What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show, By Dr. Lucky

I’ve been deeply ensconced in burlesque for a while, and I’m constantly reminded that not everyone is privy to my insular world. So I wrote this as an introduction to those who may be curious or interested or concerned. This list is in no way meant to be ‘definitive’ or to ‘set the record straight’ about what to expect at a burlesque show. As with all live performance, the best way to experience burlesque it is to see it in person.

1. A Variety Format Show

Shows usually feature a host or master of ceremonies who keeps the show moving forward, introduces acts, and interacts with the audience, which may include audience participation. Performers often come from a variety of backgrounds and have an array of skill sets, and may include dancers, singers, musicians, circus performers, magicians, comedians, and, yes, striptease artists. In modern burlesque, acts are usually around five minutes, or the length of a pop song, though this can vary widely with ‘talking acts’ or headliners who may perform to a number of songs.

2. Acts that are as Uniquely Different as the Performers

Burlesque performers are not given a ‘script’ – they come up with their stage personas and concepts for their acts; they choose their music, choreograph their numbers, and usually create their own costumes. It is this DIY spirit, and complete control of one’s image, that is so appealing to performers and audience alike. Some performers like to keep their acts in the vein of classic burlesque, bedecked in gowns, panels skirts, boas, fans, gloves, and stockings etc., while others create acts influenced by popular culture, politics, current events, and/or familiar archetypes.
Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Inga Ingenue. ©Michael Albov (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

3. Acts are Like ‘Mini Plays’

Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque and curator of the Exotic World Museum and Competition, described her acts as ‘mini plays’. An act has its own narrative, story, tone, and message. The ending of a striptease act may be more about a resolution of the tension of the story, or the delivering of a punch line, then it is solely about the physical reveal. That said, the reveal and the message are often intertwined, and can be dependent on each other. Burlesque acts, like other narratives, take the audience on a journey.

4. Over the Top Presentation of Self

You probably won’t see a parade of ‘girl-next-door’ realness at a burlesque show. Makeup is excessive, hair is big (often a wig), and costumes are elaborate. The performance style is more like Brechtian presentation than Aristotelian representation – think clowns, buffoons, and drag queens. The burlesque condition known as ‘Swarovski-itis’ is a serious affliction that compels performers to want to put rhinestones on EVERYTHING. Expect to be blinded by the light.

5. No Fourth Wall

With most traditional theatre or performance genres, there’s an ‘invisible’ fourth wall that divides performers from the audience. There’s no such thing in burlesque. This makes burlesque more participatory and engaging than your typical entertainment experience. In fact, the audience is an integral part of a burlesque show, and it is that carnivalesque (Bahktin) spirit that is so much fun for audience and performers. I can’t think of many social situations where it is not just acceptable to scream at a performer as she performs, but expected. Audience members don’t have to sit, hands folded on lap, and wait until the end of the show to show their appreciation. They do it along the way – with claps, hoots, hollers and screams of laughter and approval. And that’s just the way the performers like it.

6. A Mixed Audience Comprised Mostly of Women and Couples

An audience at burlesque show tends to be mixed, and the demographics run the gamut from grandmas to girls out for a night on the town. Although it depends on the venue, producer, and the show, burlesque shows are most often very women-friendly. Rarely do you see primarily male audiences, except perhaps at a boylesque show. Couples are frequent attendees. Heteronormativity is not the expected norm.

7. Blue Humour and Content

Some would argue that blue humour and content of burlesque is its most important and defining characteristic. But like at a burlesque show, you might have to wait for the blue content. Furthermore, blue humour does not necessarily have to be explicitly ‘dirty’. It can be the implication of a double entendre, the delivery of a line with a wink and a nudge. So put your thinking cap on, otherwise you might miss the joke.
Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)Aurora Galore. ©Chris Harman/Harman House Photography (What to Expect at a Typical Burlesque Show)

8. Modern Political and Social Conscientiousness

Modern burlesque is the thinking person’s performance art wrapped up in a sparkly package. You may want to be up on current events before you come to a show. Politics and social commentary are often very central to burlesque acts. And even if not overt, there’s still something political about performers doing whatever they want on stage, force feeding it to an audience, and getting the audience to beg for more. This can be terrifying to those who want to keep established gender roles in place, and is often a driving force behind fear or censorship of burlesque and burlesque performers.

