I have viewed many live burlesque performance and fully appreciate it as an art form, but I have always had a few questions about the ‘empowering’ side of the practice. To encourage and to maybe answer some of those questions, I sourced out a paper that was written from the critical, experiential and ethnographic perspective of a researcher who performs in this genre.

Dodds, S. (2013) Embodied Transformations in Neo-Burlesque Striptease

Dodds begins the by describing a burlesque dance she had produced, choreographed and performed in the UK. Specifically, she looks at spatial-temporal exchange between her and the audience to unpick the transformative effects of the act that go beyond the time of perfomance. She concludes

“the capacity for neo-burlesque to produce social change beyond the performance moment is circumscribed by its contexts of reception and is limited to those who have access to the necessary economic, social, and intellectual capital to critique their cultural landscape. Yet for a suburban middle-aged mother of two, it undoubtedly brought about a thrilling sense of change” (p.87).

To unpick this conclusion, I acknowledge and recognise there is absolutely no doubt that burlesque is a celebration of the female body in a space where all bodies’ are normalised and not tied down to impossible standards of perfection. However, I still have to wonder though, because the glitz and the glamour is such an integral part of the tease, I wonder how “transformed” or indeed, empowered, the women would be if they didn’t have to “dress up” in order to capture the attention of the spectator. Yes, Dodds (2013) does consider whether or not the transformation goes beyond performance and confirms that it does, particularly in drawing from her own anxieties about exposing her body. However, all of those “transformative” and liberating elements are attached to external things. Her liberation is based on the cheer of an audience, the command she has over them and how well she can create and maintain a hyper feminine appearance. What if the audience didn’t cheer, what if they were not interested? What happens if she did not have access to the make up? How would she find a sense of liberation then? How would she access her sexuality, which is supposed to be something internal, without all of these external factors? What if the body was normalised, what if it the tease was completely casual in a flowing moving exploration that wasn’t dressed up with pasties, G-strings or elaborate sex toys. What if it was more about the movement? What if it was only a celebration of “here I am” that was the liberating part of the act? Or, would that remove the tease?

If the “here I am” part of the act is actually the most liberating part, I think this would be transgressive in itself. To be happy with what you have goes against consumerism, capitalism and gender expectation. To be open to absolute critique, and to expect it is a courageous act.

A Live Work I have Viewed (past)

When I watched “The Chosen Harem” by Sadiq Ali and Hauk Pattison at Cirqadia Festival (2019) I was struck by how they managed their show around two huge poles in the middle of the stage. There was not a moment where I wondered what they would do next with the poles. The revisiting of the prayer mat was powerful, as was when Sadiq climbed the poles with his wrists instead of his hands. This was in synchronicity with Hauk who climbed with his hands firmly in contact with the pole. I suspect this has something to do with the symbolic phallic connotations of the erect poles and how they present conflict towards his religious values, which, of course, rejects homosexuality. Without giving away too much, I was also thoroughly engaged by the club scene, the pace was pulsing, and the physical and sexualised gestures were appropriately chosen. It actually really took me back to my clubbing days as a late teenager. It reminded me what it was like to be curious about my own sexuality in a similar setting.

A Quote I am Pondering

Men can use beautiful, sexy women as neutral objects or surfaces, but when a women uses their own faces and bodies, they are immediately accused of narcissism… because women are considered sex objects, it is taken for granted that any woman who presents her nude body in public is doing so because she thinks she is beautiful. She is narcissistic, and Acconci, with his less romantic image and pimply back, is an artist – Lucy Lippard

Rowena x

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