Pasties are captivating. They sparkle and shine. They draw you into a world of bawdy titillation. They give the illusion that the act of stripping is benign and charming. When you see a gal strip down to her skivvies and twirl her tassels you might think it is old fashioned, wholesome fun.
Yes, for some gyrating on stage to the applause of the crowd is all the incentive they need to dress up and play pretend, but there are also those with a different goal.
Burlesque provides them with an opportunity to do something sublime and riotous. Behind the sequins and the feathers there exists a purpose. They get naked (well, almost) for a cause.
Here are a few tips on how to push your political agenda by means of burlesque:
1. Define yourself. Ask yourself who you are and what you want to say. Before taking to the stage you need to know what you want the audience to go home with.
2. Surround yourself with like minded people. Managing a burlesque troupe or performing as a burlesque artist is a challenge as it is. You do not do burlesque for the money, that is for sure. So make sure you and your troupe members share the same vision or you will experience disaster.
3. Take time and care to create your numbers. Details are important especially when you have an over all message you want to express. The revival of burlesque at its most powerful is about taking archetypes and stereotypes and combining them with music and movement to address the issues of body image, sex politics, corporate corruption, gender dynamics, whore stigma, economic disparity or whatever you feel is important to you.
Do your research. Look at the past. Look at literature. Look at film and other art forms. Use them as inspiration, but create something original.
4. Choose an appropriate venue. Not every place is a good match with the politically minded. Bar owners may hear the term burlesque and expect kitschy fun and not an anti-rape, sisterly love number set to the tune of The Greatest American Hero (yes, I did that with my Coral Lees partner).
5. Do not be a burlesque snob. Connect with strippers. They are on the front lines of the sex industry and a part of the evolution of burlesque. They also might be stripping for similar reasons as you. Just because you wear pasties and they do not does not mean they have less conviction or purpose. In fact, if you really want to be political get on the front lines with them.
6. Be prepared that some members of your audience may just not get what you are doing. They might be there for the atmosphere or for the T&A and anything that deviates from their expectations of what striptease is about will go over the heads. Even though the pasties might draw them in, you can challenge their misconceptions, but it can still have personal and professional consequences. See tip number 3, possibly make adjustments and persevere.
7. Be prepared that other members of the burlesque community may perceive you as a threat or as less valuable contributors to the medium because of who you are, what you do and what you believe in. Rise above it or create a new number satirizing their attempts at bringing you down. It is your choice.
Originally published in Broken Pencil (2005).