classes
- Character/dance/tap shoes for classes
- Warmer layers, jacket, raincoat/umbrella (Seattle in November – it’s going to be cold and rainy!)
- High Heels
- Swimsuit (pool and hot tub at the hotel!)
- A robe (to wear over revealing outfits in public hotel spaces)
You’ll also want to pack for any of the special events that you plan to attend.
Thursday Night: Vintage Meet & Greet
Bring your favorite vintage outfit for this annual mix & mingle time!
Friday Night: Class Photo!
Come ready to party at BURLYPROM for your Class of 2013 BurlyCon photo!
Friday Night: BURLYPROM!
Wear your dream burlesque prom inspired outfit!
Saturday Night: BurlyCon Movie Night
Fabulous and comfortable pajamas are suggested!
Extra Stuff to Bring:
- Hair accessories
- Notebook for classes
- Business cards/promo
- Cash for vendors
New BurlyCon Guidebook App
Next, for navigating your trip while you’re there, the fine folks at BurlyCon created a fabulous app this year for all you tech-savvy burlesquers! You can access the entire class schedule, vendor information, maps, local food & shopping locations, presenter information and more all in one easy to access location! Click here to download the app and access BurlyCon’s schedule on your smart phone.
The non-mobile online version is also available, so even if you don’t have a smart phone, you can still keep up with everything by clicking here.
If you happen to make it into Seattle early, we highly recommend this show, Foxy Tann‘s Afrodisiac, featuring The Luminous Pariah, Sydni Deveraux, Jeez Loueez, RedBone, and more! According to our friend and Seattle local Sydni Deveraux, you can take the train from the convention hotel to the venue for fairly cheap!
If you don’t have full days of classes, we’re jealous if you get to go to this. It’s at Goodwill. It’s called a Glitter sale(!!!) and they’re supposed to be selling “all that is glitzy and glamorous” (think gowns, accessories, jewelry, what have you.) We may have just ruined a Seattle secret stash… Sorry Seattle locals! This looked too good not to share! Go my friends, and get your glitter fix!
And last but definitely not least, don’t forget to re-read Sydni’s Showgirl’s Guide to Seattle, in which she dishes on all the hot spots in town for food, drinks, shows, shopping and more!
Do you have other fabulous BurlyCon tips, packing suggestions or Seattle spots you’d like to share? Comment below! We’ll see you there! Come say hi!
Lillith Grey is a seasoned burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently living in Miami as she completes her doctoral internship in Psychology. She has taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, and has also worked as a psychotherapist, an ASL interpreter and interpreter trainer, and social justice advocate. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Add her on Facebook, or visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
The recent passing of burlesque legend Dixie Evans has reignited feelings of loss and grief in the burlesque community. Not only does her death impact us, it also reminds us of our previous losses: Kitty Twist, Sparkly Devil, Foxy Goat, Patsy Grind, and so many more. These ladies brought so much light and laughter into our worlds, each in their own special way, and often brightened the worlds of people they never even met. Their absence is felt not only by those who knew and loved them personally, but also those who found their own lives changed because of these incredible women.
Time, in fact, does not heal all wounds. Grief is a wound that never heals. We learn to deal with it, we figure out how to find new meaning, and we continue building our lives, but the empty space never goes away. That can be a frightening idea for someone in the grip of intense sorrow, but it can also be comforting, because sometimes moving on feels like betrayal. Very often, people become impatient when a certain amount of time has passed and someone is still struggling with the loss. That sort of external pressure to “hurry up and get over it” can end up silencing the griever, making the process much more difficult. The purpose of processing grief is not to eliminate it; the purpose is to integrate the loss into your life. The people you’ve loved and lost will stay a part of your story forever. You will write new chapters, and the loss will become part of chapters past, but the story is still your truth and will remain written on your heart.
We are a creative community, and our grief and celebration must be creative as well. We are not stoic, we are not invisible, we are not timid. We do not hide our scars – we cover them in glitter and learn to love them. We show them to people, proudly, and we tell our personal story with every inch of skin we display. We must not hide our grief, or silence others’ grief. We must dance and shout and cry and laugh and lift these ladies high, sending their radiance into the starry skies. We must carry on their message, and we must always remember.
