21 March 2016

Strip, tease

When the day is long and the night is mine alone, I fantasize about performing a striptease for a guy I fancy. He can be a friend’s friend, an almost lover, or the boy on TV. I dream up yellow lights and faint music. I picture awe, wonder and hunger in his face. I also imagine a different self: me but not quite like me — someone limber, leaner, with flawless, poreless skin.

Any person who claims to have zero body image problems is lying. Youth is no guarantee of perfection and adulthood does not come with a kinder attitude towards oneself. Self-help articles, another’s affirmation, and the acceptance of people who matter can take away this doubt (and to an extreme, disgust) we harbor against our bodies. And sometimes watching others move so comfortably in their skin, doing what you wouldn’t expect them to, allows you to look at yourself with more loving eyes. Such is the case with burlesque.

Last February, DopeLoco brought Manila its first neo burlesque show, Eyes Wide Shut. For those who haven’t seen burlesque in their lives or have no idea what it is, producer Shaun Hines assures us that Eyes Wide Shut is the real deal — at least a version of it: “Burlesque comes in different forms as far as the way that the story is told. Sometimes it’s very comedic, sometimes it’s satirical, sometimes it’s more theatrical,” he says. It’s nothing like the “burles” we grew up with (nudity for nudity’s sake). Shaun further explains, “Burlesque is artful striptease that’s done for a woman to take control of her own sexuality, take pride in her body and who she is, put her talent to great use, and to tell a story.”

We hear this all the time. Owning who you are — warts, cellulites, jiggly arms and all. But oftentimes they’re said by people we don’t recognize: those whose faces grace the covers of magazines and all we could think of is, “Easy for you to say.” In Eyes Wide Shut, the men and women don’t say but rather dance the message. Truth is, the most shocking part of the show for me was when women whom we’d peg as either “too thin,” “too heavy,” or “too ordinary-looking” to do anything remotely sexy come out as the most seductive individuals in the room, unmasking their faces and uncovering themselves in front of strangers. As Shaun says, they’re in control of their bodies — and, I must add, the audience.

A warning to those awaiting nudity: It’s not that kind of show. “It’s really just meant to be a tasteful and artful exploration of sexuality in storytelling,” says Shaun. The performers strip off their garments, one piece at a time, and just when you think (or hope) that the performance will culminate with the dancers removing every last item of their clothing, they instead offer a complex dance routine, a surprise trick, or a twist in the story.

What Eyes Wide Shut taught me is that burlesque is one event where the body can be at its most eloquent and dignified. It’s a pleasure to watch a dance, to follow a story, to witness drama, and to be teased. Burlesque is a fusion of all these, the body at its center.

“I feel like this city is ready for it despite popular belief,” shares Shaun, referring to the show’s reception on its first night. “We had an amazing audience here for a first-time burlesque show.” The third and final Eyes Wide Shut performance will be on April 2 at The Gallery at A Space, Makati City (tickets here). If you’re interested but are not quite sure on how to behave during the performance, Shaun has a few reminders:

1) The main thing is to have respect. Again this isn’t a strip club.

2) It’s very much okay to throw money. A lot of these peformers, they don’t make a lot of money and they spend a lot on wardrobe. It is encouraged for the audience to tip.

3) You’re supposed to cheer, to howl, to encourage them. But always in a respectful manner.

4) And the number one rule is to not touch them. It’s not that type of place. It’s not that type of event.

Shaun envisions a beginning of a community. “Manila Burlesque is something that the performers really want for other people to get involved in one way or another,” he shares, adding that Burlesque 101 workshops are in the works. To know more about them, visit facebook.com/ManilaBurlesque. “We’ll start doing announcements there and anyone that’s interested, please reach out and just keep in mind that this is about owning who you are, being comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have to be a model.”


A striptease playlist:

—Originally published on GIST

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