identity, sexuality


Last night I went with Donna and two friends to see a burlesque show. It was a great event, featuring the Peek-A-Boo Revue, a neo-burlesque troupe from Philly, at the Trocadero. I had never been to one before and so had only a vague idea of what to expect. The MCs of the evening (there were 2) were quite funny, and the jazz band backing up the performance was pretty spectacular. But of course the highlight of the evening was the ladies.

Oh, they were beautiful women. And I think what impresses me most about the art of burlesque is the emphasis on real bodies – none of them were super-scary-skinny, all of them were curvy and beautiful. These women were wonderfully comfortable with their bodies, and I felt such a sense of awe and admiration for their confidence. The dancing was pretty spectacular. The costumes were gorgeous.

The featured performer of the evening was Satan’s Angel, a woman who by all accounts is a trailblazer in the industry. At nearly 70 years old, she took the stage last night and strutted. it. alongside the other ladies. Incredibly impressive.  And at some point, she lit her tassels on fire. Yes, seriously. Lit them on fire. Insane. She was sensual and in control, and really seemed to enjoy herself.

I think that’s the best part, really – all of the women on stage seemed to genuinely be having a good time.

The only drawback, as I could see it, was the crowd. The energy level was high, of course, but so aggressive. There was a charge to the room that just felt too intense, too entitled. Perhaps it was the result of my own sense of uptightness; I didn’t realize until last night just how deeply-seated my own perspectives on sex and sexuality are, which amuses me a bit since I’m one of the first in a crowd to make a “That’s what she said!” joke or zip out an inappropriate comment. But in discussing the show on the ride home, I started to understand that I do have very specific ideas about how I prefer to experience things.

There was also a lively discussion on the ride home about whether or not it’s appropriate to take pictures of the women with cell phones and cameras. Donna’s perspective – with which I largely agree – is that you pay the ticket price and see the show, but you don’t get to take a piece of them home. I think this goes along with the unsettling trend of increased access to celebrities, how easily we feel we connect with them via avenues like Twitter and Facebook, and how frequently we take advantage of their privacy in order to post videos and pictures to places like YouTube. Of course, I challenged Donna initially, pointing out that I’d taken numerous photos of Amanda Palmer the two times we saw her in concert. We ultimately decided that this is a somewhat different situation because Amanda, who often performs in cabaret-style get up (which means, mostly, a bra and corset), offers a persona but the focus of her performance is still the music. The product you’re buying from her is the music, not her body. That still doesn’t feel like an exactly accurate explanation. I’m open to interpretation here, people.

All in all, it was a good show. I’m glad I went. I’m not sure if I’ll do it again.

2 thoughts on “peek-a-boo”

  1. I’ve been to two burlesque shows and yes, the attitude of the crowd is aggressive, but I didn’t find it to be overly so, even in my Midwestern circumstance. The aggression is more of a rowdy and bawdy appreciation*. Each half knows why the other half is there. Like you mention, the MCs and the band make a difference. Burlesque is way more vaudeville than strip club.

    You have a good pondering point about the camera/phones. Your posited question is one of appropriateness. I would argue that such pictures are as appropriate as taking cell phone pictures of a concert or any ticketed event. Both are ephemeral and in their ways private. The venue or performer could bar such activity and some do. There is also the culture of “pictures or it didn’t happen” that has such deep roots and are so widely held that some folks (read: college students and younger) don’t understand that it might not be OK. Just like some people don’t think Google Earth is creepy. I think what people plan to do with those pictures also plays in. Most are for the sake of memory and not exploitation or gain.

    I’m glad you had a good time and that is spawned discussion.

    *One show was at the History Theater here in St. Paul which was actually about the history of the show type but contained ersatz acts. For that show I had been briefed by a staff member that I should actually hoot and show appreciation, and I was glad I did. There is nothing more uncomfortably surreal than a Midwestern crowd of older theater patrons sitting in complete silence while a very attractive woman takes her clothes off for you.

  2. Hey Funk,
    It’s entirely possible that I misinterpreted the energy of the crowd – to me it felt uncomfortable, though to others it might have been very chill. But altogether, the troupe did a fine, fine job and I was really impressed.

    I think my concern about the pictures comes from my cynicism – I believe that we live in a culture where people take for their own gratification, and I can’t help but think that the pictures would later be used for some seedy purpose. Again, that’s my own sense of what’s comfortable and what’s not.

    And in no way do I want to suggest that these shows shouldn’t happen. It’s a beautiful art.

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