Merely giving voice to the name is seductive. It sounds provocative. A lingering accentuation of the tongue. A langurous revelation of three syllables that is somewhere between a sigh of pleasure and a whispered secret. It is a celebratory, intoxicating, empowering revelation of the joys of performance. All this and more, because it is also incredibly arousing. I am referring to the mysterious and magical realm that is burlesque. Merely attempting to define the captivating art of burlesque is truly daunting, because it is by its very nature an ethereal and interpretive medium. One might as well plait fog, or count the grains of sand on a beach. I suppose all I can try to do is to tease out my own thoughts and responses to it. To share, with those of curious eyes and minds, something which both attracts and fascinates me.
I feel a little anxious writing about something which can be perceived as controvercial and perhaps even, by some, to be taboo. This is conofunded by me writing as a man, about such a female-oriented performance. Nevertheless, I hope that this entry will be received with the spirit in which I am writing it, namely paise and celebration of something beautiful. I love experiencing burlesque for the same reason that I love many, many works of art. Paintings and burlesque share many things, but one reason in particular is powerfully resonant. They both celebrate femininity and beauty in a genuine and real sense. In our world that is infested with airbrushed conformity and vapid perceptions of tabloid beauty, they both offer a clarion call for ‘real’ femininity. Empowered, enchanting and wonderful. I love watching a burlesque performance for the same reason that I love looking at the image at the foot of this entry, Gustave Caillebotte’s ‘Nude on a couch’. It is a celebration of a ‘real’ woman, clothes marks, body hair, flushed cheeks and all. Yes, burlesque performers are usually arrayed in immaculate outfits and bedecked with make up and glitter, but beneath these facades they are truly, quiveringly real , present and genuine. I love this. I am in love with it.
Something that always surprises me (he says, after seeing only five burlesque shows) is the audiences. There are always an equal proportion of men to women, and I have never, ever seen any violence or unpleasantness. There is plenty of inebriation and good-natured cheering, but I have never seen any unpleasant behaviour. I am convinced that this bonhomie stems from a shared love of dance, comedy, history and of course, the human body. However liberal-minded and experienced, it is always remarkable and intense to see somebody in a state of undress, and even more so when they radiate a coquettish smile whilst looking deep in to your eyes. More cause for celebration here, because there is a healthy expectation that people will look, stare, gaze at the performers, who often return these gazes. Oh, and the outfits! All of the performances that I have seen are as much a triumph for tailored undergarments as they are for the performance itself. I have seen dancers bedecked in wondrous attire, and so finely and elegantly fitted that the person more closely resembles a bird of paradise than a person. A Goddess. Just the intricacy of the straps, stays, stockings and long gloves is a wonder, let alone how seductive and wonderful they look.
Above all else though, I love the performances themselves. There is always an abiding theme or story, and all of the props, movement and accoutrements simply compliment and enhance that central idea. Add music and lighting and it becomes something tangibly magical. A whole world, in which the viewer can escape to Paris at the heart of Art Nouveau decadence, or New York in the roaring Twenties. Descend in to the phosphorescent, briny depths of mermaids or bake in the heat of the Savannah. It is heavenly, and I feel proud to say that I love burlesque very much.
Copyright Tom Tide 2017