It can be surprisingly tough to get people out to burlesque shows.
I say surprisingly because I think they’re fun, and I didn’t feel weird about attending them before I was a performer. (I still don’t feel weird attending them now that I AM a performer, but for the purpose of this paragraph, let’s stick with my non-performer feels.) But when I asked people to go with me, they were hesitant at best. They’d insist it wasn’t really their thing; they’d mumble that it made them feel uncomfortable; they’d ask me if it would be weird going to watch something like that with me. And I don’t like to make my friends feel uncomfortable, so I didn’t press the issue. I’d look for a friend who didn’t seem uncomfortable watching burlesque, or I’d go with performers who weren’t going to be onstage for that show.
And now that I’m a performer, and more invested in getting people to go out and support shows, it’s even more difficult. In addition to comments like it’s not my thing / it’ll make me uncomfortable / won’t that be weird, I have now heard the following:
“Y’know. . . I’ve got a girlfriend.”
Okay. Swell. Bring her, too!
“I can’t watch you do something like that. I’d lose respect for you as a person.”
Well, then call us even, because I just lost my respect for you.
“I don’t have any friends who’d go with me. . .”
I feel that feel!
“. . .and if I go by myself I’ll feel like a pervert.”
But that? Nope. I don’t feel that feel.
I’ve heard this a number of times now from all kinds of different people, so I feel like it’s time we talked about the sexy elephant in the room: attending a burlesque show does not make you a pervert, no matter how many people you get to go with you.
Side note: There may be a lot of other reasons you don’t come to shows. Maybe you’re really introverted. Maybe you’re fucking broke, or you’re working night-shifts to avoid being fucking broke. If you’re really into your pint of Ben & Jerry’s and the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I get it. You could genuinely be out of town every weekend that I have a show. Hell, you could be avoiding all forms of theatre because of what that fortune teller told you once. And maybe we’ll talk about those reasons later. But if going to a burlesque show makes you feel like a pervert, then I’m genuinely sorry to hear that. It sucks that your experience in life has caused you to form such a narrow view on sexuality and positive physical self-expression. That’s probably going to cause you a whole host of difficulties in your life, and you may want to talk to somebody about it.
Back to the main thrust. (Ha. Thrust. Sorry, sometimes I’m 13.)
It makes sense that so many people I invite to shows have this kind of attitude. After all, I’m from (and perform in) a province that has some pretty archaic vice laws—you can’t even drink at strip clubs here—and those vice laws are informed by and mixed with a lot of firmly held beliefs about modesty and impropriety. So while going to a burlesque show with somebody else feels like an evening out, around here, going to a burlesque show by yourself is tantamount to broadcasting that you are the very worst of sexual deviants. It’s all or nothing: there’s no grey area, no in-between, no room for justification.
I understand wanting to do social things with somebody (see first paragraph). After all, people look at you all funny if you do things solo. Going out to dinner alone? Bring a book, or everybody will think you’ve been stood up. Out to the bar all by your onesie? You’re clearly on the prowl. Nobody to share your popcorn with at the movies? Well. . . honestly you’re living the dream, there. Keep at it.
In that light, it makes sense that going to a burlesque show with another person along for the (incredible, unforgettable, must-see) ride would provide a sense of normalcy. After all, if your friend whom you know to be a decent person is sanctioning this event, then it’s clearly okay to be there! There’s nothing wrong with you! But I’m going to tell you something that may be hard to believe: you’re probably surrounded by decent people at these shows, you just don’t know them yet. I can’t speak for anybody else’s audiences, but the Menagerie Burlesque Company has cultivated a body-positive, gender-inclusive, adventurous audience, and they’re pretty great.
Hand-in-hand with the “will I look like a pervert?” line of thinking is the “what if you pitched it as an artistic experience instead of a sexy show?” idea. And maybe pitching it that way would make it more approachable for some people, but it wouldn’t be a wholly accurate representation of the actual event. In our company, there are some performers who do very artistic pieces. We have comedic performances, thought-provoking numbers, and some truly bizarre acts. But the majority of our numbers will include strip tease, and at the beginning of the show, we’re going to remind you to show your appreciation for sweet moves and great reveals.
Much of the magic of strip tease is in making you anticipate what’s going to be under the top layer of the costume. The thrill is in making sure you see only what I want you to see when I want you to see it. When I draw my fingers over my collarbone, I want you to lean forward to watch their progression. More than that, I want your breath to catch when you feel their progression over your own collarbone. So while we could position our shows as entirely artistic, it would be dishonest. It would rob the performers of the positive power that we hold when we’re on stage eliciting a specific reaction from our audience, and it would be less truly artistic in the attempt to ease our audience’s unnecessary shame. We are voluntarily, happily, enthusiastically sharing this performance with you: there’s nothing illicit about it.
So once more for the people in the back: I draw no conclusions about you or your sexual predilections based on the size of the group you’re attending with. The rest of the audience aren’t sitting there clutching their pearls or judging your lack of purity because the seat next to you is empty. Take a drink, a deep breath, and a chance and let yourself experience something really cool. We’re going to get up there and share an intimate facet of our humanity with you, and that’s not perverse: it’s powerful.