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Burlesque Mythbusters: Part 2

Posted 4th April by

Yesterday we talked about some of the aspects of being a “Burlesquer”. Now let’s get into some issues you might face on this rollercoaster of emotions and experiences as a burlesque devotee.

I WON A THING

Hooray!
Doesn’t it feel like a new competition springs up every month? And nearly everyone has a title of some sort (or creates their own)? Some of us place a lot of stock in them, others don’t. Both opinions are valid. What is key is perspective. There is a fine line between pride and arrogance, and competitions can make some of us shimmy all the way over that line off into the distance. Arguably, the more competitions there are, the less relevant they become. The less meaning they have and the less representative of the true distribution of talent in the industry they may be. BUT. Competitions can be amazing and reinvigorate a scene by giving performers a reason to push, to invest, and to create. Either way, throw yourself a damn parade if you win a thing, exceed your expectations, or just survive a competition! But every parade has an expiry date, no one wants to become Baby Jane Hudson.

Many moons ago I won a thing. Photo by David Woolley photography
Many moons ago I won a thing. Photo by David Woolley photography
Sister Queens R Us. Photo by John Leonard Photography
Sister Queens R Us. Photo by John Leonard Photography

CLASSIC IS BORING AND/OR EASY

F**k off.
What really gets my goat is elitism between subcategories in burlesque. Dismissing “classic” burlesque as boring or easy means you’re probably not doing it right. And reducing “neo” down to ‘funny’ with ‘modern’ music is incredibly reductivist and shows a fundamental misunderstanding. Classic still has a story, it can be funny and it can be sad. Neo can have no narrative and just be sexy as hell. If you think there are categorical rules, break them. That’s the whole damn point of burlesque.

Oh you only perform to punk or thrash metal because you’re hardcore? You’re probably still doing classic burlesque…

Similarly, reducing performers down to a single subcategory can be downright insulting. No style is greater or lesser than the other and nearly all of us do more than one thing.

Classic is my wheelhouse and my favourite thing to do. But I’d never say it’s easy. Photo by John Leonard
Classic is my wheelhouse and my favourite thing to do. But I’d never say it’s easy. Photo by John Leonard

VETERANS ARE BITCHES

Sometimes. But anyone is a jerk sometimes. Like any industry, you’ll find a mix of personalities backstage or in burlesque social situations. Some people are friendly extroverts, other people are introverts or socially anxious if they aren’t on stage under a spotlight. If you think a veteran performer is not returning the energy you’re sending out or acknowledging you, you might be right. But they might also be in their head, nervous, distracted or tired by life, or cautious of new acquaintances after being burned. After seeing someone on stage or online we can feel a sense of familiarity that they don’t match. We also live and work in a community where people have multiples names, multiple identities and sometimes shoddy drunken memories… Don’t assume the worst if you don’t get the reaction you want from someone the first time. And if they truly are an ass, don’t give them your time…

 

VETERANS CAN’T LEARN FROM NEWBS

False. If you can’t acknowledge and accept the reality that you will (WILL) have students or mentees that exceed your success and ability, you shouldn’t be teaching or mentoring. Inspiration and motivation comes from every direction, especially people whose experience might be junior to you, but whose creativity and talent may not.

 

BURLESQUE IS PARODY SO NOTHING IS OUT OF BOUNDS

Given recent events this should be a no-brainer. It’s been said many times before by people more eloquent and with more credibility than me. But it bears repeating. In all caps.

A SOCIOCULTURAL OR RELIGIOUS AESTHETIC OR IDENTITY THAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT A COSTUME.

Generally speaking;
You want to parody something? Parody your own culture.
You want to wear something you deem “exotic”? Don’t.

You want to pay tribute to a different culture? Hire a performer or buy a ticket to a show with a performer of that culture.

You’re not sure? Ask. Ask someone OF THAT CULTURE.

Your wants and desires are NOT more important than a niche or marginalised culture or social identity. Regardless of however clever you think you are, or however many boundaries you think you are pushing. They are not your boundaries to push so get off their lawn.
I say this with complete acknowledgement and ownership of my own transgressions and totes hilar attempts at being a chola hoodrat banji girl because LOL. It was a dick move. And now i know better.

Again, if you’re not sure… ASK. If you’re still not 100% sure. DON’T DO IT.

If you done fucked up in the past, acknowledge, learn, and educate others in turn.

This happened and it was a mistake. I did not need to try and be “chola” for this act. Culture is not a costume.
This happened and it was a mistake. I did not need to try and be “chola” for this act. Culture is not a costume.

YOU CAN’T USE MY SONG/CONCEPT/COSTUME

Yes and no.

There are many songs, tropes, aesthetics in burlesque that are a free-for-all. There are some concepts, props, gimmicks and reveals that are so incredibly creative and unique that they are untouchable. And then there is the infinite grey space in between. There are also people that will transgress those boundaries and don’t give no f**ks.

Take the position of invested self-interest.

  • Doing a straight-up traditional trope can be easy, but how does it benefit you? How does it make you memorable? How does it earn respect from your audience or your peers?
  • Copying a unique concept or prop is putting yourself in a really difficult position. Firstly, it makes you a jerk. Secondly, you now have to do it SO WELL that everyone forgets that you’re copying. Hint: this is impossible.

So now you’re floating in that infinite grey space…

For me it is mostly a matter of etiquette and proximity. Etiquette is simple, don’t be a jerk. If you’re feeling a little guilty or suss, don’t do it. If you have to ask someone if they think it’s ok, be prepared for the fact it might not be. If you’re even asking out of courtesy. Bingo, you’re a champ. Some people will be precious regardless of how cautious or respectful you are. They might be in the wrong, but you then have to make a choice and accept the consequences either way.
Proximity can be geographical, chronological and conceptual. Has enough time passed? Has the person retired the act? Are they on the other side of the world and you don’t have a shared audience? Conceptually, creating a distance in as many aspects of your act as possible (narrative, song, aesthetic, punchline, prop) is fundamental.

TL;DR – technically no one owns anything. But it can be a very very dumb move to copy or be “inspired” by other performers.

 

See you tomorrow for part three!

Community? Industry? Or Chaos? Bunch of babes regardless. Photo by John Leonard Photography
Community? Industry? Or Chaos? Bunch of babes regardless. Photo by John Leonard Photography
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