A Lesson In Burlesque


Take it off! Take it (almost) all off!

It’s been over a year since I first took to the stage and peeled down to pasties in my first burlesque performance.   Over the past several years, the art of tease has experienced a renaissance and my fair city of Ottawa has not been immune. We have several troupes, dozens of performers and a non-stop rotation of showcases, revues and cabarets every month.

My early experiences with burlesque were as an enthusiastic fan. Sequins and feathers and breasts, oh my! Being beguiled by the lovely lads and ladies on stage was a sensual treat on my nights out but the more I saw, the less content I felt to sit in the audience and watch. I worked as an actor for over twenty years. The urge to perform still flows through my veins. So when one of my favourite troupes offered me a guest spot in their next show I accepted immediately. The next day I went shopping for sequined bras and double-sided tape.

Here are things I love about burlesque. Fake eyelashes. Applause when I take off my pants. And the prevalent middle finger in your face attitude towards the notion that only certain types of people and certain types of bodies can be flaunted as sexy.

We’ve been told ad nauseum that sex sells. And because mainstream media is driven by the desire to sell as many things to as many people as possible, our lives abound with images of scantily clad people. These body baring peeps are usually young, slender, able-bodied and unmarked.

Often the context of these images also have strong implications about the lives these sexy, skin baring people live. For the most part we assume these beautiful people are straight, single and child-free. And here’s the thing. Nubile young women are lovely.  If they chose to strut around in various states of undress, I say bravo and hell yes!  I just don’t think it should be a closed club. Which is why I love burlesque for opening the doors and letting anyone in.

I’ve shared the stage and stripped alongside people of all shapes, ages and persuasions. Every time I perform, I’m inspired by sensual acts of entertainment and defiance. I love seeing people strut around stage confidently flaunting cellulite, stomach rolls, wrinkles, small breasts, large butts, freckles, moles, scars, hair…you know, all that wonderful topography that naked bodies just have.  One of my all-time favourite performances was by a woman who did an exquisite, erotic topless dance after recently having undergone a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

I’ve performed with peelers of various sexual orientations and gender identities. There are old pros with crows feet, young bloods with acne. All sorts of folks standing before the crowd to declare in no uncertain terms that they too are worthy of exposure and admiration. Burlesque is kind of political and fabulous, with lots of subversion and glitz.

My personal rebellion stems from being a mother. I cherish my child. I chose to become a parent. It’s an integral part of the woman I am. But since my son’s birth, I’ve felt the need to challenge those who define my entire existence based on that one relationship. When I brought my baby home from the hospital, I felt my place in the world shift and change. The label of ‘Mommy’ loomed over me and as I realized that the world at large saw me differently. Mommies are sweet, nurturing, wholesome people. They tend to their children. They are family administrators and organizers. Mommies behave modestly, dress conservatively and because they are inextricably linked to their children, they never, ever, ever do anything sexually provocative.

In some ways, perhaps many ways, I am that mother. My child’s well being is way high on my list of priorities. I love and nurture him. I’m sweet…at times. My partner has a better handle on the day to day details of our lives than I do, but I am a more or less well behaved, appropriately dressed person who knows how to care for her family. These parts of my personality have developed, largely because I had a child. I’ve grown because of my son and become more than I was before. For that I am deeply grateful.

But growing does not mean that the person I was before motherhood has been replaced. I’ve been a performer, a showoff and bit of an attention-whore since childhood. I’ve always been little bit vain and a little bit too impressed by my own bum. I’ve had a long time love affair with clothing, costume, music and pageantry. I’m intrigued by different bodies. In university I worked as a nude art model. I like boobs. Nowadays when I tuck my son snugly into bed then head off to twirl my tassels at a late-night cabaret it feels like the natural evolution of who I am.

You don’t have to be a boob-baring, bum-shaking, pasty-prancing spectacle to be sexy. Sexy isn’t about how much skin you show. But in the wonderful world of burlesque, the choice to go bare isn’t restricted by your shape, size, ability or lifestyle. If you want to take it off, there will be a place for you on stage. There will be an audience to applaud you, laud you and love you. The audience is prove positive that sex-appeal isn’t limited to young nubile bodies. The audience has taught me that I can be one hot mama and that I don’t have to ignore that side of myself simply because I have a child.

Not everyone needs to put on fishnets and flash a room full of strangers to access their sexy selves. But no matter how you dress or undress, remember it’s your body and your life. If you want to show off your sensual side, you go ahead and flaunt it. Because you are something to see.

Image courtesy JenXer (via Flickr)

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Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is also a burlesque performer, poet and playwright, living in Ottawa, Ontario – Canada’s national capital. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.

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6 Responses to “A Lesson In Burlesque”

  1. Andi

    I love this and I’m so glad you found an arena to make you feel sexy and not just mommy!

  2. mary

    Don’t get this at all. I’ve never seen a dichotomy between being a mother and being sexy.

  3. Shay

    I completely agree. Sexy is sexy. If you’ve got it, the rest is just minor details.

  4. jo

    “Here are things I love about burlesque.(..)Applause when I take off my pants.”
    Sorry, but I didn’t really expect to see a post about someone’s exhibitionist fetish on this blog. It’s not really about body image is it – it’s an outlet for those who want to strip and wear sexy clothing on stage in front of a horny audience, but wouldn’t be welcome on more mainstream stripclubs and shows etc because their body is not the ideal. Or want to be more artsy about it. So I’m glad you found your outlet? But it’s not for your average woman.