The art of burlesque, in all its majestic complexity, is currently under fire from a small proportion of this country’s population. They believe burlesque dancers and strippers to be one and the same, that strippers remove their clothes under the guise of a dance for the enjoyment of paying strangers, and ask the difference between this and the art of burlesque. It is a question which has fascinated me from the first time I set foot in a darkened establishment to watch my first burlesque performance: is there a difference – and why should we care?
To explore this, I’d like to draw reference from historical and contemporary examples in accordance with the public’s perception of scantily clad women. I think I’m safe to say that all straight males actively enjoy seeing women with barely any clothes on. I remember hearing a story of fin-de-siècle Paris, when married men used to go to the circus – sometimes with their wives, other times with friends – as an excuse to see the performers wearing skin-tight clothes, or very little. The modern perception of burlesque has a similar feel; the punter wants to invite people to watch it with them as it’s usually in a safe environment and can be very entertaining, but (as far as the average person is aware) it’s often still women taking their clothes off.
A lot of these preconceptions can have their blame laid upon amateur burlesque. I’ve been to a number of shows where the emphasis of certain acts has been heavily on the ‘strip’ and far less on the ‘show’. I recently attended The Peacock Lounge, a delightfully decadent soiree where the vast proportion of girls were exceptional, but a few of those less experienced seemed to share this ‘more strip than show’ mentality; I noticed that those who simply stripped with little charm or flair received the smallest amount of audience reaction, whereas the ones who actually had an act (and by act I don’t mean a silly backstory or different outfit) received well-deserved adulation.
I understand that burlesque needs new blood, but it seems that a lot of amateurs are getting involved just to strip in front of an audience without the seedy connotations of being a stripper. This may be for a number of reasons, the most obvious being an element of empowerment and that of improved confidence, but it is my firm belief that simply stripping down to pasties (nipple tassels) and pants to music doesn’t make you a burlesque dancer – it makes you a girl who has stripped.
The public’s perception of burlesque rests heavily upon the performer, as with every performance-based art, so if they just see a girl stripping as their one and only experience of burlesque, they’ll believe this is all burlesque has to offer. Luckily, there are many diamonds in the rough who dedicate a lot of time into honing their acts, and do so wonderfully. I’ve seen some acts when the performer has been so entrancing, so bewitching, that I’ve been totally and irrevocably transfixed to the stage until they walk off - or the red curtain finally falls. The vast majority of these times, the girls have stripped, but they’ve done it so beautifully, so effortlessly, that you don’t notice or care; the only thing you do care about being the inherent beauty in the dance before you – a dance so delightful that it requests your utmost, unashamed attention.
I care about this art form because, in my experience, burlesque dances have the potential to be quite transcendental (see Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils for the most famous historical example), but with the popularity of the art soaring, its reputation will continue to rest on the shoulders of the amateurs (for it is them the public will likely first encounter) unless more professionals start to host their own shows, educational talks and training programmes. Only then will burlesque come to be publicly recognised as a structured, adult performance art - and not simply stripping by another name.
This potent document offers advice, encouragement and the tools - building upon the guiding principles of Brothellian Ideology - to achieve your creative ambitions.
"Ultimately, we envisage a society where the quill or the sketchbook holds as much sexual potency as the electric guitar; where the illustrator or poet is as much of a sex symbol as the rock star."
Conceived by Timothy Grayson & Steven Silverman of the English Brothellian Movement, the Brothellian Manifesto was written and edited during the tumultuous year of global revolution (2011). This truly is a product for our time; a lewd body of practical advice for the modern working artist.
US Customers can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Brothellian-Manifesto-The-ebook/dp/B006XXX3OS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326715884&sr=8-1
UK Customers can buy it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brothellian-Manifesto-The-ebook/dp/B006XXX3OS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326715934&sr=8-1
Customers from the EU, please visit your local Amazon website and search for ‘Brothellian Manifesto’.
