A friend dropped this empowering and hilarious article (I Took My Clothes Off For An Audience As A Plus-Sized Woman and It Ruled) on my Facebook and wanted to know my thoughts, as a plus-sized founder and former co-director, choreographer, and dancer of a burlesque troupe. Who’s also about to go back on stage for the first time in three years next weekend. *gulp*
Anyhoo, the writer is someone who’s never seen a plus-sized burlesque dancer. Which is really the only unbelievable part of the whole thing, because oh, honey. Where do you live that they don’t have plus-sized burlesque dancers? What sad, cookie-cutter place is this and please can you start performing regularly to bring some body positivity and diversity to the stage?
That aside, the article fantastic. Kristin Chirico, part of the BuzzFeed staff (so jelly of THAT position!) decided to take 4 burlesque classes and try her hand at a burlesque performance, all while writing and photographing her journey. Her tone is one I envy: hilariously self-effacing without truly belittling herself. She is fearless in the face of hyperbole AND a corset, which I just love.
However, delving deeper, my friend wanted to know what I thought about Kristin’s observations of learning about and how to do burlesque. Here’s my take.
Straight off the bat I love her intro, which goes like this:
Hi. My name is Kristin. Like many of you, I am a hot fried basket of fears, insecurities, and anxieties, particularly when it comes to my body.
This is because I have spent a lot of my life, regardless of how big I am, being told (explicitly or implicitly) what I’m not allowed to do or be because of how I look.
But one of the things I have been told I DEFINITELY can’t be is sexy — especially in a plus-size body.
So — because I love making rule-makers unhappy — I decided to try the sexiest body-related thing that I could think of: BURLESQUE DANCING.
AMEN, sistah! My previous post where I decided it was time to get my ass in all it’s fat glory back on stage came from a similar place. I’m tired of being told I can’t be sexy. I’m tired of feeling not sexy. I’m gonna do something about it, and so did Kristin. Rock on!
She then goes on to summarize that “burlesque dancing, in case you don’t know, is a big sexy creative celebration of the body.” YASSSSSSS.
BTW, her teacher, Natasha of Hells Belles Burlesque, is wonderful and the type of teacher I’d like to be if I ever got back into burlesque fully (we’ll see how the performance goes next weekend!) She tells Kristin that “burlesque is an environment where everyone feels accepted” and while that’s not always the case (cosplay and anime audiences can be brutal for plus-sized women, as can dive bars – ask me how I know), I think that’s the spirit of burlesque. She also reassures Kristin that “no matter what happens, everyone is going to love it.” I’m really glad she had and instilled that much confidence in her student and that she knew her audience that well.
So Kristin starts learning choreography and has to battle her own asshole brain (we all have an asshole brain part) that tells her that she doesn’t look sexy but more like she’s “smugly shaving her legs”. But kept on keeping and went on to talk about her costume and name.
Her take on costuming:
We also wanted to make the corset really special-looking, and that meant sticking rhinestones on it until it could be seen from space.
“Yay!” I said about hot-gluing rhinestones to my corset, because I had forgotten literally everything I ever learned about hot glue.
See what I mean about an awesome sense of humor?! It’s totally true that many types of burlesque try to make things as shiny and sparkly as possible. It’s also totally true that people get excited about rhinestoning until they actually have to…y’know, adhere a kajillion little fucking pieces of sharp-ass sunlight to their costumes.
In selecting her stage name, she asked her officemates, but they weren’t helpful so she “ended up going with “Cherry Ontop” because it’s a pun on my name and it can double as my Bond girl name if my life ever takes a really drastic left turn.”
Then it’s back to actual choreography for her number, which, as she wisely notes, is “NO JOKE. I spent so much time trying to remember all my steps that I almost didn’t have time to focus on how ridiculous I felt.”
It’s totally true! Choreo is NO FUCKING JOKE. You have to count and time things, and remember it all, and feel the music, and make the audience feel like you’re doing more than just waiting for your next movement. You have to make it all come together in a way that the audience can relate to, swoon to, crave more from. It are srs biznis.
The other thing about flipping your hair is that it basically turns your glasses into little projectile weapons.
