This past weekend I attended my first ever burlesque show. However, far from women in peacock feathers kicking in a line, this show was what they call “Neo” Burlesque. The performance was pre-cursed with an overview of what the host and burlesque teacher at Burlesque school Boom Boom Basics, Diana Danger, called “Burletiquette.” She explained to the audience that in Neo burlesque it is just good etiquette to hoot and holler as much as possible, especially when there is something sexy or revealing taking place on stage.
Acts included a hoop dancer, a woman balancing swords and laying across a bed of nails, and various fantasy-esque story dances such as the lonely waitress getting so horny she pours a pot of coffee on herself and the undead woman whose cravings drive her to rip out a mans heart and pelvic thrust against is vigorously until throwing it to the ground in frustration. It was altogether a mix of funny, frightening, Impressive and erotic.
While asking for donations to support her craft, the hostess referred to her group as artists a few times, and other times simply asked for money “so that we can keep doing crazy nonsense things on stage.” So the question I found my self asking was, are they artists?
I started by asking myself what art means to me, and landed at 3 essential question I must answer.
- Does it come from a place of love?
- Is it expressive?
- Is it though-provoking?
The answer to this first question was yes. These people expressed a clear love and joy for shaking their butts and twirling their sparkly nipple tassels on stage.
The answer to the next question was also yes. They expressed emotions: joy, intensity, rage, lust. They also expressed the ability to be ridiculous with their bodies.
One “Boylesque” male dancer discovered a unicorn on his penis!
The third question was difficult for me, especially because of the idea of the audience cheering throughout performances as if praise was being given for every “trick.” I am more accustomed to the idea that art is something that needs to be taken in fully before being appreciated at the end. This “Burletiquette” seemed to indicate that these performances were more surface level than what I’d consider to be performance art. Though, I did cheer when impressed, and had fun doing it. In considering what messages may have been behind that surface I came to a few possibilities.
Throughout the show there were times when the host would speak to the audience in order for preparation for the next act to take place behind them. In these times there were messages of body positivity as well as ideas spoken on the importance of representation of gender, sexual orientation, and race. In Diana Danger’s words, “It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how much fun you have shaking it.” And I might also add that the variety of ways in which they did “shake it” was somehow refreshing. Sexuality was able to take on many tones. It’s funny, it’s light, it’s scary, it’s intense, it’s ridiculous. It’s black, white, male, female, queer, straight, and everything in-between.
And all these thoughts it did provoke.
So what do you think? Is (Neo) burlesque art?