At the weekend, a very good friend and I were invited to attend a cabaret night of glitz, glamour and entertainment at the world famous Café de Paris in central London. It was a first for me as, until then, I’d never set foot inside the venue or seen a cabaret night live.
The acts varied from jugglers, dancers and acrobats to a drag queen, burlesque artists – including a glimpse of Sukki Singapora’s Diamonds Tour. It was a night of good entertainment in a stunningly opulent setting.
When I heard about the burlesque dancers I wasn’t sure what to expect. Overall, I was looking forward to it because I’d never seen a burlesque act before and I’m the “try everything once” sort of person. Whether I do something again or not is a different story!
In the run up to Saturday night, I spoke to a couple of people that I work with and asked them what they thought of burlesque. They both (quite harshly) responded: “It’s really just a form of glorified stripping!”
I have a few friends who attend burlesque classes and from what I’ve seen/heard about burlesque I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
I can understand why people believe that burlesque is a form of “glorified stripping” as both involve women removing their clothes for an audience. However, what I did find out was a clear distinction between the two. The burlesque artists that I saw didn’t even come close to baring all, although there are burlesque artists who do the Full Monty in their performances. It was all artfully covered up; the unseen was more alluring than what was actually on show.
I also noticed that the artists focused more on style, props, costumes and the tease element instead of getting their kit off for sexual gratification. They were entertaining, light-hearted and fun with their routines which captured the attention of the audience.
Their routines were much more in keeping with the literary root of “burlesque” – a literary/musical or dramatic piece of work intended to create humour by caricaturing the manner of serious works. It comes from the Italian word burla – to mock/ridicule. So whilst they removed items of clothing, it was done with playfulness and the flair that we would expect from a showman.
Another refreshing part of the night was how female friendly, empowering and positive it was from the performers, our host and the audience. Most of the audience members were groups of women of all ages, people with their partners and middle-aged married couples. It felt good to be in such an atmosphere and see a range of female performers (of all shapes, sizes and colours) who were comfortable with their body shapes, stretch marks and cellulite.
At the end of the night, my friend and I left with a high level of respect for them because they had all willingly gone into this profession. Firstly, we appreciated that it takes guts to perform on stage in front of a group of strangers (regardless of your act). Secondly, we agreed that to reach that level of comfort and ease your body is something that many women around the world only dream of.
Female empowerment is something that many of us would not associate with things that involve women removing items of clothing. Most interpret this as going against everything that traditional Feminism preaches, but with regards to things like burlesque – and even strippers – it is all about intent and consent. From what I saw, I do feel that burlesque can be a source of female empowerment and might even increase a woman’s self esteem. Many burlesque artists say that they perform for themselves and that they feel good about themselves because they become very self aware of their bodies.
I have no qualms with women who willingly choose to become a burlesque artist or a stripper as long as they are in a safe environment. It’s their bodies and the sense of empowerment comes from the feeling of being in control of their bodies through their own choice. I firmly believe that we should understand and respect that.