Anyone that knows me knows I love burlesque. I was an audience member for 7 years, and last April, I made my debut as Mama Silverside. I’m strictly a hobby performer, and have no intention of turning it into a career, but my passion for all things burly is as strong as any career performer. I believe. I know. Yes.
Anyway, recently a few performers and enthusiasts had a great discussion based around a newspaper interview with a lap dancer, where she states there is very little difference between performing burlesque and working in a strip club. It raised opinions from each end of the spectrum, and loads from in between. I gave my opinion and read with interest everyone else’s, but I’ve found that days, even weeks later, I’m still thinking about it. So I thought I’d write about it! Please note this is about female-led burlesque, I’m not negating the other branches, they just aren’t what this discussion is about. Context yo’.
Burlesque is an art form, stripping is for male titillation.
This is a fairly popular opinion, so I thought I’d explore it first. These days, most people see burlesque as socially acceptable entertainment, geared towards the empowerment of women. It focuses on the beauty, the comedic and artistic merits of women, where the ‘strip’ is not more important than the ‘tease’. This can be seen when we talk about the famous performer Gypsy Rose Lee, who managed to whip men into a frenzy when all she removed was a glove! Of course, she revealed a lot more than her hand during her career, but the reason she is remembered as an icon was the artistry involved in her routines.
But this same story can be viewed from the other angle, where Gypsy performed (at least initially) solely for men. Back then, burlesque was for male titillation. She just managed to be memorable enough to break through the old music halls and vaudeville theatres and perform also for mixed crowds who regarded her performances as artistic, if a little crass. These days she is regarded as a pioneer, but then she was simply a stripper, a title she owned up to. Nowadays, burlesque seems to have little to do with stripping, but without burlesque, stripping wouldn’t exist. Strip clubs remain mostly the domain of men, and asking around most men I know would seldom even admit going to a strip club outside of a stag (bachelor) party. Strip clubs as a form of regular entertainment seems tacky, seedy and according to my male friends, embarrassing to admit to. Women I know have went to strip clubs on a lark, as a cool and different activity, but often end up chatting with the ladies dancing there instead of watching them perform!
And what of the performing? When you think of strip clubs, is it pole dancing, stripping, or lap dancing you think of first? If we leave out lap dancing as an obvious act of male titillation, most strippers have a routine they have worked on, with music, costume, make up. If they use a pole, they also need countless hours of practice and exercise. There is even pole dancing competitions and classes where the focus is not on titillation but artistry, form and poise. You must be very fit to look good on a pole!
There will always be strippers who wear a ‘sexy’ outfit or nothing at all and mindlessly grind and dance to a song with no thought other than making money, but I feel lumping all strippers together as that does a disservice to the women who make an effort to inject some personality and art into their routines. Like their spiritual predecessors, they perform primarily for men but insist on setting standards for themselves.
Stripping demeans and objectifies women, burlesque empowers them.
This one actually annoys me more than anything else we discussed. This opinion relies on treating strippers as poor lost souls who have been forced into the profession. I can’t deny that could be true of some strippers, but it certainly can not be the case for all. Some women do it simply for the money, some because it makes use of whatever qualities or talents they possess. Some enjoy being the centre of attention. I would place my last penny that some even do it because they enjoy performing the same way burlesque performers do!
Burlesque as a tool of female empowerment is a relatively new concept. Again, back in the early days of burlesque, the general consensus about burlesque was no different to how a lot of people view strippers today. It almost seems that when burlesque and stripping split, burlesque took the positive aspects and stripping took the negative! When I perform, I do feel fantastic, the audience is there to support you, cheer you on and make you feel like the centre of the universe for 4 minutes. I know that regardless of body shape or size, burlesque enthusiasts champion body confidence and enjoy the variety of performers on show. I know it’s a big part of why I love it so.
With stripping, it’s easy to assume it’s all teeny tiny tanned blondes with big boobs. Again, it’s easy assumption to make, but to judge that kind of appearance while championing variety seems counter productive. Teeny tiny tanned blondes with big boobs deserve respect too! The funniest thing to me is it’s been proven time and again men like all sorts of women. The choices strippers make about their appearance is their own, no one else’s. In the end, I don’t see why it has to be stripping = bad to mean burlesque = good. This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. It’s not empowering to any women to put one down in order to raise another up, if that’s the only reason you think that.
So what about the lap dancers?
Stripping and lap dancing are as different as burlesque and stripping. They are related, held together by a common ground, but they are not one and the same. Not all lap dancers perform on stage as strippers, not all strippers are lap dancers. Again, it’s down to assumption. Even so, I don’t see lap dancing as ‘beneath’ anyone. You either enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t, that doesn’t give you right to bash people who do it or enjoy it.
Opinions are like assholes…
…everyone has one. I respect that other people will have differing opinions on this, and I encourage discussion on it, because it’s the only way to learn. What I can’t abide is the frankly unnecessary hate and judgement that comes with the ’us versus them’ mentality. I’m not asking to like, enjoy or support anything you don’t want to. But when it comes to differing opinions, one doesn’t have to be wrong for the other to be right.
So what’s your take on this subject? Do you prefer burlesque to stripping? Do you think there’s much difference or do you hate when people think they are one and the same? I’ll be writing more on this subject but I’m taking pity on those who’ve made this far! Until then, feel free to sound off!