A couple weeks back, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go see the Suicide Girls Burlesque show in Calgary. I casually mentioned it’d be fun, and why not, sure. You know, thinking that it was just all, OMG, this would be totally awesome to go to but we won’t go because that is totally our friendship, and we’d forget about it until we brought it up a year later to laugh about how we say we’re going to do all these things and never do them.
Like camping. We always say we’re going camping. For at least three years now. We never go camping.
So this would be like camping, I figured.
Until she messaged me again and was like, “I have a friend who can get us on the list, do you want to come with me? Please?”
So, I was going to my first live burlesque show.
Now, my only real experience with Suicide Girls is a former co-worker mentioned in passing that she was totally going to apply to be one. She showed me the site, and I was delighted by the beautiful alternative women, covered in tattoos and brightly colored hair staring at me. I told her she’d rock it, because she was also beautiful, had tattoos and had wicked ombre hair. I also liked that it was designed with consensual sharing, and didn’t appear to have coercion involved, or any of those other ugly things.
Pathetically, my only burlesque experience would be that movie with Cher. Maybe Moulin Rouge counts?
Anyway. Instead of researching, I just obsessed about my frumpy Mom wardrobe, said hateful things about my body, and decided it was going to be awful. Because that’s also something I do. Despite the massive amounts of self-loathing I had perfected before we arrived in Calgary, I still had no idea what I was in for. I’ve been to strip clubs before and I hesitated with my excitement because I thought it was going to be like that experience. It’s not that I believe all strippers are forced into the trade, but the overall atmosphere in a strip club is based primarily on the male gaze, and making money. It never felt empowering when I was there.
This, my friends, was nothing like that.
The show was this brilliant set up of nerdiness, women who love their bodies, who are wickedly talented, and at the end of the day, are simply performers. As I wrestled with the idea that these women were being objectified, listening to a group of men beside us blatantly critique and objectify them based on their bodies and breast size, I realized while their commentary was gross and problematic, the women on the stage had all the power. If they wanted to shut it down, they could. If they were uncomfortable with someone or something, they’d have the ability to say so, and it would be dealt with.
Instead of worrying and wasting this precious time having internal philosophical and feminist debates with myself, I let it go and enjoyed the nerdylady burlesque show. Every routine was a tribute to some amazing pop culture topic- They had Rocky Horror (which I nearly peed my pants over, because yes, please!), Lara Croft, Orange Is The New Black, Game of Thrones, 50 Shades of Grey, Star Wars and so much more. I fangirled as I took so many pictures that my phone kept telling me to chill out. As the show went on, I realized it was less about them and their fantastically amazing bodies, and more about the performance. It’s clear that hours are spent perfecting their routines. They had this look of joy on their faces as they performed, as the crowd reacted to them. There was no coercion — Some of the dancers went closer to the crowd while others opted to stay out of reach. There was so much empowerment on that stage and it was undeniable.
Now, if only I had figured out how to use that myself, I might have been able to rid myself of the creep who latched himself onto me that night because he bought me a drink and I was friendly to him. For future reference, discussing politics will shut it down pretty quick. Then escaping into a cab with your friends for cheeseburgers helps.
The funny thing about pushing yourself to do things you’ve never done is that you end up learning a lot about yourself — I’m incredibly introverted, and generally hate most people (this isn’t news, but the severity of it is new). My sexuality is far more fluid than I was led to believe; I don’t need to slap a specific label on myself in order to embrace all facets of myself, and it’s okay to be more than just “straight”.
And, I really like burlesque.