Your Burlesque Matters
Here is your fierce but gentle reminder that you and your burlesque matters.
Burlesque... one of those many communities that often likes to self-claim and emphasize the "community" aspect. We talk constantly about the importance of representation and that "everyone belongs." But do they? Like... really?
As someone who regularly meets with other performers, whether for workshopping, professional development, or just to connect over burlesque, I hear, see, and experience a lot. And one common thread lately (despite not being a new one) is the discussion
around feeling valid or whether one "belongs" in burlesque. Long story short. You and your burlesque are absolutely valid and belong in burlesque. Especially if you're a performer of colour, have a disability, have a big body, are 2-spirit, trans, non-binary, older, autistic, have scars, or belong to any other underrepresented or marginalized identity.
Burlesque has transformed in many ways since the big halt in 2020. We are still in a pandemic, and we are still seeing a lot of growing pains with the return of live events. Many shows have returned to not being physically accessible, some shows have stopped doing land acknowledgements, shows have reversed and become more white or privileged than before the pandemic. At the same time, there has been a huge resurgence from performers of colour (and other performers from underrepresented/marginalized communities) creating new spaces for themselves where they truly feel safe and valued. Again, not that any of this is "new" or the first time we are seeing any of these scenarios, but they are very in our face at this moment, and I am living for it. Despite so many individuals and productions taking leaps forward in holding space and uplifting marginalized voices, it highlights the many individuals who are not willing to do the work but are still being celebrated for the bare minimum (if that).
I've been reminded by some very special mentors of mine the importance of sharing vulnerability, so here I am... being vulnerable. Even connecting with other performers regularly, having hang outs unrelated to burlesque, and reflecting on the large amount of achievements I have been gifted and worked towards.... despite all of that, I still feel incredibly lonely at times. Feelings of being "enough" and having that jerk imposter syndrome creeping around are two highly relatable and common feelings for me. There are a lot of times when I am genuinely confident and excited with where I have grown, so it's more of a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is a constant battle between what I *know* vs what I *feel*. I know I'm not alone in burlesque. I know that how I feel is not how people see me. I know that my identity matters. And I know that I have a massive support system behind me of beautiful humans who are willing to lift me up or call me in when needed. But do I always feel those pieces of knowledge? Not always. I can know the truth but still feel defeated, the two are not mutually exclusive. Being human is "great," hey?
Likewise, I am well aware of my privilege in burlesque. I am white passing, I have the very stereotypical smaller body that many people expect of burlesque performers, I am a cis-femme performer, and most of my identities and challenges are not visible. It doesn't matter if I am Indigenous, Chinese, Queer, and working to figure out health challenges. Because of how I present, I get a lot of benefits as a performer and human in general. This can make it difficult at times to talk to other performers who need the reminder that they're valid. I can do all the hyping that I want. But without actually *seeing* the representation of their identity or experiences onstage, my words may feel empty.
And you know what, that's ok. I get it. I am aware of my social location and my own limits with supporting individuals because of it. Rather, I need to do the work to ensure that space is being held for the performers who are the representation for those who need to see it. For every paragraph I write or speech I give, seeing one performer onstage who aligns with another performer or audience member says way more than I ever can. For me, it wasn't until I was actually genuinely embraced and welcomed into BIPOC circles where I actually started to feel that sense of connection and community. Connecting with individuals who were loud and proud of their identity and others on similar paths as me, who were still connecting, or even individuals who are quietly grounded in their identity is the most impactful experience of my life. Again, not a new story. I've told it time and time again. But having representation is so important in burlesque. Not to show that a producer knows how to showcase diversity and (maybe) create safer spaces... but for those in the audience who need to feel seen.
Burlesque can be difficult when you depend on your local scene. Each scene is only a fraction of the entire burlesque industry. Getting outside of your local scene will do more for you than feeling stuck in the tiny pond that is your local scene. Even in big cities like New York, it's only one very narrow view of burlesque. And I know "getting out there" isn't always possible. Finances, accessibility, interest and confidence are only a few of the factors that impact this possibility. But even following diverse performers and producers on social media or watching their videos on YouTube or Vimeo can be huge. Maybe that's why I get frustrated by producers who aren't diverse in their casting. There are MANY glaring reasons why... but one being that performers should not have to dig and dig and dig to find other performers they can relate to. They should just naturally expect to see the representation on their local (and the bigger) scene's stages and have shows live up to those expectations. Then they wouldn't have to dig.
But despite how much representation you do or do not see on the stages you watch or perform on... you matter. Your identity matters. And your burlesque matters. Burlesque does not require a million rhinestones. It does not require flexibility and floorwork. And it does not require you to fit the mainstream colonial burlesque that many may expect from the artform. There are MANY underrepresented performers and producers who work their butts off to get to where they are today... winning titles, producing some of the best shows on the globe, sharing free resources for BIPOC growing in their burlesque, researching BIPOC and underrepresented burlesque history, and so much more. There are many powerhouses out there, and I would not be where I am today without the many fierce community builders and mentors around me. And if you are looking for that direction with where to look, I am happy to share what I know and who I know. You are not alone, and you deserve to feel seen, celebrated, and valued.
[Photo by Mkm Photography]