One evening in Seattle I found myself sitting at a table, sharing drinks with two amazing and sexy women. Eventually the conversation turned to work, sex and being naked. Of course this is normal when you’re gabbing with Miss Indigo Blue, head mistress of the Academy of Burlesque and Lady Lydia McLane, professional dominant and an amazing burlesque performer in her own right.
Miss Indigo Blue: Burlesque is this new hip contemporary underground thing that’s become mainstream. It’s also produced a couple of spin-offs of burlesque scene, including Dr. Sketchy and Naked Girls Reading.
In other words, nudity and performative sexuality creeping its way into high art literature, painting and theater.
Midori: Why do people want to do burlesque? What’s so compelling about it for women?
Miss Indigo Blue: Women are finding community around sexuality, body confidence and strength. It’s so difficult for women in today’s culture to feel confident about sexuality that they are turning to new models of confidence. For example — when they see women doing burlesque, they see power and they want to feel as confident as what they perceive the performers have. But usually they’re still quite nervous, so they take a class and find comfort and support in the in the company of other novices… and they feel safe.
Midori: When did you begin the academy and how many have you graduated?
Miss Indigo Blue: I started it in 2003 and nearly 500 students have graduated so far. We were the subjects of the recent film A Wink And A Smile.
Midori: Who takes academy courses?
Miss Indigo Blue: Students of the academy cover the gamut of people. We have college students, new moms, grown-up ladies (my term for ladies over 50). We also teach classes geared towards Boylesque, which appeal to men, male gendered persons and those who don’t meet female bodies feminine ideal.
Midori: What’s the fascination with tassel twirling?
Miss Indigo Blue: Interestingly this is related to your bra article. Women are expected to keep their breasts tightly wrapped away, perky yet perfectly smooth and yet not wiggle or move around. God forbid female erectile tissue should be visible. God knows, it could put out an eye. In many local and state laws women are forbidden to expose their breast, specifically their nipples. Strippers and burlesque performers have used pasties or nipple tassels to skirt censorship. Pasties ironically hide and accentuate the very tissue they’re forbidden to reveal, thus tassel twirling become a revolutionary act literally and figuratively — by shaking their breasts so that tassels affixed to their nipples twirl, women are literally shaking things up and causing the revolution of the tassels. Women love tassel twirling because of the freedom, independence and downright silliness of the act. As a side note, pasties are really pretty, especially when encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
Midori: How do they stay on?
Miss Indigo Blue: Pasties stay on by force of sheer will. Just kidding!
There are three effective adhesive commonly in use by burlesque performers.
Number one: Spirit gum. Effective. Sticky and pain in touchas to remove.
Number two: Liquid latex. Little bit tricky. Has to be applied to both pasties and nipples and completely dry on both sides. Then dry pasties will stick to dry nipple. This is contraindicated for wet situations, such as sweaty nipples, hot tub or beaches in Hawaii. I did test it in Hawaii and they don’t stay on. Benefit is that it peels off easily, leaving no residue.
Number three: Double sided tape. Toupee tape is the most common and very effective. I often use double-sided carpet tape from the hardware store because it’s sturdier for expended twirling and cheaper. Unfortunately it does cause a rather special, ahem, sensation upon removal. And requires a lot of care and attention from my partner afterwards.
Lady Lydia: Do a skin test with the spirit gum. One time I used it and it caused a terrible rash and my whole breast swelled up.
Miss Indigo laughs at this, earning her a smack from Lady Lydia
Midori:Tell me more about burlesque and body confidence.
Miss Indigo Blue: Often when women first step foot in a bur class they’re nervous and excited. We try to share the idea that sex is fun, being funny is sexy, and being sexy is funny. We also give them a lot of opportunity to practice what confidence looks like on stage so they can learn to present the image of confidence. Eventually they feel confidence. Practice makes perfect. It ends up not a pretense. They practice so much that they become truly confident. They also learn back up skills on how to pull confidence out of themselves when things aren’t flowing as they planned on stage.
One thing that burlesque does is it takes off some of the edge of seriousness of beauty and sexuality, and allows performer the chance to embody their own or someone else’s sexuality, turn it around, make it serious, funny, ironic or sarcastic and give it back to the audience.
Some of the first tips I teach is about eye contact. Make direct eye contact and practice sending and receiving energy through their eyes. The gaze can be penetrative or receptive. This is fun to practice with friend or partner. Take turns giving and receiving the gaze.
It’s also fun to incorporate other orifices of communication — such as the mouth. Open mouth indicates interaction, receptivity and connection. Where as closed mouth indicated nervousness, shyness or closed to reception. I encourage people to practice in a mirror w different kinds of facial expression.
Lady Lydia: The Burlesque community spawned some interesting spinoffs that also deal with body confidence. “Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School - Seattle Branch” is a cabaret life drawing class. Subjecting your self to blatant and intentional objectification for the purpose of art can cause even seasoned performers to arrive at Dr. Skechy's nervous.
They have to hold a pose and be perceived and recreated as a drawing with minimal control over the end result. Where as, when you’re on stage, you’re controlling the outcome to a great degree. At Dr. Sketchy you give that up to let the artist create. I think throughout the three-hour process you absorb a different level of comfort where by allowing people to stare and draw. There’s a point of shifting that everyone hits during modeling at Dr. Sketchy. They ease into letting go. First poses are really quick, matching the nervousness. Through out the process the willingness to accept ones own body for what it is over time relaxes and opens up. Over time, you show your relaxed body. No matter how hot you are, you can’t hold your stomach for 15 to 20 minutes!
With Naked Girls reading, not only do the performers have to be naked, they have to read and hopefully sound like they’re not a complete idiot. So there’s another of level of confidence. It’s one thing to be pretty and cute on stage. Then you have to read and choose a piece. Then in the exposure, the simple nakedness becomes secondary.