One mother’ s take on burlesque, friendship

I want to ask the questions that make us bristle. The goal: investigate something that makes me uncomfortable while holding a space of compassion, i.e. no judgment.

Isn’t the burlesque show, which raises money for community nonprofits, just trumped up stripping? The charitable giving just a smoke screen that makes it acceptable for people to take their clothes off in public?

This trendy pro take-your-clothes-off-for-money burlesque culture would have me thinking this is feminism. If that is true, I want to embrace this art form. Well, part of me does. This is about my questions, not about judging the performers. I respect their choice to practice their art. I do not want them censored, as I would not want to be censored.

Part of me says: This is a good thing. Remember a few years ago when silly arguments ensued because of one naked painting at a gallery. This burlesque, this is progress. This is us being OK with skin and bodies and sexuality. If the women in the show wore those outfits on the beach in Miami, people wouldn’t even stop to notice (no insult intended, you get the point). We’ve come a long way. Here are women — strong, creative, every shape and size, funny — showing skin and I don’t like it? What’s up with that?

When the first show came around, my parents were in town. Sweet, free babysitting thus a rare adult night out with my husband. Tip: Homer-time doesn’t apply to burlesque. There we were, in the back of Alice’s, me on tippy toes trying to get a look at what was to come. That was half the fun of the night — the suspense. Just how far are my friends, some of my closest friends, going to take this? OMG, I did not know one person could put on that many pairs of long underwear. The show was hilarious, creative and so not raunchy. Afterward, I felt like I should have invited my parents. Heck, they aren’t too old to enjoy some good ol’ February blues-beating fun. It was so much more than stripping.

A second show came around and we paid for a sitter. The show was equally creative, funny. Yet, something inside of me did not feel right. My gut, my other brain, was calling out. I didn’t want to listen. My dearest friends are in the show. I respect them.

More shows happened. I didn’t go. What would I say to my kids? I am a writer. I mulled.

As my mulling continued, my editor suggested I interview some of the performers. She said she has learned that checking in with someone who has a different perspective often changes her own, or at least sheds enough light to bring understanding.

Research, I like it. I talked with performers, I watched documentaries and checked with local supporters of the troop. Testimonials rolled in. Light in their eyes, on fire with creativity, community, audience support, shined so bright it was hard to see any problem with the whole affair. Who am I to take issue with women and men, feeling brighter, more whole, empowered? Who am I to say what empowerment is for someone else?

Yet, after some of the wisest women I know tuned in with respect for this art form, I still felt unsettled. Questions tugged and bugged me. Realization crept up and it hung in the gray area of not-so-simple answers.

This I know: I don’t like the repeating of the show. A one-time, wild, relieve-us-of-February fun night per year feels like one thing. An ongoing community activity, that supports local nonprofits via women taking their clothes off feels different. It feels like a gigantic step backward for feminism. Yet, I know the performers would argue the exact opposite.

I have come to this: Empower on, performers. Dance, create, push boundaries if that spins your top, excuse the pun. For me, I can’t keep going. I can’t grow this one with you. I don’t want my daughters to find empowerment in taking their clothes off. I am a prude. I’ll own that.

Furthermore, I hope I can say, to my nearest and dearest friends, I disagree with your point of view and how is Sunday for brunch? This little picture of awkward is a microcosm of the whole. In our community, in our world, we need to come together and ask the questions that make us bristle. We must be able to disagree about the answer to those questions and still meet for brunch.

Is burlesque just trumped up stripping? Not for the performers and not for some of the audience members. In the end, what harm is being done? I don’t know. I am still mulling.

Maybe pasties are needed to raise money for our community. Maybe our hockey rink and other nonprofits do need the burlesque troop to raise funds. And, if so, maybe I should be grateful; after all, my kid plays hockey.

I wonder, however, could this burlesque troupe sell out shows if no boobs were bared? It could; the performers are talented. If they did that, though, they wouldn’t be doing the art form they love — and that matters. At the same time, I wonder why this ongoing project makes me sad. Something about it doesn’t feel right.

Prudish me will keep mulling. But for the next show, I will be home, dancing my own dance within the boundaries of my marriage and wondering if I am missing one hell of a show.

Andrea Van Dinther has lived in Homer for eight years. She is a free-lance writer, polar bear guide and mother of three.