Burlesque Acceptance or Walk Your Walk

People often ask how I got my start in burlesque. Here’s the short version. I had been working as a nude figure model in San Diego when I met up with the curators of the San Diego chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s. Because the DS models are often burlesque performers, I made some friends in the burlesque community. Before I moved up to the Bay Area, my friend Mynx D’Meanor asked me to help her with an act. All I had to do was shave my head and paint my (mostly) nude body gold and pose as a life-sized Academy Award, no big deal. Well, I had a load of fun and here’s the most important detail of the story. Backstage at the Hubba Hubba Revue none of the staff, crew, producers, or other performers made me feel like an outsider. No one made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I felt like a friend of the family from day one. Since I’d just moved to the Bay, I was happy to feel accepted. Over the years, I’ve worked in group acts, duets, as a stagehand, backstage bouncer, promoter, M.C., and a solo performer. I’ve had my successes and failures over that time. Through it all, my peers have still accepted me.

One thing that I’ve tried to avoid is answering the question “what is burlesque” for two reasons. One, I think that people should figure out what (a certain type of) art is based on their own perception. The question is often asked as a determining precursor before they’ll buy tickets to a show that I’m promoting. “What is burlesque?” Come to a show and decide for yourself what it is or what it isn’t. No matter what answer I give, their perception will trump my definition. The second reason that I rarely answer that question is because I’d like to think people could read a book about the history of theater. (Note that I didn’t suggest googling the definition of the word. Some definitions should come with a brief history lesson if you’re a true neophyte to the term.) There is a time when I will speak up and define what burlesque is or isn’t and that’s when someone (usually a non-performer) is giving misinformation about burlesque. When I overhear someone talking about what the burlesque performers should look like in order for the show to be a burlesque show, I interject. Based on my introduction to burlesque (and what I continue to see on burlesque stages) I remind people that above all other definitions, burlesque is about acceptance. I want to be clear, that doesn’t mean that any and every burlesque performer will/should be accepted to every festival/show without the producer seeing their highlight reel. I’m talking about body acceptance. My friends that are producers know that it’s not their place to make decisions on behalf of their audience. I’ve seen all body types, ability levels, genders, ages, and attitudes accepted by the audience. I’ve seen burlesque of the scary, sexy, funny, subtle, over-the-top, and dramatic variety all in one revue. It’s the element of acceptance that welcomed me into burlesque and keeps me excited to return the stage. I can dress up like Gumby and play air guitar to end up standing in a thong and pasties and the audience accepts me. I can be myself and that’s the element of burlesque that sets us apart from many other types of performance art.

I’ve received constructive criticism from my peers over the years (Burlesquiversary: March 19th, 2010). But, recently someone with a dance background told me to change the way that I walk. In his defense, this is the modality of many dance instructors. They tell their dancers to follow the same patterns and be the same as others before breaking out and finding their own unique style. I feel that burlesque is the opposite of that. We’re encouraged to find our own unique style first and only told to fall in step if a group number calls for it. I naturally walk with my toes turned out (externally rotated 45 degrees from anatomical position). As a kid, I was teased for walking (what was called) “slew-footed”. I tried to correct it on my own by walking pigeon-toed in hopes of ending up with a parallel foot position. It didn’t work, slew-footed is how I walk. When people point it out these days, I give two fucks and keep walking the way that I walk. When this instructor attempted to correct my walk, I looked and felt odd. It felt like I was holding in poop and there was no way in hell that I was going to get on a stage like that. Some have complimented me on my natural walk, going so far as to call it sexy. Do ducks have a sexy walk? No. They walk like ducks. Choosing to walk in a manner in which you find comfort, being yourself with every step is sexy and I’ll take that compliment. The point of all of this is to remind you that being sexy isn’t about walking a specific way, it’s about walking your own way. Don’t let anyone tell you how to walk.

A quick note to the kind gentleman that tried to correct my walk during his workshop. This blog isn’t meant to be any sort of embittered response to something that happened weeks ago. I learned a lot in our time together. The most important thing I learned was that the way I walk is just fine.

If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read this article from 21st Century Burlesque about a performer that was removed from the lineup due to her size. My hope for Ruby Rage is that she begins her own show and it surpasses her former show in success and notoriety. I find working in the comfort of our own bodies to be the spirit of burlesque. Let us not conform to a societal aesthetic based on electronically edited images, plastic surgery, or performance enhancing drugs. We love what we have and we celebrate that with those that love it as well. All who oppose can exit quietly and never return. To put it mildly, fuck ’em! This is burlesque and I’m proud/honored to be accepted by it.

