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For many, the word summons imagery of 1920s Paris: feather fans, boas and corsetry in the Moulin Rouge. But far from turn of the century France, this risqué performance style is experiencing a revival in the nation’s capital and local women are loving it.
Alison McGregor has been performing burlesque in Canberra since 2012 under the personas Sparkles and Virginia Fizz, and now teaches burlesque with the Sass and Tease Collective. Alison has seen the Canberra burlesque scene explode in recent years and become a common part of Canberra’s nightlife, with both local and national events and competitions coming through the city and showcasing local performers.
“[Canberrans] just love this art form,” says Alison. “There is so much creativity and space within it.”
Like many people, Alison originally thought of burlesque as a hyper-feminine style of strip tease, but she soon saw that burlesque ‘isn’t just dressing up in 50s clothes and taking your kit off.’
Alison, like an increasing number of people, realised that burlesque empowers – rather than degrades – women. According to Alison, part of the empowerment is in the relationship between the audience and the performer, and her ability to say “Yes, I’m ok with my body and yes I’m ok with you looking at it and me being the object of your gaze; however, I dictate how that story goes.”
As a performer, “that is the crux of burlesque: you get to dictate that narrative,” explains Alison.
This dynamic differs from stripping, Alison explains, as in stripping “there’s an expectation in the transaction between a stripper and an audience member.”
Burlesque also isn’t necessarily just dancing and stripping. There can be a complex narrative within a performance. Burlesque can be a parody (which is what modern burlesque started as), it can tell a story, display emotions and even make the audience question their own perceptions of what is and isn’t sexy. The effects of a burlesque routine are only limited by the performer’s imagination.
For Alison, the most empowering moment of burlesque isn’t even on the stage, it’s after the show, when audience members approach her to discuss the effect her performance had on them.
“When people say ‘So I watched your show and I thought it was super beautiful, but I also thought that you were maybe lonely; I wasn’t sure how to feel. I wanted to laugh but I also wanted to hug you,'” says Alison. “It’s those moments when people…say complex things about what they saw on stage. That’s when I know I’ve done my job right.”
One of the most empowering things about burlesque is the diversity, with a wide range of ages and body shapes represented in the local scene. There is so much demand that two burlesque groups teach in Canberra: Miss Kikta’s House of Burlesque and the Sass and Tease Collective.
According to Alison, there is also a real feeling of community in the Canberra burlesque scene, “the stayers in the scene are people who are gracious, supportive, inclusive, exciting, interested and interesting”
So, next time you’re thinking of going out there and seeing what the Canberra entertainment scene has to offer, consider a night of burlesque.
Image of ‘fashionable woman…‘ via Shutterstock