When we lost Patsy Grind in my home community, a remembrance Facebook group was created where people still share memories and photos. On a difficult, lonely day, having a safe place to drop a note or express sorrow can make all the difference in the world. On those days, just a few “likes” on a post can feel like a bunch of tiny hugs. Others have established celebratory events to honor and remember those who are lost – not just in the weeks and months following the loss, but also in the subsequent years. Wine and photos and laughter and tears are a perfect recipe for healing, or perhaps working with other community members to plan an annual show benefitting a cause the person loved. Coming together, whether two people or two hundred, helps relieve not only the immediate, intense pain, it also helps the long-term grieving process.
One of the ways I work with clients experiencing loss and grief is through Wisdom Therapy. This approach honors grief and sorrow, but also highlights the wisdom, insight, and personal growth that come from surviving something so painful. Finding something meaningful, some way to feel like your struggle can be purposeful, can be incredibly healing. The Burlesque Hall of Fame does a number of fantastic things along these lines, including scholarship funds and memorial projects. Getting involved with these projects, or establishing your own, can not only provide a meaningful conduit for grief, it can also help connect those who need support. On a more personal level, many of us use tattoos to inscribe meaning on our bodies; whether large, like the person’s face or name, or small, like a tiny set of whiskers on a finger, a tattoo can help ease the fear of forgetting and can be a source of storytelling and memory sharing. Others may find meaning through artwork, dance, or other creative endeavors.
There is no right way to grieve, because no two experiences of grief are alike. It is helpful to connect with others who are also grieving, but, ultimately, grief is an individual pursuit. Tear Soup is one of my favorite books about grief; in fact, not only does it illustrate the grieving process so beautifully, it can also be a catalyst for the grief itself. It is simple and short, perfect for kids and adults, and has a powerful message. I have read it a million times, and have bought and given away more copies than I can count. I strongly recommend that everyone have a copy – even if you aren’t struggling now, you will someday. It’s also so helpful to be able to pull it from the shelf and hand it to someone in need.
Grief is like the ocean. The waves may crash, but they will calm. They pound relentlessly, but that will pass. You’ll learn when to duck, and when to swim. You’ll learn to handle the salt in your eyes. At some point, the gentle nudging of the water’s edge may even become comforting, and when the tide rises again and the grief swells, you’ll hold your breath and wait for calmer waters. The ocean never ceases, but it is tamed. Do not be afraid to put on your polka-dot bikini and heart-shaped sunglasses and dive right in – you will not drown. Float on your back, look up at the stars, and let their radiance envelop you.
See also: Lillith’s Thoughts on Suicide
For more information, resources, or to find a friendly ear, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
By: Jo Weldon
“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long. So even if we agree that sexual imagery is in fact a language, it is clearly one that is already heavily edited to protect men’s sexual–and hence social–confidence while undermining that of women.”
― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
Burlesque, of all the performing arts, seems to have the widest range of opportunities for both sexism and feminism in the ways it can be executed and represented. I’ll expand on that idea another time; I’m mentioning it briefly to clarify that the following non-feminist thing I see happening in burlesque is not what I perceive as a defining element, but as a growing concern that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, before it does become a defining element.
I recently took some time to really remember what it was like to be a naked woman surrounded on all sides by men in suits. In the 1980s/90s I worked in high-end strip joints where the customers were required to wear suits. In fact, we often called the customers “suits.” (Women were allowed in the club, but it was understood that “customers” meant “men.”) These clubs sought a clientele of conventioneers and businessmen, with a sprinkling of celebrities (for whom the clothing rules were somewhat lax, particularly when the celebrities were Vince Neil or Dennis Rodman.) The club owners were always in suits, always the boss. I associated men in suits with the more upscale clubs where I was closely monitored, in an industry where I originally went intending to work under fairly anarchic conditions. The atmosphere of “luxury,” “sophistication,” and “elegance” included women who were pre-approved (by management for the customers) to have a tasteful, well-groomed appearance and demeanor. The clubs were supposed to be classy. “Classy” meant “appropriate.” “Classy” meant “controlled.” “Classy” meant “consumably pretty.” “Classy” meant (shudder) “ladylike,” a term of oppression if ever there was one.
