Burlesque was originally about making fun of politics. Now it’s about making fun. The new burlesque movement we’re seeing in Vancouver makes some really biting social commentary, as befits its origins. It’s also all-inclusive, welcoming and celebrating people of all shapes, sizes, genders, orientations, origins, everything. It’s about putting yourself, your personality, your creativity on stage. You can do whatever you want. You can do everything.
So said Trixie Hobbitses and Sherry Hymen in their class “Elements of Geeky Burlesque Performance” at Northwest Fan Fest. And it was true — the students were all very different, and most of us had absolutely no experience. But that didn’t matter. The atmosphere was welcoming. We were so excited for each other, and that made it fun.
The first part of the class was devoted to an explanation (that was not a lecture) of nerdlesque culture, followed by a demonstration of some of the most common moves found in choreography. What was surprising was how relatively little movement it took to produce great effect. Even something as simple as taking off a glove could mean volumes with the right expression. Adding small, intimate moments in between big, showy moments can bring an act together.
This became immediately clear when we started learning choreography ourselves. As novices, our teachers prepared a routine for us that made use only of the basics, but in putting them together a whole musical dance number somehow sprang to life. Learning the choreography was a challenge, of course, even though it didn’t involve removing a single piece of clothing. We had all literally walked in off the street, and a decent amount of us had no experience learning a dance this way. But it was clear we wanted to learn, and our teachers explained everything step by step. They even went as far as accommodating individual needs — anyone who’s seen me walk me can tell my right ankle is still weak after a bad break several months ago, but they incorporated that seamlessly.
The end result was a two and a half minute dance to “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury” by Rachel Bloom (a video of which is now up on the Geekenders Youtube channel). A few students looked like a whole world of unimagined opportunity had opened up before them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of them on stage in the coming months. And, in fact, we all made our stage debut earlier than expected — at the Geekenders revue the following night.
We were something of a surprise for the audience — I don’t think most of them expected to see us. And given that the show was in the main ballroom of the Student Union Building at UBC, that meant a lot of people. There were definitely nerves as we watched the seats filling, at least for me. I’ve done performances before in high school, but nothing like this. I was very glad to have my fellow students there, all of whom seemed so much calmer and cooler than I was.
Oddly, though, I didn’t feel intimidated watching all the amazing acts before us, not even the Silent Hill nurse. I actually felt encouraged. Maybe it was seeing these performers, some of whom I’d come to know as people, being brilliant on stage. Something like, if they can do it, maybe I can too. We’d come this far with Sherry Hymen and Trixie Hobbitses telling us that anyone can be a star here if they want to be. That was the moment I started to believe it.
At our cue we all stood up and filed backstage together, and I didn’t hear a single word of irritation while there. Everyone was excited, working together, bolstering each other. It was the kind of group dynamic I only dreamed of in drama class. But did it last when the spotlight hit us?
Oh, yes. It was by far our best run of the dance (which, of course, was just as well). Everything I’d heard about having an on-stage persona crystallized, and I got caught up in the moment. I wasn’t embarrassed or shy at all — and how could you be, with hundreds of people cheering you on? It wasn’t even difficult to remember the first rule: when on stage, smile. And what they say about burlesque performers is true: I absolutely fed on the hooting and the hollering. That kind of electricity between those of us on stage and the audience, it’s addictive. I loved it.
I think it’s safe to say this won’t be my only foray into the world of nerdlesque, and I have Geekenders to thank for the experience. If you’re interested in their work, or if you want to be part of it yourself, check them out!
Photo credit: Rene Blais Photography