Disappointing News: No One Hates You

The H-word is all around us. In popular culture, we hear about the “haters” all of the time. Sorry to spoil the end of the movie, but no one actually hates you. The haters that people speak of are akin to ghosts in the memory. “Aw come on Jet! We just playin! This ain’t for real real, this for play play. It’s just something people say!” Have you ever read Orwell’s 1984? The author had a vision of the future wherein hate was required. Don’t take your words lightly, they have power and so do you.

Whenever someone talks about the haters, have you ever asked/wondered to whom exactly they’re referring? Try it. The next time someone talks about (or wears a t-shirt referring to) the haters, ask them who (specifically) hates them. People have gotten so used to using the phrase that they couldn’t even tell you. Today’s proclamation of insecurity is to denounce the hypothetical hater. Every time I hear someone lament on the haters, I hear them boast their own insecurities. If you’re reading this and you’re convinced that any of your accomplishments will be (or has been) fueled by the haters, you know… to make them hate even harder. Take a minute and examine the poison you possess.

If you’re in a position to manage others, you may have studied different sources of motivation for your staff. Which method works better, the carrot or the stick? Do people respond better to positive or negative motivators? Many books have been written on the subject of positive motivators. One thing they all have in common is that none of them list the haters as a positive source of motivation. How do I know for certain? Call it a hunch.  Let’s take the diffusion of colloquial slang out of the word hate/hater/hatred. You don’t have to be an optimist to realize that sitting idle and focusing on the hatred that others have for you is toxic. Becoming casual about the hate is a subliminal form of toxicity that serves no one and builds a wall of bitterness within the “hated”.

No matter how you feel about Kanye West, he once said, “We’re all insecure, I’m just the first to admit it.” While he may not have been the first, he did have a point about widespread insecurities. It’s a part of human nature to feel some level of insecurity. It’s important to acknowledge it without celebrating it. There’s nothing wrong with openly stating, “I’m insecure about my _____”. Especially if you follow up that statement with, “Now that I’ve acknowledged that, I’ll focus on my goals that will help me feel secure about my _____. After all, that is the reason that I have a list of goals, to empower myself.” (Try saying that in the mirror.)

You can accomplish anything that you want. You can accomplish that goal without imagining that people are drinking Hater-ade in your (dis)honor. Get over yourself. No one hates you and even fewer people give a shit that you’re “doin’ it for the haters.” I was coaching a client on the importance of right-minded focus during training. I reminded her that imagining a snarling dog behind her isn’t the best motivator to run faster. Eventually, I said, “you’ll end up resenting the hypothetical dog and the run as well.” “Instead”, I encouraged, “try to imagine that you are running towards something that’s worth reaching.” Could you imagine if endurance events (marathons. duathlons, triathlons, etc.) stopped giving out medals at the end and instead gave out swift kicks in the ass at the beginning? “This is from the haters!” WHAP! “Have a good race!” Move. Move your body. Move your body towards something worth reaching. Let go of everything behind you. Celebrate the lovers in your life. The haters are only in your mind.

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Anger Management or What A Difference An Attitude Makes

Did I ever tell you the story about how I tried to kill my brother? I was in high school when my brother returned home from Operation: Desert Storm. He had changed and he was the tougher, angrier, (more) verbally abusive version of his former self. We were still happy to have him home and alive. The problem with having an older brother that had an axe to grind was the fact that I had my own short-fused temper. It was only a matter of time before there was conflict. One night, we were in the basement watching Arsenio Hall, Prince was performing that night. My brother had called me more insulting names than I care to remember during the course of that particular day. My cup was full and I had taken all I could take. As he sat in front of the TV, I stood between him and the kitchen. He jabbed a finger towards the kitchen as he commanded me to get him a knife so that he could cut his food. “Fuck you, get it yourself!” was my response as my chest heaved with frustrated breath. He walked past me and gave me a shoulder check into the pool table. I was furious! On his way back from the kitchen, with a knife in hand, he bumped me a second time and everything just kind of went hazy. When I could see straight again, his face was bleeding and I’d realized what I had done. Apparently, I lunged at his back and pushed him into the entertainment center. I wanted to kill him. I pushed hard enough in hopes that he would ram his head into the cement wall on the other side of the entertainment center. There was a loud crash! He turned around and discovered the blood dripping from his cheek. When I saw the blood, I came to my senses and all of the repercussions came into full view. I had drawn first blood on the mighty Marine home from the war. “Oh, shit!” I muttered as I took off in a sprint up the stairs and out of the front door. My brother gave chase and caught me half way down the block. He put me in a sleeper hold and I blacked out. I woke up covered in mud, snow, and a bit of his blood. I walked back into the house not longer after he had returned. My mom cleaned me off and explained to me the importance of keeping my temper in check. She was upstairs while the whole shit went down, but momma knows who started it and who escalated it. Mommas just know. While these weren’t her exact words, I remember her message being “Detroit isn’t the place to have that sort of temper! People have gotten killed for less.” I heard her message and that was the first time I recognized my anger as a problem.

