Sunday, February 28, 2016

Burlesque, For Me, Is Not About Sex

 "Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets." - Andy Warhol

I talk about my orientationgrey-asexual—a lot.  That's because many people still don't know that asexuality, much less grey-asexuality or greysexuality (I go with grey-a because I lean towards the ace side of the spectrum), is an orientation and not just a mode of reproduction.  Furthermore, it gives me a unique perspective on burlesque.

Recently two articles have inspired me to revisit the subject of asexuality as it relates to striptease.  The first is The Irresistible O's "Sexual Orientation and Burlesque: The Dirty Word", which is about how burlesque is still not as open to queer performers as one might think.  We may be more accepting than the mainstream, but the need for a queerlesque festival highlights the fact that there's much more work to do.  I had commented that I sometimes question whether I have a place when my fellow performers emphasize the sexual aspect of burlesque.  O encouraged me to share my view, and that's what I have decided to do after I saw another article, "Burlesque Performer: You Are Not a Sex Worker" by Mary Cyn.  When I tried to share why I agree with many of her points, I noticed the connections with asexuality and thus this post was born.

That sock I'm removing has the colors of ace pride.  I couldn't resist.
From Tuesday Tease: Dirty Nerdy
By Arctic Fox Photography
Now I don't deny that burlesque is inherently sexual.  Whenever I see discussions on burlesque, I see attraction get linked to sex though.  It's expected since that's how it works for most people, but it's time to stop assuming that there doesn't exist a small portion of population who do not experience sexual attraction.  Sex can be broken down into scientific steps without any positive or negative connotations.  If I show you a video of two fruit flies engaged in courtship and mating, you're not going to think about lust or desire because they're flies.  Nevertheless, they're still having sex. 

I approach burlesque in the same way I would approach those fly courtship videos: with careful analysis of the specific steps.  This has nothing to do with my scientific background and everything with the fact that I don't typically experience sexual attraction.  It's easier to treat this aspect of human behavior as a research topic because I don’t have much else to go on. 

What I present on stage is sexual in that it typically has something to do with sex—be it the moves, tone, or politics.  That's it.  In a way, I'm going through the motions, but I have enough understanding of human behavior to know what the audience will think I'm suggesting.  Plus there's other emotions and intentions being expressed in my performance.  It becomes a game.  I present an illusion and try to get the audience to see through it into the many non-sexual emotions and concepts I've layered into the routine.  Burlesque, to me, is about power.

I thought this was fitting.
Artwork by Alice X. Zhang
This is where I draw the distinction between me and a sex worker.  Although sex workers can undoubtedly be empowered by what they do, there is an exchange.  At some point, it is up to the client to determine what will happen.  You can argue that burlesque performances are partly influenced by producers and paying audience members, but for those few minutes during which a dancer is on-stage, they are in total control.  It's like the difference between giving a speech in front of a large crowd and having a one-on-one conversation.  You can be great at presentations or acting and yet be socially awkward.  The two situations call for different skills that occasionally overlap.  I have skills and the willingness to do one (burlesque) but not the other (anything that involves an exchange that is sexual), and so I don't consider myself a sex worker at all.

If you're still confused, then perhaps you can take comfort in knowing that I struggle to understand the appeal of sex.  It's not that I don't like it or don't have hormonal urges, but when you don't have that attraction driving you, there's not really a motivation to seek it.  Then you start wondering why sex is everywhere and on everyone's minds.  Some people are just wired differently from the majority of the population, but that's why it's important to listen to their perspectives, as they can broaden your view of the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Birth of Boomer and a New Producer

"This is love. These people loved me. I loved them. I didn't pretend to feel something so I could screw people over. I loved them. And then I betrayed them. I shot a man I loved. Frakked over another man, ruined his life. And why? Because I'm a lying machine. I'm a frakking Cylon!" - Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, Battlestar Galactica

I've never wanted to be a producer—not when I started burlesque, not when I did theatre in college.  In fact, when one of my roommates became a producer for Much Ado About Nothing and the other became the A.D., I helped them out while asserting that I be called "Head Minion" and not "Assistant Producer".  However, as my burlesque (and now drag) journey has revealed, "never" is not actually a permanent term.

Joining the Tuesday Tease production team changed my perspective.  As a producer, I could give back to the community and help provide space for marginalized voices.  Plus I had ideas (and extant producers already had plenty of their own).  I needed a lot of guidance before I was ready to produce, but I also wanted the crew to be aware that I wanted to be more involved.  Therefore when the idea that I co-produce a nerdy Tease with Lillith Grey came forth, I knew it would be time…time for Dawn of the Nerd.  *cue dramatic music*

By Brandy Lynne Photography
That didn't make the task any more daunting, especially since I wanted to perform too.  Had my routine been anything other than "Birth of Boomer", I probably would have shelved it.  That's because "Birth of Boomer" was a Battlestar Galactica-inspired reverse striptease.  If I performed first and came with hair and make-up ready, I could exit already dressed and ready to step into the boots of a producer.

Ever since I saw Battlestar Galactica, I wanted to dance to the soundtrack.  Bear McCreary's use of percussion just stirs up something inside of me.  I never got to do my belly dance routine to one of his songs, but now I could do a burlesque tribute.

My other inspiration was Stormy Leather's Cylon act.  Her embodiment of a Cylon's dual nature—mechanical and organic, threatening and sexy— really blew me away.  Although it can be easy to fall into the trap of imitating those you admire, I made sure to focus on my vision, which took a different approach to another Cylon character.

By Brandy Lynne Photography
A reverse strip made the most sense to what I wanted to portray: Cylon resurrection and the creation of the sleeper agent Sharon "Boomer" Valerii.  Bear's music is so primal yet the series takes place in the future—another dichotomy I wanted to portray.  I also decided to make the glowing spine to add a sexy touch to the routine and a reveal.  The tutorial I followed probably did not intend for the wearer to be dancing around nearly nude, and I wound up with more wires than I would have liked.  However, I'm proud of my prototype, as well as the final product that is "Birth of Boomer".

While all of this was happening, I was booking acts for the show.  Lillith helped with the logistics, but I had to come up with the line-up.  I realized that I didn't know as many performers and acts as I had thought and that I might have gone a little too specific with the post-apocalyptic theme.  After experiencing some cancellations, I thought maybe the show was cursed, but I learned that this is the struggle of all producers.

At a show, there's a lot of little things going on backstage that you don't notice until it's your job.  I'm not just talking about the activities of stage kittens and tom cats.  You have to coordinate with the sound person, the host, the stage manager, and the venue.  Also, lists are your best friend.  Next time I'll definitely more prepared.

Despite a couple of hiccups, the show went well.  "Birth of Boomer" was probably an odd opener because people expect clothes to be taken off and it is a more serious number.  However, the Battlestar Galactica fans enjoyed it, and I had fun. 

I was bummed about not being able to celebrate afterward, but I was immensely thankful for all the performers giving 110% out there, the crowd for their enthusiastic support, Friskey Business for managing backstage, and Lillith for her guidance.  While producing is still a scary job to me, I'm willing to give it a shot again.  Before that happens, you can catch me (and my drag clone Tony Fo-Hawk) back at Tuesday Tease next week with all-new routines: