The Wonderful World of Burlesque

This post is part of Not Your Average Week, a TNGG Theme Week.

The summer 2010 film Burlesque left something to be desired of stars Christina Aguilera and Cher, but was able to bring the classic art form back into the limelight. The flash factor is a definite draw (pun intended), but there’s more to the profession than the glitz  and nudity.

Burlesque in its earliest form can be defined as “a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects.” Today new or neo-burlesque entails a “variety show format” performance with extravaganza, comedy, satire, and striptease (with focus on the buildup rather than the stripping).

Aside from its contribution to theatre, burlesque was largely influential in calling attention to the role of women in society. Once considered bawdy or distasteful at its introduction in the late 17th century, performers now consider it empowering and offers a way to explore one’s sexuality in an artistic way.

Jackie Raboin (also known by her stage name Fonda Feeling) is a Boston based burlesque dancer, model, and aerialist. With ten years of theatrical training she can be considered a performing veteran. Her routines range from the classic to the bizarre, using everything from feather boas to vinyl and chains.

Between training and her day job, Ms. Feeling agreed to share her passion with me for TNGG:

What is burlesque?

To me, burlesque is the art of the journey. It started as all parody, and now in “neo-burlesque” it’s mostly striptease, but to me it’s about a lead up–setting up the gag, in terms of pure burlesque, or the tease itself. A huge part of it is keeping the audience guessing, intrigued, surprised, and overall entertained.

How did you come upon starting this as a career?

I actually came across burlesque accidentally. When I thought that one day I would be a “serious actor” I came across a nationwide project called “Naked Girls Reading.” It’s exactly what it sounds like and so much more. The folks running the Boston branch are the Boston Babydolls, so after doing their first show with them they invited me to audition for one of their burlesque shows, and the rest is history. I fell in love.

What do you like about it?

For me it’s a lot about freedom. Sexuality is still largely ‘taboo,’ and burlesque gives a way to explore and expose (pun totally intended). Burlesque can be whatever you want. It can be sultry, sexy, and slow. It can be bubbly and cute. It can be goofy and funny… any combination! You can mix it with whatever music you want, you can tell stories through it. You can combine it with circus art, or with multimedia. Burlesque is whatever you make of it.

In today’s society, women are taught that to be promiscuous or a “slut” is a terrible thing and there are few worse crimes out there. We’re taught to keep our sexuality under wraps, and to let men take care of “business,” as it were.

Having the power of choosing sexual partners, and who you share your body and time with is not only liberating, but self-confirming… Doing burlesque says “I am beautiful, I am sexy, I know it, and I know what I want.

The positives always outweigh the negatives, and I just plain love what I do. Hurt yourself? Walk it off and keep smiling. Heckler? Shut them DOWN and OWN them. Diva? Ignore them and they’ll usually go away. The art is too awesome to let anything get you down.

What does a ‘normal’ burlesque show entail?

A “normal” burlesque show will generally have lots of striptease and a lot of different types of performance. It’s so personal that everyone develops their own style from horror burlesque, more “classic” 1940′s style, funny, political, and even acrobatic. All the acts may have an underlying theme, but in the end performers are all so different and blended.
Right now I’ve been working with Cosplay Burlesque and Geek Girl Productions, both very nerdy, fan-servicy themed groups. With the Boston Babydolls I’ve done more silly, cute acts like French Maids, and dancing for Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys– it’s a free-for-all weirdo fest. We’ll be doing murder-based acts with them for Murder Ballads on Friday at Oberon!

In many parts of the world, burlesque dancers have been called “strippers” and many people have tried to classify them as “sex workers.” Comment?

That’s absolute silliness. There’s a huge difference between taking everything off and flapping in the wind for dollar bills and making actual art. Burlesque is an expression, stripping is entirely different. I’ve met plenty of strippers who want to do burlesque, but it very rarely works the other way around.

What do you do for fun?

God, who has time to do things for fun? Really, I just work on circus stuff for now. Hand balance, fire spinning, stretches… When you do what you love, it’s all consuming and work turns into play.

Photos by Jackie Raboin and Anna Fischer.

Angela Diaco Media & Culture major at Bentley University. Interested in learning as much as possible about film production, writing, PR/Marcom, entrepreneurship, and social media.

View all posts by Angela Diaco

One Response to “The Wonderful World of Burlesque”

  1. Meredith

    If you ever go to Las Vegas, (or if you’ve been) Crazy Horse is an amazing burlesque show.

    I feel nudity is one of the oldest forms of art, and its such a shame that people can see these famous pieces that exhibit the human form (that clearly someone posed for – or studied the body) and think that’s beautiful but then look in disgust at burlesque / stripping. I personally find burlesque dancing an art of the human body in motion and more emotion than a static display.


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