Generally speaking, the customers in commercial strip clubs didn’t want to see feather fans or corsets or slow peels from us, so when I got to do burlesque I felt super rebellious. Mainstream dudes in suits didn’t relate to false eyelashes and feather boas, and they definitely didn’t want to carry glitter home on their lapels. Burlesque has a different appeal. Beginning in burlesque in NYC in the late 1990s I felt like a post-feminist stripper, and when I participated in a photo shoot of scantily-clad dancers posing around a man in a suit at that time, it felt ironic. We were doing it specifically to celebrate the fact that it was now unlikely that a man in a suit would ever tell us what to do.
Now the image of scantily clad or nude women around the man in a suit has gotten more common in burlesque advertising, to the extent that I’ve started calling it “The Harem Trope,” and I’ve participated or been asked to participate in it often enough that it no longer seems to be an ironic tableau. Last year as I was walking away from one of these shoots I asked one of the other female performers who’d stood around the guy in the suit why it felt so off to me.
“We’re being used as accessories,” she said.
And at that point it dawned on me that whether ten men in suits surrounded one naked lady (as in the upscale strip joints where I used to work), or ten naked ladies surrounding one man in a suit, it felt the same to me.
Historically, a “harem” has been a place where a group of women are sequestered, “kept safe,” isolated, etc., as the property of one man. The history is complicated and varied, but there is always one man whose interests are served by many women.
In many of these kinds of promotional shots, the women are not acknowledged as accomplished, creative performers in any way. They are holding props such as fans that appear to be ornamental, or they refer to the men in the center instead of to the camera, or they are nude or in lingerie in such a fashion that there is no sign whatsoever that they are entertainers with developed careers. Their sole accomplishment appears to be getting to be associated with this man. And if a producer is selective and accomplished himself, it may BE an accomplishment–but then why wouldn’t he show why he is proud to be associated with them by showing them in their carefully created costumes and personas, instead of as mere accessories to his aesthetic?
Think about it–that person in the suit might use it as a promotional photo of himself as a solo artist, but would you, as one of the bunnies, use it to promote you as a solo artist? Do you look more like part of an ensemble, or an accessory? While this is true of any group photo, isn’t the potential meaning in the type of photo to which I’m referring pretty specific? Man in suit boss of naked ladies. Man irreplaceable, women interchangeable. Right?
I’m not saying I’ll never do one of these photos again. But if I was going to play the bunny quite so often, I wanted to add something to the pantheon of pictures that come up when I’m googled. I wanted a reverse Hugh Hefner. Last year I was voted “Most Likely to Start a Harem” at the NY Burlesque Festival, but I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper–I think of myself as an enabler. So to play with the idea of The Harem Trope I had this picture taken, Like A Boss:
And also this one, The Photoshoot Afterparty, in which everyone looks like we’re having a blast together instead of waiting for me to give directives:
My guidelines to evoke The Harem Trope: you can’t wear a costume, just lingerie. You can’t do any of your signature moves. The woman has to be in the middle, dressed, and you have to look like an accessory. And the men totally dug it. Many animated discussions ensued in the weeks before the shoot, about The Harem Trope and whether or not mere gender reversal could address the problem. (It can’t, but it’s a great way to shed some light and start a conversation.) It certainly wasn’t the first time a woman in a suit has been photographed with naked men, but it was the first time that I, a burlesque performer who has usually been in the naked position, have done it.
Interestingly, we also did a shot in which I directed everyone to have the same expressions as models in American Apparel ads, but it was too boring, and I didn’t really want to equate “feminizing” with “minimizing.”
