Origins of an Ecdysiast

The burlesque community has been all aflutter these days as we approach the release of the movie Burlesque, starring Kristen Bell, Cher and Christina Aguilera; there’s been a lot of doomsaying about how the movie could harm the community and the artform by misrepresenting burlesque, bleebedyblah, Showgirls, terrible bleeblah… However, a lot of people (including yours truly) have decided to embrace and/or subvert the hype by using the #burlesque hashtag on Twitter to siphon buzz about the movie towards, y’know, actual burlesque, and to help promote themselves and their fellow artists.  (For what it’s worth, I think the movie looks like glittery, over-the-top Hollywood fun, but more in the vein of Chicago or Moulin Rouge than, say, The Night They Raided Minsky’s; it will probably contain little to no real burlesque… but then, some of my favourite foods contain little to no real food, so…)

Yesterday modern burlesque star and prolific tweeter Dita Von Teese linked to this clip from Gypsy as a “censor-friendly” example of what golden age burlesque really was:

…and it reminded me that my first live theatre performance, outside of school recitals, was at the age of 8 as the Balloon Girl in the local community theatre production of Gypsy.  I mostly stood there silently, a big ball of balloons, for the first scene, and then retired to the children’s dressing room for the rest of the night; but I can still remember, as they say, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd…

(Aside: Dita’s tweet isn’t the first thing in recent years to pluck at the Balloon Girl string; Miss C’s balloon act in Cabaret Serpentine‘s 2009 Cabaret Carnivale show had me pondering if perhaps someone had misunderstood the character description when they cast an 8 year old child in the role… In revisiting it now, my research indicates that it is actually a cute kid role.  Phew.)

For a production mounted entirely by community volunteers, it was quite the elaborate show.  The memory of that – seeing my friends and neighbours rush around backstage in nude bodysuits with strategically placed glitter for the burlesque numbers at the end of the show, watching my mom fake the splits while dressed as Lady Liberty/Dainty June – makes me think my involvement in burlesque was probably inevitable from that moment on.  I’m actually kind of surprised it took me so long.

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