Last week when I told my mother that I was planning to attend my first burlesque show, Fleur de Tease’s Season 6 Premier at One Eyed Jacks, she said in a concerned tone, “Emily, people are going to think you’re a trollop. And isn’t that sort of thing exploitative to women?” On the night of the performance as I unwound with a pre-show martini in the One Eyed Jacks lobby, I decided that I would try to answer her question.
The show commenced with host Chris Lane, whose warmness and impeccable timing elicited laughs right off the bat. One of the best jokes of the night, which compared the Kardashian wedding to 9/11, had some audience members biting their lower lips, glancing at their friends for approval, and ultimately giving in to the uproarious laughter around them. The rest of the night consisted of dancing, costumes, fire, aerial acrobatics, and more comedy.
Early on, it became clear that Fleur de Tease burlesque is far from exploitative or objectifying. I found the performance empowering because the dancers’ confidence, creativity, and expressiveness left no question of their sexual hegemony. Ultimately, the dancers undress to thongs and pasties, but the exciting part is the process of getting there with teasing and flirtation.
Second, it did not perpetuate the concept of the “male gaze.” Fleur de Tease is different than other potentially exploitative industries, such as pornography, sex-work and strip clubs because these other industries are largely designed by men and for men. Fleur de Tease, however, is led by founder and director female Trixie Minx and choreographed by Madame Mystere. The audience was also at least 50% women.
Finally, the choreography celebrated the sensuality of normal, healthy bodies. The dancers did not look like photo-shopped or surgically altered runway models. They were real women asserting themselves creatively and enjoying it, which made the experience all the more tantalizing.