Some comments from the men in the shoot on how they feel having seen the photos:
“It’s great to have this shot show lots of naked men surrounding a woman, as opposed to the traditional patriarchal imagery of the clothed man of power with the naked women, an image that used to represent all the traditions that our (neo-burlesque) work seeks to confront. It became ironic presumably because we all accepted that we were past that, but now seems to be creeping back with another generation who have apparently lost the irony (and the politics too?), rendering it for me no better than the bad old days. So way to go CFNM!!” —Mat Fraser
“I’m just happy to see such a straightforward role reversal happen in a picture. I very much wish I could see the reaction from the average male. I already know women will be cheering the image on and I’m curious if men will be confused, if they’ll find it ridiculous, or if they’ll find an uncomfortable irony in frame. The shoot itself was a blast. There were so many great people that you only get to see once or twice a year there and having such a great excuse to shed our clothes was a god-send. It’s possible for this photo to have more impact than a live performance ever could and it’s great to be a part of it.” —The Trojan Original
And, big bonus! Three of the men from my suit shoot—The Luminous Pariah, The Trojan Original, and Paris Original—are featured, as their troupe Mod Carousel, in this video that plays with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. Mod Carousel said they produced the video because “It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified, and does everyone a disservice. We made this video specifically to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light, one where objectifying men is more than alright and where women can be strong and sexy without negative repercussions.”
Within the burlesque community, these Men In Suits, these “bosses” may appear laughable. However, these photos aren’t only happening inside the burlesque community. These photos are happening on the internet, which is the whole wide world. The people hiring us and coming to our shows may or may not get the “joke”. From a Facebook conversation about The Harem Trope in The Fringe Forum, a moderated discussion group for burlesque performers:
Annie Cherry Of the Kansas City Society of Burlesque: “Damian and I actively avoid that scenario. Often, when he was the only person presenting as male in our troupe of eight, people automatically assumed he was the emcee.”
Damian Blake: “People also automatically assumed it was ‘my’ troupe, or ‘my girls’ if I was a guy in a suit with scantily clad women. It made me uncomfortable.”
Many men in the burlesque community are interested in seeing The Harem Trope become less accepted. Schaffer the Darklord, nerdcore rapper and burlesque emcee, frequently points out the sexism in the gaming community, and often takes issue with The Harem Trope. He posted a status on Facebook that read, “Well, how about that? A photo of a naked woman standing next to a fully-clothed man. You know, like an accessory. What a completely original & non-problematic idea you had there, dude.” When a commenter on the post called him out for the way gender was presented in a promotional video he had produced several years ago, Schaffer responded, “There’s a lot of problematic shit in that video that doesn’t exactly sit right with me anymore. In fact, it’s even addressed in lyrics in a song on my new record. Thankfully, people’s attitudes and perspective CAN change over time.”
Bastard Keith, a popular burlesque emcee who produces a show called The Sophisticates with his spouse, Madame Rosebud, told me about some changes he wants to make in show promotion: “I feel slightly ill looking at photos of men in suits smugly presiding over a bunch of scantily-clad showgirls. It reeks of privilege, of women as property, of a sort of unapologetic entitlement. Rosebud and I previously took some shots for The Sophisticates that somewhat fit the paradigm, and while I don’t regret them necessarily (we were both very happy with them) we’ve decided that the best way to move forward is to flip it. In future promotion, we’re going to move me further out of the center of the image. And that idea pleases me immensely.”
One male producer told me that the trope wasn’t doing any harm, and he needed it to get butts into seats at the shows. I don’t think it does get butts into seats; I don’t see any reason why it would, even if you like the harem motif. Performer/producer Jonny Porkpie explains how he came to be at the center of one of these photos: “It was at the end of a much longer photoshoot featuring 9 people, male and female, all in various stages of undress. After finishing the shots we needed to promote the show, I decreed ‘I want one of those pictures of me in a tux surrounded by scantily-clad women.’ The men were dismissed, and the women instructed to look adoringly at me, while I alone made eye contact with the camera. It seemed, at the time—over a half-decade ago now—an amusing lark, a winking throwback to the sexist yet swingin’ sixties; certainly this could accompany my Playboy interview circa 1967.
