Tag Archives: burlesque

Shimmying Toward Freedom

By Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from Waging Non-Violence

Brown Girls Burlesque performs at the New York Burlesque Festival in 2010. Image by CreatixTiara/Flickr

 

Perle Noire takes the stage at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Her costume: brilliant orange silk against brown skin. She glides, shimmies, and beams. To the sound of an urgent drum beat, her skirt falls, revealing silvery fringe swinging across a bared bottom. Horns. She thrusts and dances. A turned back. Full breasts and glittering pasties. The crowd whoops as she leaps and cartwheels. She beams: the performance is magnetic and joyous. It is burlesque.

A variety performance traditionally featuring striptease, burlesque has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last two decades. A bared shoulder or the shake of a hip can be sexy, sensual, and funny. But the art form is also a means of resistance. Undulating bodies can uncover histories, challenge biases and defy stereotypes. And when politicized bodies move this way–bodies still straining under the weight of racial stereotypes that stretch back to the era of slavery–it is even more insubordinate.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Essence Revealed

By Andrea Plaid

Photo: Frederick V. Nielson II. Courtesy: Essence Revealed

When I saw my very first Brown Girls Burlesque show two years ago, my mouth was agape at BGB dancer Essence Revealed’s piece celebrating the life of Josephine Baker. To the sounds of the consummate performer’s live performance, Essence saunters onto the stage–really, her Josephine is strolling into her dressing room after a performance–in black tux, ‘tails, and top hat, with a newspaper in hand. Essence opens the paper to the audience, which shows factoids about Baker’s incredible life and takes off a part of her garb, as if undressing to go to sleep for the night. But this is burlesque, and Essence’s every move is all about the tease and that all-knowing smile as she also conveys the power Baker herself held over her adopted home of France and the world-outside-the-US through the power of her self-loving work expressed through her brown body. When Essence-Josephine lays her head down on the floor to exit this world, I, too, understood that Baker’s transition was of a woman of color who lived a gloriously full life. I slow-clapped–then shouted–my deep appreciation for what Essence brought to the audience through her sinewy, sublime performance, thankful for bringing Baker back to life just one more time to receive her just due.

Essence herself is all about living a gloriously full life. I asked her, via email, to discuss her life in burlesque and stripping, the larger discussions about race in both professions, and getting paid in both professions. Between her running-to-the-next-gig days she graciously answered them.

Of course, the basics: where did you go to school? What was your major? Have you always been so fabulous?

I studied burlesque at the Brown Girls Burlesque’s Broad Squad Institute.  I have a master’s degree in educational theater from NYU.  Fabulous, no–and I have the elementary through high school pics to prove it!  And even now anyone can look fabulous with good makeup and lighting. :-)  Being fabulous is an ongoing self-improvement job with new projects that show themselves daily. But thanks!

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Race + Burlesque: Dita Von Teese Dons Yellowface

By Associate Editor Andrea Plaid, The Shanghai Pearl, Chicava HoneyChild, Essence Revealed, and ExHOTic Other

Burlesquer The Shanghai Pearl tipped off the R to one of the latest offensive acts, this one done by renowned burly-q entertainer Dita Von Teese at her ::sigh:: “Opium Den Show.” (Video NSFW)

Latoya asked me to cover the controversy with my burlesque mentor and one of the R’s favorite burlesque experts , Chicava HoneyChild. Chicava reached back to Shanghai Pearl as well as asked Brown Girl Burlesque performers ExHOTic Other and Essence Revealed to join the conversation. Here’s what we all had to say about it.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Nichelle Nichols

By Andrea Plaid

Gina Torres reigns as the current Queen of Sci-Fi and Sci-Fantasy, true. And if it wasn’t  for Nichelle Nichols, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Torres. Or Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko. Or Zoe Saldana as the new Uhura. Or my doing fan-dancing.

 

Courtesy: Emmy TV Legends

Nichols’ iconic status in sci-fi results from a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Frustrated during her first year on the original Star Trek, she decided to leave the show.

It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?

After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.

What convinced you to stay on?

I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.

What was that like?

I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.

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Women of Color in Burlesque: The Not-So-Hidden-History

By Guest Contributor Sydney F. Lewis

I have been up all night looking at vintage Jet Magazines on Google Books. A friend and fellow Black burlesque performer, Chicava HoneyChild of Brown Girls Burlesque, introduced me to this impressive online archive of Black politics, society, and entertainment. Founded in 1951, by John H. Johnson, Jet magazine was initially billed as “The Weekly Negro News Magazine.” I like to think of it as Ebony magazine’s tawdry little sister. After about eight hours of being glued to the screen, flipping virtually through captivating documentation of Black strippers from the 1940s-1970s, I have come to the conclusion that, just as I suspected, the omission of Black Women and other Women of Color from the realm of burlesque picture and history books is just willed ignorance– ignorance, lazy scholarship, and yup I’ll say it, racist brands of white feminism.

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Exotic Taboo [Love, Anonymously]


by Guest Contributor Tiara the Merch Girl

I often feel that I’m not taken seriously as a full well-rounded nuanced person when it comes to things related to eroticism, burlesque, sexuality, queerness, and so on. I have grown up constantly being the Other, having everything I do viewed through the lens of the Other, assumed to be the representative of the Other, rather than just a representative of myself and my myriad views and backgrounds. I’d make a piss-poor representative for any other culture or background anyway, given how I stick out like a sore thumb in all of them. Too foreign for Bangladesh, too Bangla for Malaysia, too Asian for Australia, too X for Y.