Fast forward seven years, I had moved away from Detroit and was living in Atlanta when I made a formal proclamation and promise to myself to let go of my anger. My lover at the time was a therapist and she suggested a few books on anger management. I read the books and completed the self-help exercises at the end of each chapter. I decided to get control of my anger on my own. I was raised in a culture that viewed therapy as a sign of weakness. My mother didn’t believe that, she worked in a psychiatric hospital and taught me at a young age that some people need help and those are the people that need our compassion. Nevertheless, I didn’t view my anger issues as life-threatening. The danger that my anger issues posed were to make me into an asshole. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to be that guy. So, I put myself through anger management and made some changes in my life to make sure that I didn’t become a toxic person with nothing to contribute to society.

Over the last few years, I take it as the highest compliment when people (who know me) refer to me as “chill” or “calm”. I would not have earned such adjectives 15 years ago. Some people that don’t really know me still say things like, “You hate everything!” (Not so, I’m just unafraid to disagree and call something bullshit. I have opinions about stupid shit. Have you read my blog? Yes, I use the H-word too often. When people suggest that, I take it as a reminder to equally share my passionate opinions about things that I love.) Another phrase I hear is, “You’re intense.” (I’ll be that. But, what’s wrong with moving forward with purpose in the name of your passions, especially if I endeavor to do so without doing harm to others? Nothing. I’ve noticed that no other “intense” people ever call me intense. Only those that are the antithesis of intense give me such a label. If you’re that person, what are you saying about yourself? Do you want to be known as “bland”?) The phrase that I only hear from certain people is, “You’re intimidating!” (Am I intimidating you or could you be a racist? Truth bomb: 100% of the people that have ever called me intimidating have been white. I’ve heard people call me this for 20 years. Since I first bulked up from weightlifting. People that know me on a personal level never call me intimidating. My friends know that I’m a dork. People should hold themselves accountable for their own perceptions. I can respect, “I find you intimidating” much more than “YOU are intimidating.” If you could read my mind, you’d know that I’m not thinking about you as you cross the street to avoid me. Yes, that happens… in 2015.)

Back when I was on Facebook, stupid people would find themselves disappointed when I didn’t have the same attitude in real life as I did in my Facebook status updates. “You’re nothing like you are on Facebook!” No shit, dumb ass! Social media (and even this blog) is a small window into my life. Because of my aforementioned anger issues (and the great many more stories that are too lengthy for this post), I make it a point to keep a positive fucking attitude. My attitude makes all of the difference. I compare anger issues with addiction. Instead of narcotics or alcohol, my vice is anger and I make an effort on a daily basis to leave the house and face the world with the right mind and an attitude that will keep me on the path to my goals. A friend honored me by asking for my help with his efforts to control his anger. I’m not a therapist. But, I did give him some books (“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth” both by Eckhart Tolle) to read and four reminders that hopefully helped. Those reminders may also help anyone reading this post with anger issues.

1.) Your ego, and the need to be right, drives the majority of conflict. The argument is over and you think of the perfect comeback to that one insult. But, the time has past. Does that sting a little bit? That’s your ego talking. Your ego wants to be fed a constant diet of “rightness”. Internal dialogue between your peace of mind and your ego should place your peace of mind in a dominant position. Suppress your ego and the need to be right. Dissolve the need to dominate conversations and perpetuate general fuckery. Be cool. Be calm.

2.) How does it affect you? Take out a sheet of paper and make three columns. Number the first column 1-5. Make a list of five things that other people do that annoy you. In the second column, list why it annoys you. In the third column, list how it changes your life. If it doesn’t change your life, don’t let it annoy you. Who gives a fuck how she’s dressed? Let it go! Let go of big anger by letting go of petty annoyances.

3.) Be prepared with a back up plan. Some argue that a back plan is planning to fail. Would you say that to a person with a second parachute? Of course not. Having a back up plan will keep you from having a reason to lose your temper. If you show up to perform to a piece of music and due to some error beyond your control the venue doesn’t have your music ready to play, having a backup plan (your music on a CD or on your phone) is a good idea. Do you have a backup plan if you get locked out of your car? Would it derail your entire day if that happened? Well, you might want to get that system in place. Being prepared for the unexpected may seem impossible. Listen to the mistakes that others make, learn from them and make sure that you have a backup for everything (within reason). Don’t turn backup plans into a source of anxiety. Sometimes you just can’t prepare for shit. But, if you are prepared it will keep you from losing your shit. Do you have an extra set of clothes in the trunk of your car? Do you have a $20/$50/$100 bill stashed somewhere in your shoe when you go for a run? If you don’t have your phone (because it gets stolen), you injure yourself, and you’re 12 miles from home, what are you going to do? Be pissed or get home with your backup plan?