“Looking at it now, it is (through no fault of our fabulous photog, Don Spiro) the worst of that shoot. The rest of the photos are engaging, vibrant images, balanced in nudity regardless of gender, depicting characters in costumes interacting with each other and/or the viewer in a salacious manner. Even at the time, I didn’t include that particular photo in the press packet for the show, though I did put it on my own promo page. Perhaps I knew instinctively; even surrounded by scantily clad women, the central figure of a fully-dressed man made a lousy selling point for a burlesque show; an objectification antithetical to both the spirit and appeal of neo-burlesque.”
But even if it did gets butts in seats, I don’t think it’s worth it to do so at the expense of making women look more like property, in a world plagued by beauty insecurity, street harassment, and rape.
Someone asked me why I didn’t interview women for this article. I think that’s worth doing, but first I wanted to get a few men who’d been in that position of privilege to talk about it. Also, this is a third of what I wrote before we edited it, and it could be three times as long as it was before it was edited down. And — this is of course part of the larger problem — people listen to men differently than they listen to women.
To be clear: I’m not referring to A Particular Producer. I don’t have a bug up my ass about male producers. Producing is a fuckton of hard work. Since in the 1990s, I’ve worked with producers like Dick Zigun and James Habacker, who have provided progressive venues and artistic opportunities, and they deserve kudos, and have every right to be photographed as relevant to a group of performers to whose careers they have contributed. I believe in supporting such producers, both as an individual and as part of a group that has benefited from their hard work. And I have seen many photos of male producers surrounded by performers in their costumes or in attitudes that make the show look like it’s a whole lot more than a panty parade. A producer looks more amazing to me if he is surrounded by folks in brilliant costuming and performative poses than if he’s simply surrounded by pretty girls in a harem or Playboy Mansion party setting. It looks like a Real Show, a show people will want to see.
It’s not that hard. Gender roles can be disregarded even in situations where a woman’s breasts might be assumed to be essential, as in this tassel-twirling instructional I did for L Magazine.
I’d like to challenge performers, producers, and photographers to come up with something more exciting and less predictable, something that doesn’t contribute to an environment in which women are thought of as consumables, as naked bait, as requiring the endorsement of a guy in a suit to create their art.
The Woman in a Suit photo owes special thanks to Jen Gapay and The New York Boylesque Festival of April 2013 for bringing the boys to town and helping coordinate!
Thank you to photographer Maggie Saniewska of PlayMe Burlesque for donating her time and talent, and to Duane Park NYC for contributing space for the shoot.
Models in the first suit photo:
James and the Giant Pastie
The Luminous Pariah
The Trojan Original
Models in the laughing photo:
The Evil Hate Monkey
The Luminous Pariah
“I’m not tweeting to say what we need and what we don’t… I just wanted to think out loud with you guys today… #THEWORDBITCH.” –Kanye West on Twitter, September 2012
For more of Jo’s work in Pin Curl, check out her Burlesque Etiquette Columns: Teacher/Student Dos and Don’ts, These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette, Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
By: Lillith Grey
I recently launched a new project, the Academy of Queerlesque, and I have been getting a lot of interesting reactions from people in the local burlesque community. The reactions haven’t been negative at all; they’ve been generally supportive but confused and unsure of what queerlesque means or what place it has in the broader burlesque scene. There is no shortage of allies in the Dallas burlesque community – on the contrary, the community is warm, loving, and accepting, and I have no doubt that if I wanted to douse myself in rainbow glitter and run around a stage yelling “I’M A DYKE” as part of my act, I could find a producer and an audience that would appreciate it here. Last year, a local straight(ish) performer did a Muppet-against-Chick-fil-A act in front of a huge mainstream audience and was very well received. A popular local host is a wildly gender-bending drag queen and budding boylesque star. All-in-all, being queer in the Dallas burlesque scene is pretty freakin’ cool.
So it’s not surprising that many of the people around me are not sure how to feel about this project. They’re wondering why I felt the need to start a series of performance education classes focused specifically on the queer community when the queer community is so welcomed in mainstream burlesque. Some of them don’t know what queer means, let alone the concept of queerlesque. And, although none of my kind friends and burly colleagues have said this to me directly, I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a twinge of hurt or rejection, or maybe the feeling that I’m somehow blaming them or saying I don’t feel welcomed here, which is absolutely not true. Hopefully I can answer some of these questions and be open about what my motivation and vision is for the academy.
