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.