Remember what that very first performance felt like to watch?
Stage entrance right. Pose. Music starts. I watch
She shimmies, she lifts her hands, her arms. She turns her head, looks at the audience and pivots. She steps out – each part of her own personal routine is carefully played out. She created it herself. She slips and falls, picks herself up and carries on like a professional. Confidence is there. Her pretty smile beams out like a torch. Her beautiful eyes twinkle in the lights.
It makes me angry that in 2016 another sex worker was killed in Christchurch. Actually it makes me more than angry. It makes me rage. This is the fourth sex worker murdered following being picked up at their place of employment, or in the course of their employment, in Christchurch in less than 12 years.
If this were another industry, say she was a Doctor, and someone came to her place of work and murdered her, there would be a huge outcry about violence against doctors. Questions would be asked as to why the hospital work place is no longer safe. There would be inquiries regarding how this could happen to someone in a care-giving profession. Perhaps security would be increased to make other doctors feel safe. Doctors throughout the country would have rallied around the victim.
But she wasn’t a doctor. She was a beautiful woman whose place of work was just down the road from my office. Apart from outcries concerning the publicity around her employment, I haven’t heard much foot stomping. I have heard nothing from the burlesque community.
But why should we as a community care? Why should it be our business if a street-based sex worker in Christchurch is murdered? I guess this is where I would turn around and ask you why aren’t we enraged at this murder? Why shouldn’t we be demanding that society places importance on the safety of ALL its workers? No person should be murdered in their workplace, regardless of occupation.
There is a pervasive notion that in order to be a true artist you must be poor and suffer. As if as an artist you should be living out some sort of Kerouacian fantasy life in a squalid flat, subsisting on red wine and a loaf of bread. You’ll ideally be tormented by some romantic yet deadly 18th century tubercular disease that brings sparkling eyes and a luminously pallid glow to the complexion. That’s how you know you’re committed to your art, right? A true artist does not care about money. An artist is always poor. To put something so indelicate as a monetary value on your work somehow diminishes its artistic value. Let’s slay this notion like the many-headed beast of bullshit it is.
For this issue of Pastie Politics Ms. Noir stacked together a tower of words. She constructed them upon each other into a less than stable pile, some of them falling out of balance, yet held in place with their collective weight. Each of them singularly common everyday words, yet in their grouping they find power and an aggressive voice.
Willow spent a rather long time and many a bottle of wine trying to capture and give power to the idea that revolved in a never-ending stream of babbling nonsense throughout her head. Although strong in thought, actually penning the words down was surprisingly difficult and when asked why, she couldn’t pin-point an exact answer.
She tells me that there will be more to come in the future on this theme, yet for now she is happy to enjoy a cup of tea and watch as the world goes by.
As I asked the assistant for the glitzy material, I could see it.
You know—the look.
“What are you going to make from it?” she asked politely.
I am going to cover a bra in it for a burlesque show I am performing in. The theme is The Wizard of Oz and this fits in brilliantly.
Eyebrows raise. “Really? Burlesque?”
Yes—for my costume.
“For you?” Smirk “You don’t look like a burlesque dancer. I went to a burlesque show once—you know an amateur one in Parnell, a number of years ago… it was a lot of fun.”
I am Bethany Starr, and this is my story.
I am not sure how to effectively use words to describe what I want to say. The fear of failing to achieve an understandable pattern of non-offensive, supportive, and loving letter combinations has woken me at 4am with a nightmare. Within this mad dream, a faceless burlesque performer beats me black and blue by twirling her gigantic diamond tipped tassels right up in my face. I mean, this may be some people’s before-sleep fantasy, but for me it is alarming.
My fear is not just that my words won’t make sense, but that what I am about to write, no matter how I craft it, is going to be taken the wrong way by at least one person. I fear it might push a button for them, or they might think that I am directly pointing the finger at them. Then they may go and talk to their friends, possibly within the burlesque community and say:
“OMG, did you see what THAT Constance Maehem had the audacity to write? Who does she think she is? I mean, what?! She has only being doing burlesque for a year. I had a look at her Facebook page and there is this photo where she looks like she is dead. Like, I mean seriously, that picture is better than what she looks like in real life. And she thinks she has any right to be performing, let alone writing her thoughts about like, what did she call it… Horizontal Hostility? I mean seriously. Who is she to comment on how WE behave?”
MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx
with Amourous Ava
Few things warm the cockles of a feminist’s heart more than seeing women pursuing their goals, running successful businesses and being rad bosses. The following is a conversation with performer/producers MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx concerning the art of being a producer and the production of burlesque and variety shows in New Zealand. May or may not involve feminist themes.
