I meet many fans who ask how to get our glittery red lipstick look, but another question even more popular than this one is, "What does it feel like up there?" I usually answer with a common platitude such as, "It feels amazing!" or "It's awesome!" which doesn't really tell anyone anything real and it also doesn't mean anything. I give the same kind of answers many first time performers give to describe their first time stripping for an audience in public, because I believe to properly convey what it feels like to perform on stage as a burlesque artist one must explain the feelings of exhilaration, thrill, and happiness VISUALLY. So here is my personal experience of what it feels to be a burlesque performer from the very beginning.
First, we can all relate to the moment you see another girl who possess the kind of poise, sophistication, style, and glamour you would like to have. Call it serious admiration, adoration, or girl crush, it is an universe response when you encounter art personified. This is why performers like Dita von Teese and Veronica Varlow have a gaggle of female fans that may outnumber their male fan base. I remember encountering my first few burlesque shows (one that stands out most is Spiegeltent) and feeling completely enamored by the performer's grace, beauty, and cheeky sense of humour. This is not jealousy, to be clear. It is not one of those cellphone-texting-pointy-toe-heel-wearing haters in the audience situations. This is sheer admiration as you would feel when you experience a painting or a novel that really speaks to you (FYI: Glitter and Doom exhibition at The Met in 2007, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon). This is the moment that hooks you the way Madonna hooks in Susan in the "jacket scene" from "Desperately Seeking Susan".
Makeovers are popular because they make us feel like a new person or at the very least a more "enhanced" person. Like going from a regular TV to High Def, a good makeover has the power to elevate one's self-image, confidence, and overall appreciation on one's self - you can see yourself clearer. Burlesque is the same in the process of transformation via costuming, makeup, and environment. There is a definite moment when I shift over from my day-self to Calamity at night. The ritual starts with putting on eyelashes, setting my hair, makeup, glittering my body, etc. By the time I arrive at my destination for my call time, I feel like this:
Even if you did trip and fall, you still looked GOOD right before the mishap! When I started I kittened for Broadway Brassy's show at Corio (RIP) and there was one night when Ruby Valentine stumbled on her skyhigh fetish heels as she stepped off the stage. But she recovered with such aplomb and grace with a smile, a wave to the audience and her trademark whispery voice, "I'm okay everyone!" And she was STILL beautiful! Owning and commanding your stage is a power, a supernatural power that makes you feel powerful. It is a moment where I can mentally say "fuck you" to things that anger me or memories of people who teased and made fun of me for being Chinese where I grew up in Tampa, Florida and in Texas. A moment where I tap my repressed anger issues (repressed because Chinese parents don't believe in therapy, haha) and re-channel it and be fierce like Leelo in this awesomely choreographed dance & fight scene in "The Fifth Element" when she finally shows what power and strength she is capable of:
Lastly, the all encompassing moment that exemplify how I feel, or rather, what burlesque has helped me feel and in different aspects of my life, is the famous scene from "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" when Eowyn faces off the evil Nazgul. She was a girl and no one would let her fight, but it is precisely because of her sex that was destined for her to kill the Nazgul. There is so much violence on women in our world, sex workers being murdered, sex trade in Asia, gential mutilation, the list disheartenly goes on... so it makes me feel happy every time when I watch this scene because it makes me feel that there is strength and power no matter how powerless your circumstances may seem.