OMG, yes. This is why I don’t wear my glasses on stage. I’ve found that since I can’t wear contacts anymore (a sad Rocky Horror-related injury and I hate it but such is life) it’s better to go “blind” than to risk my glasses whipping off my face, into the audience, and likely breaking from the adventure.
She talks about learning to remove clothes and how it’s not as simple as taking them off. Oh, no, no, no. There’s ART in the removal:
In burlesque, you can’t just remove your clothes — that’s for normals. You go slow. You make the audience work for it. You use your teeth! And once an article of clothing comes off, it becomes a sexy prop that you can run all over your body.
But then she touches back on the plus-sized thing and something I had to struggle with when I first started doing burlesque:
Eventually the idea was for me to make it look sexy, but slowly taking my clothes off just felt to me like I was screaming, “LOOK OUT, HERE COMES MY BODY!” like a very artistic emergency warning system.
*sigh* Yeah. It’s true. You have to get past that asshole part of your brain that tells you that you have to warn people of you impending nudity because they’re not going to want to see it. That you have to apologize for being onstage with the audacity to make your body move in sexy ways. That there’s no way that you or they should be *gasp* enjoying it. You have to just punch the fuck out of that asshole brain part and then relish in your sexiness.
Another thing she covers, which helped me understand why some people I know don’t like to practice (some of those “people” are me. Sometimes.), is why people don’t like to practice.
I realized then why I don’t like practicing things, and it’s because practice is a reminder that you are not good at something yet, and sometimes it’s painful to be faced with that, especially when there is good stuff on Netflix.
But it’s really important to practice, especially in your WHOLE COSTUME. Otherwise, you get to dress rehearsal and realize you don’t know how to bend in a corset. I’ve been there many times. I’ve choreographed many routines in socks, leggings, and a t-shirt only to realize that those routines are VERY DIFFERENT when you add stockings, heels, a corset, two bras, two skirts, two jackets, and a boa (or feathery snake of doom, as the feathers will get everywhere. Feather boas are second only to glitter with their insidiousness stealth migration patterns.) Cause I have totally done THAT costume.
From there, her confidence begins to build. She starts to “discover (and be impressed by) all the fun things my body could do.” (GO girl! It’s awesome when you get to that place.)
Her teacher, Natasha, notices and asks if she’s sure she’s never had any performing experience before, and this is where I got a little misty-eyed.
And then I suddenly realized, oh, right! I was a theater major, but I stopped performing a long time ago. And in that moment, I felt more than a little bit of regret that I did.
When I was in college — and had boundless energy and time — I noticed pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be given opportunities to perform unless I made those opportunities myself. I spent a lot of time writing and acting in my own shows alongside all my friends who also couldn’t get roles. But constantly having to fight to make sure you are heard takes a toll. And by the end of college, the message had been pretty firmly drilled into my head: Lady, no one wants to see you on a stage.
I wish I hadn’t listened. I wish I had known what I know now, which is that sometimes people don’t want to see or hear you for reasons that have nothing to do with you.
But I know that now, and that’s a start.
Amen and halleloo to THAT. But my favorite part was still to come. (And it’s not even her slaying her number, which she did, btw.) It’s what she decided right before she went on stage:
I accepted that like it or not this is happening, so when they announced me and I walked up onstage, I just decided, right then and there: I am welcome here because I have decided that I am welcome here.
I am welcome here because I have decided that I am welcome here. That is going to be my new mantra as I walk on stage next weekend.
Her wrap up of the article and experience was also very empowering, and I’m glad she said she’s up for doing it again:
I’d do it again because it was fun. Because it was great exercise. Because it gave me perspective on all the amazing things my body can do. Because I got to learn that I have powers I never thought I did, and because I can enjoy doing things even if I am not an expert at them.
Because nobody should spend a decade being terrified to perform for some reason as trivial as “someone might not like it.” Because that “someone” is usually a big whiny complainer who is mad for reasons that have nothing to do with you.
And also because rhinestones are totally boss.
Hells yeah, Cherry Ontop. Kudos to you for helping to bring body positivity to the forefront and adding more to the tableau of sexy, confident, plus-sized burlesque dancers. You’re totally boss, too, and I’m immensely grateful for this article. Now I should go work on my costume and practice for next weekend. 🙂