AA: How did you all individually get into producing? What pushed you to take that step from performer to producer? (or vice versa?)
MD: I got into producing so I could perform. At the time there were very few shows in New Zealand and only one regular show, which had just started in Wellington. I knew if I wanted more stage time I would have to produce. This also gave me the opportunity to start networking and meet other performers.
SS: I got into producing burlesque events for a few reasons. Firstly, I was tired of dealing with musicians (having been managing bands), but really enjoyed the event management side and saw a gap in the market with burlesque. Secondly, there were a few shows around in the area, but not a lot of opportunities for new performers. The idea behind The Rock n Roll Circus was to give new performers stage time and networking opportunities, which is still upheld today. Along with seasoned performers we always welcome rising talent to our shows.
RR: I started Dr. Sketchy Wellington because I wanted to draw performers while in a bar, while listening to great music and drinking... and there was no Dr. Sketchy in Wellington at the time. Producing Dr. Sketchy got me back into performing again (I had been in Africa for two years and hadn’t performed while there). I really enjoy producing. I think I may even enjoy it more than performing. When I decided to move to Christchurch I also decided to start up The Menagerie as 50% burlesque and 50% variety. But I ended up moving to Wellington where there already are several good burlesque/cabaret nights, so decided to create a variety show. I love variety shows, and I really love creating my own.
For me, burlesque is a humorous and generally harmless pastime. I suppose I am lucky that I have encountered nothing but support from people who know about my interesting hobby. Which is why I was hesitant to write this piece. But sometimes the support I am shown by my friends makes me uncomfortable.
Perhaps I should be more precise. It is not their unwavering support that irks me. Rather it is the way they talk about burlesque and, more importantly, the way in which the ‘Supportive Friend’ uses my craft to define me through a sexual and fetishistic lens.
Most feminists are more than familiar with the Virgin/Whore dichotomy: where ‘pure’ women are placed on a pedestal as worthy of love, marriage and protection, while ‘dirty’ women are objectified as things to be sexually desired, but never considered for a long term commitment. Under the Virgin/Whore dichotomy, men can only marry a good girl, but will always sexually desire a ‘good time’ girl. For women this means if you say you have, you’re a slut and if you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. It’s just another way the patriarchy attempts to police and control women and their behaviour.
Burlesque has always seemed to me the ideal way to transgress this sexist double standard—an opportunity for women to define and explore their sexuality/sensuality themselves, without the overt influence of the male gaze. For many of us, burlesque is the ultimate subversion of expected and/or ‘appropriate’ female sexuality. Whatever it looks like, as performers we are unapologetically sexy, and often unapologetically naked. We have no problems with a diverse and inclusive range of sexual expression. Do we?
Welcome to the second issue of Pastie Politics, a zine and trade journal about burlesque and feminism. In this issue we look at ideas of community and issues that affect our burlesque network, as seen through a feminist lens.
Featuring perspectives from new and established performers, we explore ideas of support, from both within the community and from our friends and audiences. From the vulnerabilities that affect new performers, to the politics of pay, to the schism between our Neo and Classic forms of performance—this issue is packed with critique designed to open up discussion.
Being part of a community does not mean necessarily sharing the same ideas and values about what is important in burlesque, or even what burlesque necessarily is. However it is important that as a community we have these discussions in order to move forward and develop so we don’t continually fall back on the status quo.
One of the attractions of burlesque lies in how it allows us as performers to show female sexual agency on our own terms, when the public display of an unclothed female body is still somewhat controversial, and displays of female flesh on or off stage are often criticised as either ‘sluttish’ or un-feminist. At the same time, burlesque is somewhat unique in the performance arts, in that it does not insist that performers adhere to mainstream forms of beauty. The engagement between the burlesque performer and the audience becomes less about being looked at, and more about the performer communicating power, control, desire and autonomy.
Burlesque allows us to play with tropes of what is considered ‘feminine’ (qualities that are traditionally ascribed to women), and what is considered ‘sexy’. Finding what being sexy means for us personally, and how we manifest that aspect of ourselves in our performance is part of finding our individual style as a performer. In terms of my own performance practice, this entails creating characters that are very strong, very humourous, very weird, and often have a tremendously wiggly butt.
A female lecturer once asked my class, consisting of both men and women: “As women, who do we wear make up for? Who’s attention do we want, if any, when we wear nice clothing or sexy shoes? Do we make our selves up for the male gaze, ourselves, or members of the same sex?”