I have been introduced at burlesque revues as the “Bollywood Princess”- which ticks me off a lot, particularly since I have yet to do a piece that involves Bollywood in any shape or form. Not even a subcontinental song! Anything I wear automatically becomes “exotic” on me. For example, I have a beautiful red dress, with some gold embroidery, that I bought from an op-shop for a performance project. When I first wore it to a rehearsal one of the other girls there said “wow! It’s just so YOU!”. “Me” doesn’t tend to go for dresses very often (it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve started wearing dresses and skirts more regularly). It only looks exotic because it happens to be red with some gold embroidery and on me it looks like I’m wearing sari cloth. On a Chinese person it’d look like a reimagined cheongsam. On a white person? A Snow White or Red Riding Hood dress. The dress itself isn’t especially exotic; what makes it exotic is the lens brought on by people’s perception of the wearer.

Similarly, I think people in queer scenes are so mystified by the presence of a Racial Other that they fail to comprehend that I could also be a Sexual Other too. I swear, I’ve been to so many queer events with a bevy of straight people, and THEY get the attention. There’s probably been two queer girls in my entire life that have shown even a smidgen of interest in me as more than just a friend. I don’t ping anyone’s gaydar. As my Redhead Girl said one time, here I am proclaiming to the world my sexuality and hardly anything’s opened up, while here she is denying her sexuality until very recently and already she’s got a strong support network and even a relationship or two. I suppose having a boyfriend doesn’t really help (“yay, another barsexual”?) but at least talk to me beforehand and not make assumptions?
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Who’s a Pretty Burlesque Princess Now

By Guest Contributor Tiara the Merch Girl, originally published at The Merch Girl

I wrote this for AO (Adults Only) Magazine in mid-October last year, for Issue 3 that was meant to come out…now. I haven’t heard anything beyond “yes we got it”, and since some people have asked, I figure I’ll post my original article here. There weren’t pictures in the original submission, mainly due to copyright issues, but I’ll see if I can add some pics here.

Thank you to everyone who helped with research and quotes.  Feel free to share!

No one is jerkin’ while looking at my merkin, my skin is cracked like a shoddy creme brulee; not even a Prozac milkshake can shake my blues away – oh no, no no, it’s not a pretty princess day!

- Kitten on the Keys

My first taste of burlesque and pinup style was on my 21st birthday in Melbourne. A close friend had brought me to the Royal Melbourne Show (a massive carnival and agricultural show) as his present to me, and while there I spotted a tent advertising Old-Style Photos. I ducked in, put on a saloon girl costume – red bustier with white “boning”, a poofy red and black skirt, fishnets and a garter holding up a set of cards – and hammed up for a set of sepia photos that placed me in the Wild Wild West. I loved the outfit (which was surprising as I don’t normally like many things girly) and ever since then I had been hunting out for anything reminiscent of saloon-girl style.

My foray into burlesque as an apprentice performer and enthusiast meant many hours of looking up photos and art of burlesque performers, many echoing the pin up art of people like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vagras. Around this time rockabilly and alternative modelling also came in vogue, with many pinups sporting cherry A-line dresses and full-sleeve tattoos. Hollywood and mainstream pop culture also caught on to the cheesecake, with Vanity Fair continuing the tradition of casting upcoming movie starlets in classic poses as part of their annual Vanities Girls series.

While quite a number of the photos and performers were eye-catching, and often inspiring (that dress! that fascinator! THOSE PASTIES!), after a while they started to all look the same. The same poses, the same tropes – naughty teacher, just out of bed, exotic princess – the same look. The same tattoos on the same curvy bodies. The same buxom blondes, devillish redheads, sultry brunettes. Hardly anyone darker than milk chocolate – though if they were they either fit the same poses or had animal print thrown onto them.

Burlesque and pinup has been celebrated lately for its acceptance of diverse body images, and for its openness towards amateurs and hobbyists. There’s no need to look like the models in those magazines, no need for trim bellies and thin thighs; anyone can be beautiful. But does the current scene have standards of its own? What happens if you’d rather not be in a cherry A-line dress or have a tattoo, would prefer your waist be set free than wrapped in a corset, can’t stand a couquettish smile and would rather hold a sneaky sneer?

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On Burlesque [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Tiara the Merch Girl

Depending on who you ask, burlesque can either be a tool to poke fun at the Establishment by bringing them down to the “low-brow”, or a way to bask in vintage 1940s and 1950s glamour. It’s a growing art form with plenty of enthusiasts jumping in for a chance to shake, shimmy, and show off. However, with its overwhelmingly White presence, how does it deal with performers and fans from culturally diverse backgrounds?

I’m Tiara, a Malaysian of Bangladeshi heritage currently based in Brisbane, Australia. I started getting into burlesque in January and have recently debuted to the public as Tiara the Merch Girl (after being said Merch Girl at Brisbane’s Burlesque Ball). I also seem to be one of the very few Asian (or at the very least non-White) burlesque people in the area; the only other person I know of is Maiden Chyna, who is as new as me. I got into burlesque as I love performing and was intrigued at the possibility of expressing myself and my sexuality in ways that I was never able to when I was in Malaysia. I’ve seen fallen in love with the sheer creativity, talent, and humour that has come from burlesque performers around the world.

In my burlesque adventures I have noticed a distinct lack of resources, information, or even talent from culturally diverse backgrounds. As it is, there are hardly any growing organised scenes outside the UK, USA, and Australia, with small pockets in New Zealand, Canada, Scandinavia, and Western Europe. While they do exist, they tend to either be overlooked or exoticised. How does race and culture play out in burlesque, and its sibling subcultures such as rockabilly and pinup? Continue reading