“It’s not stripping, it’s burlesque!”
It was one of the first things I heard when I started thinking about taking burlesque classes. See, I used to dance a lot, but I got injured badly, and I had to stop. Then I got fat(ter). I thought burlesque, with its body positivity, feathers and focus on acting, would be the type of dance for me.
As a dancer, and keeping in mind, I wasn’t that good, just community level stuff, I appeared on stage in little more than a skimpy bra and briefs more than once. I was subject to some pretty horrific body shaming, and it was made clear to me that girls of my size and shape should cover up. I was made to bind my chest with ace bandages and tape and publicly shamed over the size of my costumes.
But I loved it. There is something about the way movement feels that brings me a certain type of peace I can get in very few other ways.
When I got injured, I hurt myself really badly. Like, 2 knee surgeries badly, ‘you’ll never dance again’ badly. It broke something in me, and I spent 12 months up to my ears in painkillers trying to make it work. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.
I quite the show I was in, I quit ballroom, and I quit latin. I walked away from the whole shebang.
I got really depressed, and shit got dark for a bit.
A burlesque class opened up in my small town, and I looked on with interest. See, I love pin up and retro styles. They fit my body better than others, and they make me feel sexy and desirable, something I had been missing at this point in time.
I wanted to give it a go, but I was crazy nervous. I had developed an eating disorder since quitting dance, and I detested the way 12 months of inactivity had affected my body.
However, I am nothing if not stubborn, so I spoke to a friend who was taking the class. I told her I was nervous and her response was, “Oh! No don’t worry, it’s not stripping or anything! It’s really body positive!”
And look, she wasn’t wrong. The time I spent at the burlesque studio was fun and uplifting, It scratched the dance itch without aggravating my injury, and I adored the costume making side of it.
I stood on stage and took my clothes off to the cheers of a crowd I couldn’t see, and it was exhilarating. For the first time in a long time, I was comfortable with what they saw because it was what I had decided to show them. I felt empowered and desired and on top of the world.
But something about the burlesque community grated on me. Something didn’t feel quite right and it took a lot of exposure to the big wide world before I figured out what it was.
Burlesque isn’t the same as stripping. It’s not. The reason is different, it’s a hobby, not a job and the audience isn’t the same.
But that doesn’t make burlesque BETTER than stripping.
“It’s not stripping, It’s really body positive!” are two, totally unconnected concepts
Sure, there are factions of the world that think that spending time doing burlesque made some sort of deviant (I mean, I am, but that is another story for another time), but I wasn’t putting myself at any real risk here. I wasn’t going to endanger my job or the relationship with my family any more than I was by being queer.
The burlesque world is trying to push itself into the list of ‘acceptable’ activities. And it is doing it by throwing sex workers under a giant sequined bus.
You can say “Burlesque classes are really body positive” without implying “unlike stripping”.
You can say “I like the burlesque aesthetic” without adding suggesting that sex work is inherently unattractive.
Burlesque isn’t stripping.
But do you think that we can talk about it without contributing to the oppression and vilification of sex workers?