"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few."
~ Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Above: Former students performing at a Coney Island USA benefit.
Above: Students kicking ass on an MTV news piece with Angel Pai
The truth is, sometimes I get very burned out on some aspects of burlesque. When people argue about who should be allowed on which stage, and who is bringing down burlesque, and who does and doesn't deserve credit for what, the discussions can really take the wind out of my sails. I prize audacity, enthusiasm, and sincerity above Big Art, or anything that starts to become capitalized in the many ways that things can be capitalized for possession of some real or imaginary field: financial, cultural, artistic, academic, etc. Who did what first? Who does what the best? What's real burlesque? Who gets to say? Who gets into the show and who doesn't? I just don't care who was the first person to do a burlesque show downtown in NYC, honestly, except to say thank you. I don't care who gets credit for having the best dance ability or the fanciest headdress or the funniest nerdy reference. But every time I start to think that the stuff that gets to me is the bigger part of the burlesque experience, I'm proved wrong by an open hearted bawdy show or an experience with a student, such as the following email (the student said she is happy to have me post it but doesn't wish to be identified):
A million thanks to you, Gal Friday, and Jezebel Express for an amazing experience these past four weeks. When I wrote to you asking to be wait listed for this essential burlesque series, it was because I was afraid that if I didn't jump, I would lose my nerve. Thank you for hear...ing the desperation in my tone and making room for a straggler. It was the best money I've spent in years.
As I mentioned in class, I took this series without any real plans --I just wanted to be around women like me, in an environment that celebrated my version of beauty, over the top and unapologetically bedazzled. I thought it would be an indulgence that would temporarily numb and distract from some recently opened up wounds. I didn't expect to learn as much as I did.
I exit your class realizing that beauty comes from action, from how you make people feel, and what you give out. For so many years I looked at the idea of "beauty on the inside" as placating folk wisdom, or some kind of passive aggressive admonition against vanity. But all three instructors stressed having an internal dialogue when you dance, and that was a major turning point. When my classmates were thinking about their bodies, and how much they enjoyed them, and we danced with that awareness of sharing...I looked around, and every woman in that room was gorgeous. Honestly. Truly. Not in a vapid, empty compliment way, not even in a "standards of beauty are culturally mediated and useless way". By the most base, instinctual, reflexive, shallow standard you could think of---they were all beautiful.
This might be common knowledge to most people, but it never really sunk in with me. I can't promise that 35 years of self esteem issues were cured in four weeks, but I absolutely feel like I have a powerful tool I didn't have before. Every risk you take, every time you put yourself out on a line, every time you surrender to being exactly who you are, you fortify some inner reserve of light that is more powerful and more transformative than anything MAC, or Madison Avenue, can sell.
Thank you for your kindness, your inspiration, and for the invaluable lesson that beauty is really a verb. :) I wish you nothing but the best!
It's true--I care more about the hearts and minds of students than the future of the art form. Because if the hearts and minds of the students aren't fed, the art form becomes nothing but incestuous, self-congratulating, self-referential, and self-aggrandizing. Here's to both the steak and the sizzle that students bring to the table!
Below: The bold and brilliant students of Pink Light Burlesque.
Direct Link to Pink Light Burlesque Video