Of all the things in the world why do Burlesque? Sometimes, I’ll get an idea of some historic or cultural icon I’d like to see on stage. Other times a song really makes me feel something & I want to create a performance to it. Perhaps, there is a statement I’d like to make. There could be a joke to tell. Burlesque, after all does have historical roots in satire. Mostly, I revel in the adrenaline filled rush from dancing while creatively, teasingly taking my clothes off on stage. I enjoy providing the audience with entertainment that can bring their minds away from “real life”. Now that I’ve started writing, I’m pretty sure I don’t even have the proper language to explain that onstage feeling. Other creatives will know what I mean.
The girly side of me revels in the costumes, crystals, feathers & glitter. Ironically, when I first learned in the BGB Broad Squad Institute that many performers make their own costumes, I felt like I would faint. Domestic nor designer am I. However, the universe stepped in. A friend moving to Europe gifted me her sewing machine & glue gun. I started to experiment. Now, I have to stop myself from going into fabric & trim shops. New York City’s garment district is a new addiction. I LOVE the creativity of figuring out how the pieces will come off & building them to suit. Attaching crystals is soothing to my soul like meditation. Thank goodness because it can take hours.
Now, stripping… It was the easiest hard thing. I say that because it is not “easy” work. I was looking for work that would earn a livable wage, allow me to keep days open & allow much flexibility in scheduling. Please e-mail me with other options for work that provide all these elements. There is no story telling. The job is a sales job. Story telling or a teasing strip with elaborately planned costuming is not important. Seduction & sales is. The product is sexual fantasy, attention & dances. How clothes come off as a stripper doesn’t require thought or planning in the same way it does in burlesque. The mindset of a successful stripper has to be entrepreneurial. Strippers are independent contractors who pay rent in the form of house fees for use of the strip club to sell their product. Yes, strippers pay the club to work. Sales is work. I laugh when people say stripping is “easy” money. They have visions of some mythical stripper goddess that shows up fills the purse with $1000 each night then leaves. Anyone who has done sales knows how many no’s one has to go through to close a sale.
I’ve come across strippers who do burlesque on the side “because burlesque just doesn’t pay that much”. Quietly, I’ve even come across successful burlesque dancers who supplement their burlesque careers with stripping. Stripping is quite capable of being a stand alone career from day 1. No one will tell you you have to pick up the other strippers clothing to work your way up to being a stripper. Yet, stripping carries a negative stigma that burlesque does not. Though to some people anything involving a woman taking off her clothes in public is viewed negatively, burlesque is classy in the eyes of many.
For the onlooker, stripping is a more raw & explicit sexual experience than burlesque. However, to the working stripper, I’d venture to say very little of it is sexual. It is, quite bluntly, sales. There is constant negotiation, up selling & add ons (such as VIP Rooms, bottle sales & tips). There are times where I’d be engaged in conversation with a potential customer & keeping my peripheral vision keenly aware of the floor in case a regular or more lucrative looking prospect arrives. There is none of this worry in burlesque. The pay is negotiated or known before one arrives. One shows up to give a polished, rehearsed performance. Stripping did not take rehearsal. It took knowing how men are wired & getting an understanding of why the man you are talking to came into the club.
Burlesque & stripping are sisters but not twins. One strips when doing burlesque. One can even choose to be referred to as a stripper if one dances burlesque. The way in which strippers in strip clubs are compensated make it very different from burlesque. The historical & performance elements of burlesque make it very different from stripping. Burlesque is an on stage performance piece. Strippers are independent contractors who must “always be selling” the fantasy of their flirty attention to the customers. I could do a burlesque show & never engage with the audience one-on-one if I choose. Both I find liberating. I found stripping financially liberating. I find burlesque creatively liberating especially with my Brown Girl’s Burlesque sisters. In a world that shames women for being in any way sexual, I think they create affirming & useful outlets for women to choose to wield sexual energy on their own terms. Yes, yes, yes, there are situations where stripping can be far from empowering. That other side of it has been documented ad nauseam in the media so there is no need for me to cover that here. Besides, tis a blog & I am speaking from my own experiences.
- Women of Color in Burlesque: The Not So Hidden History
- We Shit Glitter: The 9 Unsexiest Secrets of Being a Burlesque Performer
- [TheGloss] Video: Dita Von Teese Is Proud Of Being A Stripper (thegloss.com)
- Classic burlesque pictures show the glamour behind the art of getting undressed (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Behind the Burly Q (mrmovietimes.com)
ESSENCE REVEALED – Essence Revealed is first generation Bajan born & raised in Boston. She got her BFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and MA at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. Her writing has appeared places such as $pread Magazine, Corset Magazine, BurlesqueBible.com and 21st Century Burlesque. She’s been published in two anthologies: Pros(e) & Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chicken Hawks. She now performs & teaches nationally and internationally both solo and as a member of Brown Girls Burlesque. Her favorite thing to do besides reading is to lay on the beach in Barbados to rest up for a night of calypso dancing. Help Essence get to the Milan Burlesque Awards!