Before I can talk about queerlesque, though, I want to be sure I’m being clear about the terminology I’m using, particularly the word queer. Society at large conceptualizes gender as a dichotomy – only two options: boy or girl. Researchers, scholars, and social justice advocates (particularly those in the women’s movement) have a lot to say about this perceived dichotomy, and more and more people are coming to realize that those two categories don’t really make much sense. There are so many ways to be a guy and so many ways to be a girl, it seems weird to have all these expectations about femininity/masculinity connected to somewhat arbitrary body parts (WARNING: BABY WITH PENIS WILL EXPLODE IF TOUCHED BY PINK FABRIC). So a more diverse and accurate understanding might fit better on a spectrum, rather than two checkboxes. Taking the body parts out of the picture, we can loosely classify gender like this:
We’ve all known men who embody more traditionally feminine characteristics, and women who tend toward the masculine (my fav). If you were to put yourself on that spectrum where would you fall? Does it change sometimes? Mine does, depending on how I feel – sometimes I’m all high heels and glam, sometimes I’m in jeans at the gun range. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about performing – pushing my gender alllll the way to the tip of the spectrum (ten points if you know how many rhinestones I can fit on my eyelid!) And that’s the fun and appeal of drag – jumping drastically on the spectrum. Some people feel strongly identified with one place on the spectrum, and that’s cool, while other people feel most comfortable moving around it more fluidly.
Unfortunately, social messages about the relative meaning of those points on the spectrum are misleading and often harmful. We are taught early on that men should be manly and women should be ladylike, that boys should only strive to push themselves closer to the masculine and never ever to the feminine (ballet and skirts? Doubtful). Girls can push toward the masculine a little bit (playing sports, wearing pants), but cannot go past a certain line without social repercussions. Breaking these rules of gender is very, very dangerous – it is the root of gay- and trans*-bashing and is strongly related to violence against women.
Because I was born into a woman’s body and I also happen to identify as highly feminine (I am cisgender), I carry some privilege in the mainstream culture. No one looks at me funny, no one taunts me or challenges me or threatens me, no one feels the need to heap their biases on me. I don’t visibly appear to break the rules of gender. So very many people I love, though, do visibly break the rules. They are so brave and self-aware and confident and insightful that they will not conform to an unreasonable and inaccurate method of categorization. They choose instead to live authentically, and they pay the price for that, from tiny micro-aggressions to overt acts of violence.
Enter the world of the queer. In this world, we collectively reject those stupid checkbox genders – we shatter them as we dance wildly around the spectrum. We dance around the spectrum of sexuality, too, defying labels that are dichotomous, knowing we don’t have to be either “gay” or “straight,” but can love and connect with people freely and in whatever way feels right. Queer takes away the need to categorize – I mean, if someone moves around the gender spectrum, does that make a feminine gay dude a lesbian? Am I not a “real” lesbian because my partner is masculine? Wait, what? THESE WORDS ARE STUPID. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
So queer gives us space to connect, to celebrate, and to feel safe with other people who don’t live in the world of heterosexism and heteronormativity. While we love and respect and care for our friends who do live in that world (the vast majority of the burlesque community), we don’t have that comfort of normalcy. We don’t put on queer when we get to the theater and take it off after curtain call, we live it every single day. We face the oppression and hate and discrimination aimed at our people, our family, every single day. And it is exhausting. It’s exhausting to walk the tightrope of safety, to wonder if your identity will cause someone to harm you. It’s hard to hear people tell stupid jokes, make mean comments, use the word “gay” to mean something bad or unbearable. It sucks to see friends and family post hateful political messages on Facebook. It’s heartwrenching to read about another murder, another suicide, another assault. Every. Single. Day.
And we take risks when we take queerlesque to the mainstream stage. It is entirely possible that an audience member will take issue with our queerness and choose to make a scene. My partner and I had to leave a show once after she was harassed and overtly threatened when she used the women’s bathroom – I barely made it through my act and we got out of there. We were terrified and devastated and alone. And this isn’t uncommon – I have to consider our safety when booking gigs anywhere. Venture twenty miles out of Dallas and Texas becomes a whole ‘nother country. This isn’t the fault of producers, of my burlesque sisters – they don’t want us to be hurt, we know that. It’s the fault of a fucked-up social system that for some reason can’t handle the fact that my girlfriend wears ties.
