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.