Burlesque has made a huge comeback in the last decade internationally in New Zealand, and Dita Von Teese – the burlesque queen and Marliyn Manson’s ex – is as much a role model for some young women if not more so, than Britney Spears ever was. I’ve been in debate with allot of my friends lately about the relationship between Burlesque and feminism. Can they work together at all??

Is it objectifying women? Do I feel OK doing it, and even paying to watch it myself?

Well, I do think it’s partly objectifying to women, though mostly not, and Yes I LOVE performing. I always thoroughly enjoy a good Burly-Q show, and was coincidentally performing and watching a couple of friends of mine perform for Halloween over the weekend.

There are numerous things about burlesque that make it an odd bird of contradiction and feminism. Burlesque is at once romantic and un-romantic, empowering and objectifying, and funny and sexy.

While glamorous performers wear dazzling gowns and dance to coquettish songs of a simpler time. That “simpler time” was well before the American women’s lib movement, where women were very often relegated to the home, and still considered play things or dolls in many ways. Yet burlesque is very much rooted in comedy theatre, and its satire and silliness is as self-aware and performed as its sexiness. In its playfulness, it becomes an empowering art. I wonder, can something so self-aware be that harmful to women?

I’ve been asked before to perform in a strip club and do a burlesque routine but strip down to being fully naked and get up close an personal with their audience, and although I initially said yes, in the end I really really couldn’t do it. I had such a sick feeling in my stomach about it – which, when preparing for a burlesque show I never ever get. While some would say it’s a fine line between a strip joint and a burlesque show, there is much to separate the two. There is also a considerable “buffer (and a few remaining items of lingerie)” between the performer and the audience, unlike in commercial sex work or almost all strip clubs.

Me by Miss TPin-Ups

Burlesque seems to draw its power and class from its ability to invent, play out and make jokes, not be the butt of them. There is something really truly powerful for me as a performer commanding the stage to spin the tale of my alter-ego, unveiling my body in story through the routine I have created.

The Burlesque performer spins a persona, dons a wig, and calls the shots. You as the audience, sit mesmerized, collectively in a well-lit room that doesn’t have the seedy atmosphere and leering, creepy gaze that seems to always go hand in hand with sex shows or strip clubs we are familiar with.

It’s fair to ask whether the same, dirty and underlying gender norms drive both stripping and burlesque, and that is probably the case. For an art to truly be self-aware, it must also be aware of the harmful cultural norms to which it is (“unknowingly”) subscribing but so stubbornly rebelling against.

But to me Burlesque is still a very powerful and self assured model of positive sexuality for women of all ages today.

Seeing the faces of women who have had kids and are searching for their “sexy” again, working to get that post-baby body confidence back, watching them come out of my Burlesque classes is the singularly most rewarding thing I can share. Smiles, pride in their step and a twinkle in their eye – its amazing.

Dirty Martini – an International burlesque performer 

For me instead of feeling as if I were witnessing a caged animal in front of scary predatory wolves, I felt exhilarated and inspired. And as someone who, like everyone else, has been bombarded with commercial images of “beauty” in the form of skinny, blonde, sculpted bodies, burlesque is really a big a breath of fresh air. The look is your own, what you make of it, classy and au natural.

Bodies are to be celebrated, not sold.


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