The lecturer then proceeded to ask each of us our thoughts on this, many of the women who were above the age of forty seemed to all have the general consensus that as women we dressed to impress men, they believed that their generations values included dressing and making yourself up in order to attract a male suitor and subsequently a husband. The men in the class, regardless of their age, were tentative when asked for their opinions, and the majority mumbled incoherently and passed the somewhat loaded question to the person sitting next to them. The women under the age of thirty were quick to passionately assert that they did not base any of their appearance on anyone but them, and not one of them said that they valued an outsiders judgement.
When it was my turn to give my opinions on the matter, I tried to explain that I too agreed with what many others had said–we dress solely for our own self worth. Before I could elaborate the woman next to me abruptly, and loudly stated that I was a burlesque dancer, so obviously the way in which I present myself is so that men will find me attractive; the tone in her voice was somewhat facetious. Before I could finish my answer, someone from across the room asked a question I have been asked many times in the past year,
“Are you a stripper?”
Upon the burlesque stage we are both entitled and actively encouraged to express ourselves. We are celebrated for being unique and bringing a little taste of our quirkiness to the audience. Now, bearing this in mind, let me bring to you my thoughts on ‘bush whacking’.
The reveal, the applause, the curtain call,
the stuck on smiles, she’s done them all.
Her acts entertain, yet inside there is pain,
often she wonders if she can step out there again.
Things unseen behind that pizzazz and smile
let’s take off these eyelashes and sit awhile.
Wait while she clears the grit of glitter from her face,
watch as the lipstick smears, do you still want a taste?
Miss Chevious Cinders
Let’s start at the beginning, I was born in Takapuna, Auckland in June 1936.
My mother passed away when I was seven months old and I was brought up by my grandparents until I was 12 years old, when my father took me back after he remarried. I lived in Te Awamutu for a couple of years before moving to Hamilton.
I started work at 15 in a hardware store in Hamilton and in 1954 joined the Railways locomotive department and worked my way up from cleaner, to fireman, to driver. I was firing on the expresses between Frankton and Taumaranui and ended up driving the Electric Locomotives from Te Rapa to National Park. After 37 years I retired in 1990.
It was during my railway days that I started to cross-dress. I married in 1978 and fathered two daughters, I thought this could stop my cross-dressing habit but it did not. Eventually I separated from my partner in 1994, and finally divorcing in December 2004. I bought a house in Frankton and lived there till 2005.
Smart girls don’t strip.
Slutty ones do.
You perch on the stool
your drink drools
on the table
licks your hand
when you pour it down
your hollow throat.
The MC said
when the sluts do something
you like, let them know.
You’re surprised how many
bitches are here
howling at the moon
baying at the
glove that peels off
Burlesque. If you were anything like me during my first stages of acquaintance with this term, you dreamt up visions of showgirls, feather fans, glitter, glamour, and Dita Von Teese in a martini glass. All of these things, of course, are very much ‘burlesque’, they are what most people envisage when the term ‘burlesque’ is brought into conversation (which does not happen frequently enough!). However, recently, what comes to the forefront of my mind when I hear the term has changed.
A fortunate series of events has led me to find my feet in the comedy vein of burlesque. As it so happens, the Latin root of the word ‘burlesque’ comes from the Latin word burlare: to laugh, to make fun of. That is not to say I do not enjoy watching ‘classic’ acts—I very much enjoy them all! However, there is a special place in my heart for those women who can get up on stage and reveal not only their pasties, but their sense of humour. A joke is a scary thing to share with an audience, a joke that may or may not be at your own expense. What if they do not find it funny? What if they just don’t ‘get’ it?
I identify as a body-positive, sex-positive, intersectional feminist. I am also a tassel twirling, booty shaking, glitter spraying burlesque dancer. Can it be possible to be both?
I was drawn to burlesque for three main reasons:
I was cautious for many more than three reasons.
But, I have to believe in a world where people can admire my sensual, sexual body, while being fully aware that an actual human exists in here, who can make autonomous choices about her body and her sexuality. I’m a woman who loves to dance because of the way it feels inside my skin when I do so. I do it for me, not for anyone else.
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Pastie Politics, a zine/trade journal about burlesque and feminism in New Zealand.
It might seem at first glance to be contradictory to connect feminism with a field that frequently involves taking your clothes off. For many performers though, burlesque is a way to creatively express some aspects of our feminism. This publication does not try to insist that burlesque by its nature is a feminist art form, but to instead suggest that there are ways in which performers create and perform that can make it feminist.
This publication aims to contribute positively to the development of the New Zealand burlesque community by showcasing writing and artwork created by New Zealand performers on the theme of burlesque and feminism/gender in New Zealand. Pastie Politics is inclusive of all genders and is designed to cater to the current community of burlesque performers, our neo-vaudevillians and Artists of the Striptease.