9. Burlesque is Parody

If there’s one thing that has been consistent about burlesque since its inception, it is parody. Parody was an intrinsic part of burlesque, even before striptease emerged. In fact, ‘to burlesque’ a thing means to poke fun at it. Nothing escapes burlesque’s parodic grip, and it is that inversion of high and low that is the delicious raison d’être of burlesque. So don’t be surprised if something you hold up as sacred is poked fun at, or something you think frivolous (or perhaps deviant) is celebrated and elevated. This is what burlesque does – it inverts social norms, pokes fun, and, ultimately, is meant to BE fun. Comedy is the central tenet to this fun.

10. Expect the Unexpected

‘Wait a minute. Dr. Lucky. I just went to my first burlesque show, and it was not what you described.’ Welcome to the world of burlesque! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from burlesque in the past fifteen plus years, it is that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. As with any kind of live performance, the best way to experience it is to go to a show. Go with an open mind. And expect to be entertained.

NOTE: Wish you could include this in your next program? You can! Feel free to use ‘What to Expect at a Burlesque Show’ for your program, your website, or to send to reporters and/or local concerned community members. If this article is reused in part or in whole, author credit is required (‘Dr. Lucky’), with a note to the author (doctorofburlesque@yahoo.com) about where and when the reprint is published. All rights reserved, 2014.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Kay Sera and Taro Baugham for feedback on an earlier draft of this essay.

Dr. Lucky

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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

One of the things I hate most is when people talk about shit they know nothing about as though they’re experts. We’ve all witnessed it. And Julia Serano is a woman after my own heart as far as this goes. Because there are certain experiences that need to be lived in order to be properly and fully understood. Here she is calling out all the so-called “experts” on gender and transsexuality for their ignorance and hypocrisies, and you can feel her anger.

So is this a book by an angry lesbian feminist? Yes. But the more you pay attention the more you’ll realize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much a good thing. Because one thing I didn’t expect this book to be was sad. To learn about all the ignorance this subject is steeped in and the very real negative effects this has on the great many people living it day in and day out is nothing if not upsetting. If the revelations herein don’t upset you, then I have to wonder how much you really care about this subject, and why then you decided to pick up this book. It should also be said that issues of feminism affect men, and likewise issues of transsexuality affect cis people. We’re all part of this world together and we don’t live in a vacuum.

This is a relatively new kind of gender-studies book in that it’s written by a feminist lesbian trans woman. This is a look not from the outside in, but from the inside out from someone who is in a position to experience discrimination, often perhaps unintentional, due to her inclusion in three different groups. To use the language of Hubbub‘s Emily Cockayne, she is an inpert, as opposed to an expert, as she relates to us her knowledge from first hand experience. She’s incredibly intelligent and makes her points very well, but she’s also completely unashamed of herself, and her personality – and anger – reverberate through the pages. This woman has earned her attitude and the right to speak authoritatively on this subject, and it’s for this reason that I really love this book.

Not only is this book heavily saturated in personality and real-life experience, but it brings to mind issues that many of us have probably not considered, as well as how these issues effect all of us as a whole. Julia Serano opens up and allows us to take a deeply personal look into her life as she experiences it and experienced it during the various stages that she went through on her journey to becoming the person she is today. This might sound especially appealing to those very curious people who want a look into something somewhat “taboo,” but while it’s definitely interesting, it also has a way of deeply humanizing this subject, and in the process showing us how very important it is for this to be done. Julia Serano is not only incredibly smart, but incredibly brave, not just in that she has been extraordinarily true to herself but in that she’s offered us the chance to see things from her own perspective in such an unashamedly honest way. By the end of the book you’ll no doubt see femininity and LGBT* issues from an entirely new perspective, and this to me is what makes this book an utter success.

Have a look at the video below for a discussion with Julia about her book.

Strange Burlesque

I was going to wait to post about this until I had actually done a show. I still haven’t. But I just had my first one-on-one burlesque lesson and it was so much fun I’m just too excited to wait. You’ll have to forgive me.