4.) Move forward with purpose, deflecting drama and ridding your life of negative people. Allow your daily mantra to be, “keep it moving”. People will try to spread their personal drama around like a drunken frat boy that misses the urinal. Avoid it, move forward. (To those of you in customer service positions: If a customer makes polite small talk and asks how you are doing, don’t tell them things like, “My shift is almost over!” or anything to that effect. It’s like telling the customer that you’re unhappy in your job and that’s a fucking drag.) The next time you see people standing around talking shit, keep it moving. If you’re in such a conversation, ask yourself, “how is this adding value to my life?” If it isn’t, leave. Move forward with purpose. I’ll leave you with these two African proverbs about chatter.

“He who will chatter with you, will chatter of you.”
“A chattering bird builds no nest.”

Enjoy your happiness, friends! Real Talk: No one can take happiness away. Only you can give it away.

No Overweight Girls or How To Tell If You’re Objectifying Women

Last year, I quit working for a fitness club (that I’m not going to name). Just know that one of the reasons I left was because of the shallow clientele. On one of my last days there, I was handing out flyers for one of my upcoming burlesque shows. A woman asked me if it was “good burlesque”, to which I gave her a puzzled look. “What do you mean by good“, I asked. I sarcastically continued on, “do you think I’m going to invite you to a show and then tell you that it’s an awful/shitty show!?” I already thought she was a dumb ass, based on her question, and I didn’t like where this conversation was going. She clarified her definition of ‘good’. “No, I mean are they fat?” My jaw hit the fucking floor. “Wow!” was all that I could utter in response to such a shitty thing to say. “Are you suggesting that their weight determines their ability?”, I asked. “Well, no” she said “I just…” her words trailed off. I officially stopped listening to her and told her not to come to the show. In my head, I called her a piece of shit and she validated my decision to leave that particular fitness club. If you ever find yourself thinking that a woman (or a group of women) should look a certain way, there’s a chance you may be objectifying women. Women perpetuate the culture of objectification often and the aforementioned case is just one example.

More recently, a friend of mine was too busy to field an inquiry from someone that was looking to put on a burlesque show. So, I stepped in as the intermediary to book the show and help my friends get some work. I’m one of those rare people that prefers to have a five minute phone conversation in lieu of sending/receiving seven emails. So, I spoke on the phone to a man that was in charge of curating the show. No less than three times during our five minute conversation, he specified that he didn’t want any overweight girls. Again, “wow!”, was my response. I turned on my being a dick on purpose voice and asked him some follow-up questions. “What about skin color, tattoos, piercings, height, or any other specifics? Do you have any problem with those aesthetics?” He responded with a laissez-faire, “no” and didn’t seem to pick up on my irritated tone. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to help him. I promptly forwarded his name to other producers and performers in the Bay Area to make sure that he’d be ignored. I’ve seen the slogan “No Fat Chicks” on shirts and hashtags. It always makes me want to slap fools. My perception of that slogan is this: “I want arm candy and I should be able to request the aesthetics of it (despite my own appearance) like I would any other object. I should be able to specify the weight, height, and other measurements. Who gives a shit about personality!?” If you ever find yourself speaking about women as if you can find what you seek in a special order catalog, you’re objectifying women.

“But, Jet! I was just looking! I didn’t objectify her!” Here’s a simple test to determine the difference between just looking at an attractive woman and objectifying a piece of ass.

An attractive woman walks past you. You respond in the following manner:
A.) Smile, make eye contact, keep your eyes on your path and keep it moving.
B.) Turn your head to stare at her ass and make an audible comment.
C.) Find yourself thinking about what you’d do to/with her body without knowing her name.

If you selected A as your answer you were just looking. Otherwise, you were hunting and she was nothing more than meat to you. PSA: You don’t have to break your neck and stare at “dat ass” just because it’s spectacular. (Side note: This also applies to Lesbians. I see some Lesbians looking at other women like cattle and talking some serious shit.) It’s not okay to objectify anyone that hasn’t given you permission to do so.

Who gives permission to objectify? I take my clothes off for entertainment. Burlesque is not consent to forget that I’m a human being. It’s not consent to grab my ass when I walk through the audience. This post isn’t about me (although that sort of thing does happen to me). The point I’m trying to make, with reference to my own experience, is that when a woman takes her clothes off on a burlesque stage she is not giving you permission to objectify her. Real talk, we know that audience members may do this and we can’t control it. But, we ask that you remember before we become the ambassador of your fetish that you remember we are human first. If you are unable to distinguish between a human being performing on stage and moving body parts under a spotlight, check yourself.