I wrote the following in response to this article in the Telegraph, in which David Hockney states his disapproval of artists (such as Damien Hirst) employing craftsmen to help construct their work:
True, to an extent. I despise Hirst and hate to make this comparison, but great sculptors and architects of antiquity often had help, and yet we only remember the artist’s name. Why? Because it is them who drew the plan, them who spent time developing the idea, and them who employed the craftsmen to help bring their vision to life. If Hockney’s going to pick on Hirst’s work, at least make it for a noble cause - such as it’s lack of artistic merit - as I think stating such a shallow reason only highlights his need to do basic research. The difference between those great artists and Hirst is that if Hirst were to employ twenty skilled craftsmen to enact HIS vision, they’d still struggle to create a work of great art.
Timothy Grayson hustles his way to the USA. Video includes clips from the Brothellian takeover of Camden, (inc. speeches, performances and readings from the Brothellian Manifesto), shots from Gomorrah (www.gomorrah.co.uk) and various outtakes. Filmed and edited by Miles Marr (www.studio68.co.uk)
Follow the Poetry Whore on Tour @ Tumblr as he attempts to make his way to the USA - God save the USA if he actually makes it ;)
Thank you for the promotion Alesia! Hopefully see you there :)
Brothellian response to the Stuckist Painter Floyd Alsbach’s statement on Critics and Criticism.
"Criticism is good, the more harsh the better. It only makes the critics look like the fools they are as time goes by."
Floyd, I’m not sure if I agree with this statement; it may be true in certain exceptional cases (Charles Dickens on the Pre-Raphaelites, for example), but honest critics are still lauded in posterity for their courage in being true to taste, regardless of fashion (John Ruskin, to use another example from a similar time). I personally hold post-modern culture in utter contempt, vehemently attacking conceptual ‘art’ (or ‘visual philosophy’, as I prefer to call it). I do not believe these thoughts will eventually be ridiculed; in fact, I envisage numerous History of Art essays on this period of nullity entitled ‘In Praise of Shit’. However, if taste remains dulled and sophistry endures, I may be considered a fool, but I’d rather be considered an honest fool than one dishonestly pandering to a bad fashion.
Brothellian arm/wristband (embroidered) - available in very limited numbers at Gomorrah 27.08.11 www.gomorrah.co.uk
- taken from the Brothellian Manifesto
“Brothellian individuals understand that our creative talents and imagination are sexually intriguing, and that this holds great mystery to others. There is no shame in ‘sexing up’ the arts establishment as the appeal is already there, it’s just rarely…
Monday 11th July - Tip Five
Make your own theories on [art], tell people what you think and encourage them to form their own. The Aesthete Oscar Wilde once said “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”. I recognise the irony in quoting this statement, but whereas it’s important to appreciate others’ views (Oscar Wilde included), it’s vital to consider your own - even if it’s unpopular. This method also applies to your [art]: there is always a level of external influence, but you must look into your own core if you want to remain true to yourself.
In The Moon Her Majesty, the writer Jack Kerouac muses “I mean, this is prose, not poetry, but I want to be sincere.” He knew the importance of ‘telling it how it is’ - for him, in order to remain true to his [art], he needed to write in the language of the streets; the language of life. Through his professional work and ‘sketches’, we gain the ability to see the world through his eyes - not the beautifully romanticised world of fiction, but the world uncovered, warts and all. It was in these little, oft overlooked details that he noted what he believed was the true beauty of the world - and shared his vision of it, with it.
Trawling through books of quotations may be an interesting exercise, but those thoughts of real value are the ones that hit you unexpectedly - the ones that make you truly think, feed your work and stay with you over the years. These ideas stick because they speak to your true self, challenging or reinforcing beliefs and helping you come to your own conclusions. If you don’t share these thoughts with your peers, they’ll never truly understand your [art], and if they don’t understand your [art], they won’t care about your vision. So next time you air an unpopular opinion, don’t be afraid to stick with it. You’ll never be able to surf if you don’t first make waves.