Queerlesque is an attempt to create safe space. It’s a place to celebrate queer history and queer culture – and we do have our own culture! Drag Queens and Kings go way back in our history, and we have our own icons and ancestors and important events – and we want a chance to focus on that. Instead of being one queer in a cast of non-queers (which is fun and awesome and I love you all), I get to be in an ENTIRE SHOW of queers! OMG heaven!! Instead of worrying that I will make someone in the dressing room uncomfortable if I admire their panties, I know that my compliments won’t be misunderstood. And since all of us – our audience and our cast and crew – walk in the same world, we can understand each other, support each other, and celebrate each other. We can be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more real. For a few hours, we can be unabashedly queer, and that’s magic. Just plain magic.
As the producer of several queer-focused shows in Dallas, I see a lot of queers in very vulnerable moments. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and perform something real after living for decades in a world that says that who you are is wrong. That’s what the Academy is for – it’s a place to start unlearning all that shame, all that critique and censorship and rejection. It’s a place to heal self-doubt, to help others heal theirs, and to dance naked together in a shower of rainbow glitter spraying from the horn of the gayest unicorn ever.
The courses we’re offering at the Academy of Queerlesque are specifically geared toward queers and queer culture, but people who identify as non-queer are absolutely welcome. We love and need allies, and your presence tells us you stand with us. We only ask that you recognize that you’re coming into our safe space, and make sure that you’re respecting that. Don’t judge us, don’t tell us we shouldn’t be worried or that we’re overreacting when we express fear or concern. Don’t forget the struggles we face every day, and do everything you can to contribute to the positive, warm energy of queer space. If we designate a class as limited to a specific identity (i.e. Trans* only, or woman-identified only) please respect that and don’t be offended – it is our mission to create safe space, and sometimes that means being in private groups.
So that’s my vision. I welcome questions and conversation about it, and am always looking for more talented students, instructors, advocates, allies, and supporters. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can find a gay, glitter-spewing unicorn, please let me know.
Welcome to the Burlesque Roundtable. (Did you miss the first? Or the second?) The hope is to create an open dialogue to discuss relevant burlesque questions in an honest manner. Have a question you would like to propose or two cents you would like to throw into the ring? Please do so via comments; we would love to hear from you!
Q: What is billed “classic burlesque” is actually a really small portion of burlesque that was popular in the US from 1920-60. Burlesque performances of that time were set to modern music of the time and not all of it was glitzy- some was “exotic,” “comedic,” “satirical,” etc. Why then in the modern burlesque revival does “classic burlesque” have to fit in such a narrow window, and is neo-burlesque to modern music that pushes societal norms, and plays to a modern audience actually more in the spirit of “classic burlesque”?
Jo Weldon (NYC) I call it “showgirl burlesque.” I personally am a fan of striptease and while I’m happy to acknowledge that striptease was not always a part of burlesque, it’s what I care about the most. It’s the part that was first when burlesque circuits died down, while the comics and musicians and other variety performers had the opportunity to move into radio, television, film, and family entertainment if they wished. I agree that in the mid-twentieth century the performers were also topical, comedic, themed, and used the celebrities and pop culture of their era. However, the biggest difference is that in their time there wasn’t an entrenched retro culture, or such a long and photo-documented and video documented history to hearken back to, so they were less likely to have a distinction between old-school and contemporary burlesque. There were full-on nostalgic recreations such as Sugar Babies and This Was Burlesque, but the audience they sought wasn’t the same.
Roxie Moxie (Austin) This is a big divide in some sectors of the community but I really think should just be a matter of personal taste. “Classic” bump and grind burlesque is not my favorite genre, but it’s counting angels on the head of a pin to start arguing about the merits of neo-burlesque vs. classic. I don’t care much for death metal music, but I recognize the people who love it REALLY love it. And the people who love classic burlesque should continue to love it if that’s their thing. There are a million shades of (sparkly) gray when it comes to burlesque performances – to get caught up in neo vs. classic is shortsighted and not giving enough credit to the flexibility of the art.
