August 24, 2010
*All rights reserved. This does not belong to you. Do not take it.*
My introduction to modern burlesque came one summer day in 2009 at Whole Foods Market in Dallas, Texas; me sans makeup or any decently not-frumpy clothing. A woman who I later learned to be a burlesque dancer herself approached me and asked if I was a burlesque performer. I remember stuttering some excuse for “no” and she smiled friendly enough and offered me a card for a dance studio that taught burlesque. I fought with the decision for over a month; whether I had the self-esteem, whether it was a worthy expedition, would it conflict with family values, etc. I finally signed up, and much to my dismay I found I was the only student in the 6-week course. The teacher was warm and inviting and slowly taught me the basic history of burlesque and the beginnings of becoming a performer. What I didn’t realize until very late in the course was that in the process of teaching me how to be a dancer and a performer again, she had given me more than I had ever expected. Not only had I become dancer-fit like I used to be when I was younger, but I stood up straight, smiled more, and for once, I demanded attention when I came into a room rather than hiding in the shadows. Glamour became an aspect of my daily life; I could finally justify taking the time on my appearance if it boosted my confidence in everyday world. My wardrobe changed, my mood changed and for once I had began to realize who I was.
When I returned to Agnes Scott College in the fall of 2009, I chose to pursue burlesque in any way I could. As I began to introduce myself to performers, to create connections into that world and hear the stories, I realized that the transformation that had occurred in my life was not a singular experience. Modern burlesque is deeply rooted in the history of feminism and female sexual identity and proves more than an entertainment art form: it is a way of life, a personal identity.
I will present to you the immense impact this art form has had on the individuals that live the life of burlesque. I will show similarities in the individual identity to create a collective and powerful group notion of self, sexuality and femininity. I will share the stories and experiences of artists from many different backgrounds and their understanding of what it means to be a burlesque dancer. I will address the basic history about burlesque that is integral to understanding the art form, the accessories that make it possible, the connect (or disconnect) between family life and performing, and the communal experiences that make it worthwhile and important to this cultural group.
My research is an accumulation of formal, written interviews with performers from Texas and Georgia, two of the rising larger populations of burlesque performers, coming up quickly to the cities of Chicago and New York where the art began. These interviews are intermingled with historical research, photography, videos and personal recollections of events and experiences.