My first burlesque experience was at The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Featival 2014, on 3 May. In Todmorden, I’m not sure if that was because of the protests a couple of miles down the road in one of my favourite places, Britains “Lesbian Capital”, Hebden Bridge- full of it’s tea rooms and quirky shops and, it seems, judging eyes. The Compere, Miss Frisky, called the Protesters during the second half of the show. She argued that the women (and men) performing at the festival were anything but demeaned and that the shows were not just for men’s pleasure.
Is Burlesque for straight girls?
And I have to agree. The women were skilled dancers and clearly confident in their skin- they all looked fabulous with victory rolls and sequin gowns right down to their bare bottoms and nipple tassels.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the burlesque- we had been invited as a friend’s leaving night out (off travelling for the Summer-luck thing!) and she’d been involved in helping with some shows previously and even had some lessons.
On arriving I felt immediately underdressed. I wore a blouse and printed trousers and opted for comfortable jelly-sandals owing to the fact that I’m a terrible heel-walker. It’s the most androgynous I think I’ve ever looked. I chose the wrong night. We arrived to join the queue outside the Todmorden Hipperdrome among men in top hats and women in 50’s style dresses, corsets and heels. Someone should definitely have warned me. They all looked fantastic.
I wasn’t drinking but the drinks were flowing and we found our seats in the upper circle.
The show started and the Compere rapped to a Tinie Temper number, despite her shrill voice, I found her extremely likeable. She warmed the crowd up and kept them going. She showed impressive singing skills with her number “Do me” (which was crude, but she pulled it off) and a rendition of Greases “There are worse things I could do“.
Things I loved about the burlesque were that the performers all oozed a confidence which is all too rare. And I loved seeing the dancing and the way the performers moved. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the slapstick comedy in between the actual burlesque, cabaret maybe just isn’t for me.
I also don’t fully understand the nudity, which perhaps makes me a prude.
I don’t agree with the feminists protesting against it, though. In fact, I often don’t agree with feminists, unfortunately. Not that I’m against equal rights for women- anything but- it’s just that I don’t agree that everything that’s inconvenient to a woman is the fault of a man. Just because seatbelts make your tits look unattractive and men don’t have that problem, it’s not the fault of a man (necessarily). I mean, yes the designer/inventor of the seatbelt was most likely a man, because historically men worked while women were the homemakers but unfortunately we can’t rewind time, can we? But maybe the over the body design of the seatbelt is just the most effective? Or it makes sense? Or it would cost so much to redevelop it that it’s not worth it? I mean, there are things that need to change like the number of women in high power, well paid jobs and the equality of pay between men and women. I think those subjects are important, but is it just me that think the feminists are being a bit pernickety?
I feel terrible even voicing this because as a woman I should be a feminist, no? But it’s how I feel and I think that by focussing on the trivial, the argument becomes somehow diluted and distorted.
But anyway, these women choose to dance and undress seductively. It’s not demeaning and they demonstrate a boldness that clearly comes from their art, not from the glossy magazines that seem to think they have the authority to prescribe to all of us what beauty is. I think that demonstrates a feminist message more effectively than hating on other women.
Perhaps my problem with the performers were that I felt as if I was looking through the eyes of a straight man, my very presence proved the point of the protesters. As much as I enjoyed the dance and the art, I found it uncomfortable to watch a woman undress with my significant other and our friends. Maybe it was because I couldn’t help but find the dances provocative. But wasn’t that the point? It was, and is, but the audience was predominantly women enjoying their peers doing that, I kind of felt guilty that I couldn’t take off the lezzy hat no matter how hard I tried.
The final performance, by international burlesque star Banbury Cross (who my girlfriend googled, purely in the name of research, and is sponsored by Moët) was nothing short of steamy (sorry Dad if you’re reading this). She was hot. She poured fizz over her nearly naked body and I couldn’t help but get a little hot under the collar.
In the interval, my friend asked what I thought. I told her I wasn’t sure and maybe it wasn’t for me. And I thought it. On reflection though, it was a really enjoyable. The banter between the audience and the performance was something I’ve never seen before and when things didn’t run smoothly it was addressed, like when Banbury’s corset didn’t come off as it should during her first dance.
I had thought “burlesque was for straight girls”, but maybe I’ll go again just to make sure.