Trixie Minx (New Orleans) It always makes me laugh when people ask if I’m a classic or neo performer. Does it really matter what you call it? Isn’t it all burlesque in the end? I have many opinions on the subject but honestly as long as the audience gets a chance to see a sparkling pastie or a twirling tassel they will probably be happy no matter how you title your specific style of burlesque.
Miss Violet O’ Hara (Dallas) I think film and media have had a lot to do with those definitions. It’s up to us at the local level to educate our fans and communities about the long, rich and diverse history of burlesque.
In the boudoir with Dayla
Your sex questions answered by the lovely Dayla, Passion Party Consultant
What are anal beads and how do they work? Becky, Kansas
Anal beads are beads of various sizes attached by a string and a ring that prevent them from being dislodged and lost in space. They are inserted into the anus one at a time during sex and then removed at various speeds to heighten orgasm.
And folks, there is a reason anal toys are some of my best sellers. The sphincter contains many nerve endings that can be extremely pleasurable with pressure or stimulation. Anal beads come in various sizes. Beginners often prefer the smaller varieties, while others enjoy the intensity of larger ones. The key to using them is lubrication and relaxation. Don’t be scared of the anal beads! Just don’t rip them out like you are trying to start a lawn mower, and you will be ok. And remember clean well with a body safe toy cleaner like Passion Parties “Clean and Simple.” And note that now there are more hygienic and easier to clean versions that are now made with silicon or plastic like the Passion Party Love Wand or the Pleasure Anchor.
Your Sex Questions Answered by the Lovely Dayla Cox, Passion Party Consultant
Some say love…
“My vagina lips are long. Is this normal? I am so embarrassed.”
Just like penises and nipples, V-Jays come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. A vagina with long lovely lips is referred to by some as a “Full Blown Rose” and is a fetish for some people. Some women even claim a higher sex drive that they contribute to more nerve endings. So in other words, nothing is wrong with you. Nothing at all…
Got a question for our resident sexpert? Send them to Dayla c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
Amanda Brooks shares with us five books about love, romance and sex! Perfect for those in or out of a relationship.
Gone With the Wind
There was never a heroine like Scarlet O’Hara. Scarlet is livelier on the page of this sweeping tale about misplaced passion than most people in real life. And you’ll be wishing for a Rhett Butler to pursue you through war, marriages, death, poverty and fortune. They had sizzling sex, she fit herself in 17-inch corsets and the book’s ending is probably the most famously ambiguous ending of all time. She loves Ashley (arguably more than herself), Rhett loves her, Melanie loves her, Ashley loves Melanie and most of all she loves Tara – the plantation she grew up on and fights for. You’ll be sorry when the book ends because there is no sequel by Margaret Mitchell.
Harold and Maude
One of the quirkiest love stories around, it’s funny and memorable and very real. Harold loves Maude and Maude loves life. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll wish you knew Maude too.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
A swashbuckling tale told from the woman’s perspective. Though intrigue and the French Revolution is the background, the real story is a beautiful, caustic Frenchwoman single-handedly saving her marriage and realizing the love of her life. It doesn’t get any more romantic than this!
Another romantic thriller through the eyes of a woman, though this woman is just a little bit different. Trained as a spy AND courtesan, Phedre falls in love (quite a few times, actually) and saves her country. Her determination reminded one reviewer of Scarlet (see above), though Phedre is slightly less self-centered. There are battles and queens and gorgeous men, amazing tattoos, beautiful clothes, lots of sizzling sex and a society that celebrates prostitution. Not to mention one of the best villains ever — Melisande.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Not only a journey through the world of geisha, one of the sweetest, most aching love stories. Though the account is fictionalized, the female voice is so very real. Suri loves The Chairman and no one else from the time she is 9 years old. Will she ever get his attention and win his heart? Everything else is almost beside the point (in her mind) as she pursues her one dream through debt bondage, cruel inter-geisha politics, war and rebuilding her shattered life.