Many who follow this blog are familiar with me as a burlesque performer. That is fine, but at the same moment being a "burlesque dancer" is not what defines me nor has it truly has. A few were shocked by my decision to depart from the Columbus Burlesque Collective, and honestly it was something I had foreseen for several months.
Burlesque has its moments where it can be seen as very beautiful, glamourous and can provide someone with joy and creativity: but it is also filled with a negative side and know it has been discussed many times over. "Bullying" as many talk about happens more often than we realize in burlesque. I mean, performers are turned down from gigs because of their body size or how they look...and I am no exception to that.
I began performing burlesque because as most my age physically ballet and modern dance becomes harder. Even though I am in my early 30s most professional ballet dancers retire by my age. Professional dance ( and I mean professional, ballet, modern, etc) can be grueling to one's body...my is no exception to this. One of my favourite films "The Turning Point" there is a scene where an aging ballerina says, "when you're young your body is subjective, but as you get older it starts to revolt in many ways". I know that feeling.
For me, ballet is even more difficult because I minored in dance while attending college as an undergrad. My junior year in college I was in a horrific car accident which left me with injuries to my hip, back, shoulder and knee. I still suffer from migraines from the accident as well hip/back issues. I never discuss it or talk about it because I refuse to allow things to hold me back in life; I was taught this by my parents and as my Dad would always say...push through it.
At the time I was friendly with other burlesque performers and always frequented shows until one day I was talked into trying it out. I should have been more aware considering I have been in the performing business professionally since the age of 16 and grew up in a performing family...think I would recognize it, right?
I was wrong....very wrong.
Sure, it was okay when I first began performing then things started changing. I was with my troupe at the time and you know things went really bad...really quickly. I started receiving messages with threats, had costumes tampered with, and the list could go on of all the things I experienced while performing.
I was even told by the same former troupe leader that I wouldn't be able to perform unless I wore waist cinchers while on stage because of my body. Now, I am 5'11 and I still wear junior's clothing and most women's clothes are too large for me. Granted, I am not in fantabulous shape and not going to pretend to be. But if burlesque is such an accepting environment of all body types why is it so many women are so emotionally abusive towards one another?
I was also "forced" to change as a performer. I was told I was too much a dancer and basically wanted more "slutty" and "trashy". I remember other performers telling me, "well, you need to improve" and I am thinking, "stage presence"?, costumes? no it was too "good girl" for majority of them.
Looking back on it all does it hurt? Yea, a little bit. It also to an extent anger me when people tell "just get over it". Healing is a process and people heal on their own terms and in their own time. They tried to take away and destroy my self esteem because of their own insecurities. I know I am not a perfect person no one is, but at the same time no one deserved that.
I think this was the issue with the Collective. One: too many egos. I think too many people wanted to be in the "spotlight", you know too many "stars" and not enough sky. And even though many people say it isn't personal it almost always is.
Now the question is, where do I go from here? Well, I am devoting time back into my non profit and going back to giving lectures about female body image/bullying...think have plenty of experiences now as well my animal rights activism. I want to channel my energy into more positive experiences than worry about the negativity that burlesque is.
I think very few become really successful in burlesque and I can understand why and how now. Almost have to be strictly an independent performer and not affiliate with any troupes/groups of that nature. But women, we need to start respecting ourselves and each other a little bit better.