Burlesque isn't just rhinestones and feathers.
Its history, its core, its entirety is rooted in strength,
sexual liberation and gender expression.
Burlesque isn’t just beauty queens and stilettos.
It’s a revolution.
It’s enticing, seductive and transformative.
It’s all an illusion.
Certain elements of burlesque have their origins from patriarchal beliefs of what is considered beautiful, feminine and desirable. The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli immortalized the ideal female body as slender, yet curvy. Burlesque wouldn’t be burlesque without the appearance of a corset, which exaggerates the female proportions down to its distinguishable hourglass silhouette. The stiletto, created by men that never actually wore them, originated through their fetishization of a woman’s feet, as with foot binding in some Asian cultures. They elongate the legs to suggest a larger than life form at the expense of excruciating pain. However, both of these reveal an unspoken feminist revolution: Through burlesque, cisgender women and genderqueer people figured out a way to capitalize on these rigid gender roles and patriarchal standards of beauty.
The contemporary world of pop culture has capitalized on the commanding power of burlesque and its fashion. Movies like “Burlesque” (2010), “Moulin Rouge”(2001) and music videos like “Lady Marmalade” (2001) feature famous celebrities and musicians in exquisite corsets, elaborate set designs and immersive performances.
The drag queens of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Farrah Moan and Violet Chachki, have both incorporated the corset into their wardrobe. Farrah cites Christina Aguilera in “Burlesque”as her muse and Violet collaborating with contemporary burlesque legend Dita Von Teese in her world-renowned “The Art of the Teese” burlesque tour.
“I use glamour as a tool, almost like armor to confidently take up space, to provoke questions and conversations about society and gender norms.”Violet Chachki
Chachki comments on these societal and gender controversies though fetishism — a subculture and umbrella term for performances like burlesque. With burlesque becoming more mainstream in the media we consume and the artists that we follow, it’s hard to imagine fetish culture occupying the same space. But burlesque and fetish are as deeply intertwined as the lacing on a corset. Fetishism stems from the Portuguese word feitiço, which is defined as having magical connotations like spells, charms and enchantment. Over time, the marriage between fetish culture and burlesque gave birth to the burlesque we know now: magical spectacles with blinding kaleidoscopic stage lights and sex appeal made to distract, entice and bewitch its prey.
Eroticism, power dynamics and the thrill of knowing you’re not supposed to be doing something, but doing it anyway is how burlesque weaponizes the taboo.
Through nudity and the striptease, the heart and soul of burlesque, performers cultivate a space where sexual freedom and expression is celebrated and uncensored. Due to the antiquated yet prevailing hum of the patriarchy, the female sexuality and body continue to be under the assertions of what and who a man wants.
This is why regardless of what they are wearing, women can’t escape catcalling and sexual harassment. This is why there are derogatory terms for a woman that asserts themselves in the workforce or takes control of their sexuality. This is why women are the lead victims of sexual assault, rape and eating disorders.
Burlesque makes a profound statement to a number of people because it gives them a chance to reclaim the power cisgender, white men have and still continue to seize from them.
Burlesque isn’t just rhinestones and feathers.
It’s a rebellion — an emboldened war cry.
Beginning is a red velvet carpet, effortlessly revealing the path towards the stage in main hall. The floor vibrates with the quiet whispers of echoing drums and the soft, seductive inklings of a harp. No one knows what’s about to happen, but the pulse quickens. Pupils dilate.
Drinks line the table, and soft conversations fill the empty corners of the room. Soon, the amber bulbs from overhead are replaced by vivid sapphire lights that engulf every inch, every face. The room falls silent, save for a few sporadic cheers. The curtains open, and no one else in the entire room matters but you and the twinkling magical dancer appearing onstage.
Burlesque isn’t just rhinestones and feathers.
It’s a theatrical metamorphosis of glamour, magic.
It’s easy to get hypnotized by burlesque’s powerful psychological and sensory stimulants, but behind every performance lies a great deal of intimacy, humanity and confidence. Burlesque is introducing yourself as whatever you want to be, while gradually stripping away the satin wrapped and diamond covered layers for a profound final reveal: vulnerability.
It dares you to ask yourself, what aspects of my life am I hiding behind rhinestones and feathers?
Originally published in Spark Magazine
Written by Divina Ceniceros Dominguez
Divina Ceniceros Dominguez is a junior Journalism major. She’s written over sixteen issues in several Texas-based magazines focusing on lifestyle and culture. She’s very passionate about her plants, breakfast and making statements through fashion.