By Monica Heisey
Last Saturday night I saw one woman get naked in a plastic bubble, another who shoved peacock feathers in her butt crack and pranced around like a bird, and a man wearing only thigh highs and a strategically attached tassel thrust his fully exposed junk wildly back and forth into the air. Ahhh, the Toronto Burlesque Festival. With a full line up of women (and a few men) shakin’ what their collective momma’s gave them, it was my first encounter with burlesque, and I have to say was very different from what I expected.
It seems to me that in an age where a quick google search will yield thousands of pictures of naked ladies doing a lot more than shaking it, the purpose of burlesque has moved inwards, away from providing pleasure for a voyeuristic audience and towards the empowerment of the performers. While some might suggest this makes the art inherently narcissistic and even unnecessary, I would argue there is much value in the performances of these women. The ‘come as you are’ (in burlesque the pun is always intended) atmosphere was infectious; the air of the room incredibly positive, and all body types, skin colours, and sexualities were welcome to strut their stuff for an adoring crowd. “This next performer ate an entire bowl of creamy pasta before coming onstage to perform for you all,” the sassy dominatrix hosting the night told the crowd, “And why the fuck not? This is burlesque; we’re not here to judge people.” Frankly, I’ve been looking for a good set of tassles ever since.