Since there are no actual shows to speak of yet I’ll give you my backround and what’s been going on so far. I’ve been a fan of burlesque for many years. It’s such a beautiful and fun form of artistic expression. It’s a feminist art form that celebrates each person’s own unique beauty and personality. I was the type of kid who always wanted to put on dances and plays for the family, and always loved history and elaborate costumes. So damned if I wasn’t going to want to be part of it. Contrary to what you might believe however, I’m not a particularly extroverted person. I can get suddenly and inexplicably nervous in front of people and in those situations it can take more than a few drinks to loosen me up. I really never believed then that I would be up to the challenge, and focused my little burlesque dreams on being the hero back stage, the one who could arrange for the performers to have gorgeous costumes and help put on their shows without a hitch.

Attending a burlesque worshop in Feb 2013.

This did not happen. But I did one day a couple years ago find myself working a little magic for a fashion show for a local shop at the Taboo sex convention. We were short a hairstylist, so I did my best to get half the girls for each of two shows looking their best. It was an extremely hectic and exhilarating day. Now then, the afternoon show featured pinup dresses and other cute everyday looks, but the evening show was something else. This was all about sexy lingerie. One of the girls during the prep for this evening show came up with the idea that one of the models should go out wearing nothing but some frilly underwear, holding a giant pink powder puff. Guess who was in a brave mood, Strangers. I was caught at a moment when I just did not give a fuck. I would do any dare they threw at me. Maybe it’s because I was still on a high from the first show, my first fashion show ever, after realizing that it was much more fun than terrifying. So I did it. The underwear was big enough to fall half way down my ass and I didn’t even have pasties to cover me up behind that powder puff. But even more so than being in the earlier, tamer fashion show, I realized immediately that I was being not at all traumatized, but having the time of my life. Don’t ask me why, maybe I had just unearthed a secret little exhibitionist part of myself. Or maybe it’s because I really enjoyed the look on everyone’s face. I remained in this state for a little while after the show too, walking around the convention appearing practically naked to hand out flyers for the shop. I even got my picture taken in a photo booth for free. I had a really great time.

I took a really long time to let this all sink in. Almost a year actually. I thought about how if this wasn’t scary, if it turns out I don’t have stage fright, especially without much of anything on, maybe I really could consider doing burlesque. And then my position and my schedule changed. Saturdays were out for another 8 months and my ideas had to be put on hold. I just couldn’t imagine establishing myself as a performer who only worked Sundays and Mondays.

And then finally, FINALLY, I was ready. I was back working Mon-Fri and had started to put together a few costumes. This wasn’t something I just started once I decided to perform however. I’ve always loved corsets, glitter, and ridiculously glamorous things. It’s another art form to me. The only difference now was that I had a real focus. Instead if acquiring a bunch of random pretty things, now I had a goal of specific outfits in mind. When I suddenly realized that one of these outfits had already been sitting in my closet for a while I decided it was time to set up a one-on-one lesson with Miss La Muse to see how it was all done. Of course by now I had already chosen my name and image, purchased my domain (this one), and attended a beginners workshop, also taught by Miss La Muse.

Without getting into too many details that would ruin any surprise at seeing my future first show, I will say that all the basics were covered and a routine was planned out from start to finish. It was even more fun that I expected, and I woke up very sore the next day. I couldn’t wait to get home from work and start sticking little jewels onto my costume. So this is where I’m at now, writing this post in an attempt to lower my temptation to tell everything to the whole damn world. I have to practice and I have to polish. But a performance by Ava Strange is finally something to be seen on the horizon.

Why I Kept My Last Name

I’m married. Contrary to what some people might assume, I didn’t marry my brother. I just kept my last name. To me it’s not a big deal that I kept it, I wasn’t trying to be oh so progressive or anything. But it does bug me that so many people have that “that’s just what you do” attitude about changing it and don’t think twice about it. It kind of reeks of brainwashing, no?

