Monday, 26 February 2018

Burlesque Is Feminist...

Photographs by James Reilly



When you think burlesque you probably think Dita Von Teese, that film with Christina Aguilera, pin ups and stripping. And honestly I thought that too until I starting doing it, so it's no surprise I get so many questions about it. Whenever I post anything I get so many questions asking what I'm doing, and even more messages complimenting my confidence and girls wishing they could try it out. So lets talk about it today.

My uni has a burlesque society and after wanting to join all through first year, I finally went along at the start of this year and fell instantly head over heels in love. I knew it'd like it the second we started when we were all asked to introduce ourselves and say the thing we like best about your body. The dance studio was bursting with support and love, and I'd been craving that environment for a long time. And now about 5 months on, I look forward to classes each week, feel 10x more body confident and I've made the most loving group of friends.

Burlesque is feminist. Our rehearsal room is full of empowerment, both of ourselves and each other. Our focus is on ourselves, fulfilling our ideas and fantasies, ensuring we all feel completely comfortable and safe, boosting ourselves, and doing what ever we want to do. We choose our own names, we plan our outfits, our routines, we choose our songs, we decide if or when we remove clothing in our routines. We set the tone, we are in charge and in control of everything. We talk a lot about the male gaze and where we fit into the sexualisation of women, and Poison defined it perfectly; "We capitalise off the so-called 'sexual' nature of our bodies, we charge weak men to come and gawk at us all the while they shift in their chairs, wishing they could look such a strong and self-assured woman in the eye." Burlesque is about power, doing what you want, and celebrating your body. It's the female gaze.

I've never felt empowerment and support quite like that I get from my burlesque troupe. I honestly feel like there's a level of closeness that can only be achieved by constantly seeing each other pretty much naked, you can't be shy or reserved once someones helped you stick things to your nipples. Obviously there's a lot of vulnerability in burlesque, and coming from someone with a lot of body issues, there's some serious hurdles to get over. But the team makes it easy and fun. When I first joined I wanted to be like them, I was in awe of their confidence and their bond, and now within only a short amount of time I feel so integrated and comfortable around them, and they're my sisters in confidence building. Need someone to moan to about the patriarchy? Want to talk through your body problems with people guaranteed to empower you? Looking for female friendship and support like no where else? Join a burlesque club.

I am not a very confident person, I can hardly even answer my phone. But the other week I got on stage alone and performed. Admittedly I've always loved lingerie, but that's all. In all honesty I find my body super confusing, like I don't really know it or what I actually really look like. I couldn't tell you how many hours I've spent in front of a mirror trying to decide whether I look good or bad, or stressing over imagined weight gain. One day I'll worship myself, I'll love all photos of myself, I'll think I look amazing and strong and beautiful, then the next I'll actively avoid looking at myself or I'll sit and tear myself apart finding flaws in everything. So really it's quite strange that I love burlesque so much. Although nudity is a part of burlesque, I don't see it as the focus as you can't actually see yourself. It's all above movement, doing things that make you feel beautiful and sexy, and taking on a persona that's a hyper-confident version of yourself and allowing that to take over. You can't see yourself to criticise anything about your body, you can only feel your body moving, move to the music and hear the crowd screaming in support. I think I love it because surprisingly there's no space for you to self-criticise, in our rehearsal room there are no mirrors there's only each others support. Since doing burlesque I'd say that I've actually started to care less about my body image and I'm gradually learning to not let it other me so much and to accept myself. I've been realising that I've never looked at another woman and immediately criticised her, I've never found anything about another woman ugly or noticed the things that I hate about myself on anyone else. I think every other woman is beautiful and ethereal and magic, so I'm slowly realising that being so cruel to myself isn't fair, and chances are no one else has ever noticed the things I dislike about myself. And being constantly surrounded by beautiful women telling me I'm amazing has definitely helped that.

All in all, I love burlesque. It's feminist, it's confidence building, it's fun, it's freeing. It's about control, and vulnerability, and friendship, and support. And you might think I must be super confident and self-assured to be able to do what I do, but it's a product of my environment; girls supporting girls.

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