Burlesque is a Battlefield: On Showing Up

Bebe looks off into the distance while wearing a pink beaded headpiece, rhinestoned net bra, and rhinestones pasties. She holds one pink feather fan.
"Looking" forward to the future of burlesque, when we can perform live again!

I recently had an existential burlesque crisis.

Perhaps, looking back through this blog, I'll discover that I've had many existential crises throughout the now four (!) years that I've been doing burlesque. But this one feels different.

I'll start off with an apology to myself. I started this blog as a safe haven for my thoughts, especially since I deal with a host of motherhood-related anxiety. This anxiety was actually a catalyst to my burlesque career, and I've learned not to fear it or run away from it. I know from experience that journaling helps me process intense emotions. I've stopped blogging consistently, and it's started to show in how I process my thoughts and feelings about performing. I've started to view it with fear and caution, instead of excitement.

Four years ago, burlesque was an escape, a fantasy that I jumped into headfirst with all the hedonistic abandon of someone who was ready to finally indulge herself in beauty and sensuality.

Now... not so much. I've previously mentioned my morbidly hilarious tendency to cry into rhinestones during this pandemic -- it's happened more than once, and usually because I feel like a glimmer of the burlesque star I was growing into this time last year. I know, I know -- it's probably all in my head, I just need to practice more and keep doing virtual gigs, blah blah blah.

Sometimes when I go online these days, I get an overwhelming sense of competition and not the good kind. Like some folks are trying to out-sexy each other and out-gig each other and out-sparkle each other and out-EVERYTHING each other. Like maybe, now that live stages are temporarily a thing of the past, the only measure of our worth as performers are the number of followers or likes we get online. I get the feeling that a lot of people are clamoring for an elusive giant spotlight that will shine definitively only on that One Performer to Rule Them All. I know that spotlight doesn't exist, just like I know that One Performer to Rule Them All doesn't exist. We all have our glory, and the light shines on all of us, on our own time and from our own perspective. Sometimes we can miss our own shine if we're busy chasing one elusive giant spotlight. If that makes any sense.

The presence of cutthroat and shallow competition is a huge turn-off for me. I've gotten that feeling before in other alternative communities, and I've ending up ghosting on every community that has displayed this behavior. I just simply stop showing up.

I thought about ghosting burlesque during the pandemic year for this reason. Life's too short to do shit that makes you feel bad about yourself. I didn't apply for some really big opportunities, passed on other really big opportunities, and was honestly thinking about silently disappearing from the burlesque community aside from finishing my book SHAKE QUEENS. I thought not very many people recognized my value or even cared about what I was saying/doing without me damn near selling my soul. At every turn, I was feeling beat down and not lifted up. So I was going to quit.

But then I realized a key difference between burlesque and some other fringe communities I've been a part of: burlesque is entirely wtf I make it, and it doesn't f matter who sees it. IT MATTERS THAT I'M DOING IT.

Yes, burlesque can be lonely as a soloist. But it's all me, every f part of it from the act to the costume to the undies to the pasties and everything in between. No one gets to tell me wtf burlesque is to me, and no one gets to decide whether I'm worthy of performing. I'm the only one who makes that decision, and in burlesque you can throw your own f party if you have to! If I don't like the way something feels -- boom, just like that, it's evicted from my brain and no longer considered a part of my burlesque universe. If I don't want to portray myself in a certain way -- bam, just like that, I don't fucking have to.

I'm not saying these decisions don't have consequences/reactions -- perhaps my own brand of burlesque will attract some people and repulse others, and maybe I'll never be "burly popular" and asked to do all the shows and get thousands of validating likes -- but I'm saying I will feel MUCH better about myself if I am being authentic no matter what. Fuck all unhealthy competition - I value passion, hard work, and artistic integrity, and this is what I strive for in my own work. I never cared about followers, and during this pandemic year I felt like an awful performer for that reason. I never cared about what my social media "aesthetic" was, and I actually thought this meant perhaps I wasn't meant to be a "popular" modern burlesque star, because a "modern burlesque star" has to have a certain amount of followers, a certain look, etc. So because I don't see myself this way, I was going to leave and keep my dancing to myself, the same way I did for years in secret before starting burlesque.

But what do we gain from hiding our art from the world?? I posit that we gain not a damn thing. My icon, my forever shero Tina Turner recently released a documentary about how she shook and sang and impacted so many lives, all while she was dealing with her own trauma. What if she had decided that because one person made her feel like shit and beat her down, she should hide away for the rest of her life? She powered through it, worked through it with her art. I don't talk about a lot of shit I go through, but trust it's much deeper than burlesque. My art may seem frivolous, but it routinely helps save my life.

I'm lucky enough to have a couple of gigs and classes lined up, and I credit this work with keeping me engaged in why burlesque truly matters so much to me. My new goal is to have the mental fortitude to stay grounded in my view of myself as a "modern burlesque star" even without traditional gigs. I made a vow to myself this past Sunday that I would re-birth my burlesque persona and get in touch with who she is again, hardcore and with no apologies. Not because I have social media benchmarks I want to hit, not because I'm trying to keep up with the Jones', but because I genuinely owe it to myself and my art. I promised myself that from now on, I won't block my blessings because of my own projections, and I will always walk in my owned power with no fear. I think burlesque can be a battlefield, for sure... but I'm four years wiser, mentally stronger, more independent and more focused than I was as a burly baby. I'm ready to show up and show out, and I won't let me stop me.

Until next time,


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