I don’t mind if a woman takes her husband’s last name, but I do feel it needs to be an active decision and not a thoughtless assumption. You could even go a whole different route and choose/invent a whole new name for yourselves. I once heard about a couple who chose the name Dragonwagon. How cool is that? Anyway, it just doesn’t make sense to me for any person’s identity to take precedence over another’s. And yes, your last name is *usually* a pretty big part of your identity. I feel like to take Mike’s last name would negate my own family history and where I came from, and instead label me a German. But I’m not German. It’s weird enough I have an Irish first name and I’m not even Irish. My Grandma actually said she wished she could have kept her name (it was law to take the husband’s back then) because she got so irritated at people assuming she was French. And nationality is just the most basic, easy-to-write-about-and-explain part of it. It’s your whole history. If you’re adopted and you don’t know your family’s history, or you’re ashamed of it or whatever, you still may choose to keep it as a label that represents YOU as a person. I’m not at all willing to have part of me erased or ignored, even just as a word on paper. Especially so it can be pushed aside or covered up by somebody else as though they’re somehow more important. My husband is not above me, and while I joke about him taking my last name, I’m not above him either. We are who we are, it’s not going to change, so why make any move to show that it did?

Now the kid thing, well, people often argue that kids feel all insecure about having a different last name than their parents. Maybe that’s true for some of them, but personally it’s never been an issue for me. My mom went back to her maiden name when I was really young, and then changed to a new married name very soon after that, so I can hardly remember a time I had the same last name as either of the parents I lived with. And I totally did not give a shit. I never thought twice about it. It was the 90s, divorce was looking more and more like the in thing, and it was absolutely normal. And guess what? It’s still normal. It’s more abnormal to have a lasting marriage. So don’t start worrying about ridiculous things like people assuming you’re not really a family and you’re a bunch of slutty weirdos. You should have learned this when you were 6, families come in many forms. Mine is 2 people with different last names, and 3 cats each with their own fake last name. We’re the Bergeron-Dyck-Sawchuckson-Candide-(…Oh crap Mouse doesn’t have a last name! Let’s call her Haus)Haus household. Mouse Haus. Hehe.

Anyway, also on the subject of kids, it also irritates me when it’s just assumed the kids have to have the father’s name. It’s not a rule you know. That should also be an actively made decision. The mother is just as much a parent as the father, and she’s the one who had to carry the kids in her body for 9 months. Makes sense to me for them to have her name. But whatever you choose, you need to be actually choosing it, for an actual reason, not just doing it because hey whatever. I think that’s really insulting yourself. It’s a good thing me and Mike aren’t going to have any kids, because I know for a fact this is something we would majorly fight over. Unless we just agreed to call them Haus.

Girl

I’ve read a few times in magazines and online articles lately how the word “girl” is unfeminist, that it implies we’re small, insignificant, and not actually women. That the word Girl is somehow demeaning.
I happen to strongly disagree.
I actually really like the word Girl. I like it a lot. You know why? Because it takes us back to a time when we could do anything. When you’re a girl, you have your whole life ahead of you, and nobody is going to stop you no matter how wild your aspirations are. When you grow up and become a woman, suddenly you’re living in the real world and you’re all business. You have to watch the news and go to the bank and buy gross healthy food. Fuck that. I want to hold on to Girl. I want to stay up way too late and play dress-up and eat giant ridiculous sundaes. I want to keep all my creativity and imagination. I want to keep all my options for the future open. And I want to glorify and appreciate adulthood like only a kid can. I want to be grown up without losing any of that fun and sparkle and all those dreams I had. Anything is possible. I’m living life to the fullest. That’s what being a girl is all about.

Girdle Zone

Being heavily into corsets, I’ve never been particularly interested in girdles. I guess I’ve just always thought of them as a lesser kind of corset, a “corset light”, if you will. Nevertheless the thought of getting one has crossed my mind. Not everyone wants to be bound down to 20 inches at all times, but that hourglass shape is incredibly addicting nonetheless. I just don’t feel right without it.
So it was when I was browsing a message board dedicated to vintage lifestyles and clothing that I found mention of this website, Girdle Zone. I had to have a look.
This site is a lot bigger than I would ever have thought a site about girdles could be. But the fact is there is a lot to do with history, romance, politics, and our senses of self as women that’s all tied up in girdles and the way we perceive them among other notable kinds of underwear. I was immediately fascinated by all the psychology that goes into girdles, and I was pleased to see that they really do hold just as much mental power over us as corsets do.
So you may find that a girdle is a powerful and extremely pleasurable and sexy expression of your femininity, a protective exo-skeleton that grants a feeling of power, or you may feel that you associate them with a repressed pre-feminist time. Either way, you can’t look into the subject without having some sort of emotional reaction. I’ll let you decide for yourselves how you feel about these charged garments.
http://www.girdlezone.org