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Monday, November 12, 2007

Burlesque Empowers Dancers

Even as corsets, feathers, high heels and high kicks were on display at the first-ever Greater Boston Burlesque Exposition last weekend, dolled-up dancers and the fans who went to see them said the performances, vendor displays and classes promoted a theme most do not associate with erotic dancing: female empowerment.

From classes such as "Know Your Intellectual Property Rights (And Everyone Else's)" and "Negotiating a Gig" to informal discussions of women's studies and gender roles in burlesque, participants explored the professional side of burlesque dancing at the John Hancock Conference Center this past weekend. Many of the performers said, aside from dancing, they have other lucrative, and slightly more traditional day jobs.

Boston Babydolls intern Lili DeLema said she is pursuing a doctorate in microbiology at Harvard Medical School, and estimated as many as half of its performers have Master's or Ph.D. degrees.

"Burlesque is just something I enjoy," she said. "I'm not sure it's a viable option as a full-time job in Boston."

DeLema said dressing in complex costumes and intense makeup for dancing is, if nothing else, an important way of re-establishing her femininity after daytime work in the sciences, in which she said successful women are often attributed to having or are forced into displaying masculine characteristics.

"Women don't wear skirts where I work," she said. "It's great to get outside my head and be feminine."

Burlesque's unique blend of feminine sexuality and self-effacing quality draws a mostly female audience, she said, quite similar to the 1930s and '40s, when Boston theaters regularly staged "ladies-only" shows.

"Sometimes, it's hard to find men in the audience," she said.

Eve Wartenberg Condon, a dancer who is finishing her Master's in English at Simmons College, said she often uses gender studies themes and concepts on stage.

"Burlesque is a good fit for gender studies because it transgresses so many boundaries," said Wartenberg Condon, who performs as "Eva Destruction." "I've had women come up to me after performances and say, 'I'm straight as an arrow, but I'm attracted to you.'"

1 comment:

Rosalind said...

Maybe one day, successful workplaces will have a touch of femininity in them.