It only took an immaculately coiffed brunette and her two page boys: the lady of the lake was a glittering, almost naked shimmering spectre in a crystal embellished martini glass. It was a pleasant voyeurism to watch her bathing with an olive in (good I hope) champers. As Dita Von Teese, leader of the earthly and heavenly troops alike, definitely not a floozy as I was told all burlesque girls were and the tormentor to tease for all of time and dimensions in space…she swam in her siren pool, it took all but one minute for me to stop me hating my curves and loving my body. Luckily I was embracing my best feature (my eyes so I could see the lady of the lake could we just elect her, lots of us have glittery swords, Strip Strip Hooray and the ABF as our incoming government?!) My Lonely Adventuring (the true blood red) ballet flats have seen some truely glamorous acts of revenge, passion and beauty the last few months from a scarlet rogue to the green fairy queen, the white booted Samurai to the Queen and her heir to the Amazon kingdom, Zaelia Rose. We will be up grading to red heels on her majesty’s account!
So this is long. Very long. I used to date a Guy who had *white man dreadlocks* that were put in professionally, wore grunge-band side burns and t-shirts, played guitar & bass and was still wearing Nirvana style flannel shirts when Dave Grohl had given it up. Keds are awesome though, you can run really fast- and I’m now into flannel shirts- but I’ll always be a Docs girl…
We shouldn’t have worked out but UNE was a small country university and the dating pool was small, I made him watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as thesis research and he introduced me to some great music, like the the Foo Fighters (I bet I would’ve found PMJ first) but maybe not so much Marilyn Manson to my taste. Elmo having a gun was fine, him and Janie…I also found burlesque jazz as I also play clarinet and had been hearing the styles they danced to and resolved to learn some (I’m slow at some promises). That music was permitted by my high school friend group’s subject matter was pretty limited by the boys and listened to most 90s pop music, like I ignore Brittany for you them and love early 2000s Blur Song 2 and the Gin Blossoms! I had catching up to and the Guy educated me and I adore Chili Peppers and Coldplay and NIN if we go that far back. Now it’s VSQ, Pentatonix and PMJ who were amazing here.
So it’s another raining night in Armidale and it’s study or distraction. Marilyn Manson was featured in a copy of Rolling Stone magazine looking bleakly up at me in the alternative radio station on a rainy Monday night but when you studying vampires, anything gothic is *research*on a cold night is better than Feminism and Literature as I flipped through looking for what brand of red lipstick he was wearing as it did it for me as (I’m a Max Factor and Revlon girl). I learned when dating bassists who run metal late night radio shows, you become a music mag reader after running out of science conspiracy rags to discuss Witt deranged fans & run in your keds and think English, that you will become Darkly Dreaming Dexter because every week because all that angry music begins to soundthe same, thank the sky gods for Scott Bradlee). Rolling Stone focussed on the dreary Manson and finally the I found one I had not yet read and in the magazine’s passing text, it me fortunately introduced me to a lady he was courting or had just broken off at the time, a classy act and a celebrity name in her own right as a creative force, Ms. Dita von Teese. She was a bit of a public mystery to be so involved with Manson, was she a dominatrix? Parents worked in an adult book store, my inner bibliophile decided to go exploring?
All I knew was that Dita was also into dance form burlesque with fetish and had notoriety in both. Was Manson just using her for the shock factor (is it stripping and fetish so he seems edgy?!). Ms. Von Teese was the one in control her, holding the reigns: held herself with a confidence Manson never did and as a lady put her hand out and expects it to be taken. As Lorde says, we’ll never be royals, that kind luxe just ain’t for us, we crave a different kind of buzz. Let me be your ruler, you can can me Queen D.Baby we’ll rule, let me live my fantasy. She held herself up like royalty well before Miss Middleton, dressed like a debutante of the silver screen age but how at the same time would she ever do a style of exotic dance that involved caging herself where she was almost entirely naked but you never saw anything explicit at all but long geisha white limbs and her ivory feet. She teased you with beautiful exotic coloured fans like a rare bird of paradise and wore old school glamourised straight silk seamed stockings. The lady despite Manson’s PVC black coat identity crisis she still looked polished when she was lady with the tramp.
When on Manson’s arm, she was 1940s-1950s starlet with undoubdtly the best lipstick I’ve seen! Marilyn and Lizzie Taylor must have taught the diva. Wiggle dresses were a favourite again (Where can I get any of Alex Kingston’s?!!) and the fact she became not just an iconic muse for fashionistas herself but an arbiter of what was in good taste falls from the tree of strange routes and savage gardens …Thankfully, Miss von Teese surpassed Manson in his infamy after their split, the good she has done the world of feminism and in transcending the beauty myth a very favourable way that does acknowledge it but does exist but not the sole rule governing postmodernist feminism or the crusty objections to objectivism like Greer. My conception of gorgeous in high school was that geek girls were excluded because at 14-16 back in high school, I felt I had to make the pivotal decision between being choosing to be naturally pretty and then become interested in make up, pleasing the make gaze by spending hours on hair and scent and cheap disposable Kardashian class fashion or just be quirky & smart witj my boyfriend and his ego, the third person in that relationship but with a super model best friend and my own musician cabaret of sorts (the boys tried to restrict our music which the paper on cabaret probably will address).
I was worse my very long hair in a neat shiny bun, polished school docs (mum gave in again and those shoes got 15 years!), I played clarinet and was usually in perfect uniform except my coat where I hid two Dolomio grins…When I got out of school, cargos and t-shirts and I probably would have copied Rose Tyler and realised my girl bits are awesome …Yet as the next one of our next interviewees, Jennifer Kingwell, has described to me over coffee, that music is honest pursuit for her and will find away to reveal an artist to spite the glitter. I think you’ll find there’s a lot of honesty in the creative process of Anya Anastacia and Jennifer! (We miss you here!)Fast forward to 2005, I remember when I got to UNE and could dress in more than first year black (arts) and then dull green beige, kaki and dark brown (field and cleaning artefacts in archaeology courses and surprise field work) or playing medieval courtesan as a hobby.
I think after 2 years of experimenting I chose cute t-shirts and mini skirts with my boots and for the longest long time, I spent my first year of Newcastle university in 2001 a LDR as Saving Jane’s ‘The Girl Bext Door’. Turns out the boyfriend did want to date “Miss Australia.” But being a Band geek has been useful later on though, hold in there any ordinary girls allowed to read this! Now I do jeans, blazers and T shirts and invest in good coats ladies with scarves. You look like an adult that way! Add glitter like Ms Sapphire Snow says! Or an accessory, I have a great list of markets or providers. I support local and well made. Let me know if this is you!
And then in my very late 20s, flipping at my doctor’s idly, I found a Vogue read about Dita, her body image issues and modification of personality and I remember realised the act of identity and loving myself or body being was a choice. Dita gave women like me, afraid to be themselves, the voice to reclaim ourselves as objects or subjects to our own free will and fashion much the way Cher Madonna has done with similar controversy in their songs into their 50s and beyond. Ms. Von Teese explained to me through the new American burlesque movement that was on the based on the legacy of the old Hollywood beauties, where glamour of women was actually a deliberate creation to empower feminity and feminism under the radar of a time honouring men, masculinity and machismo under and Hemingway’s flashing emerald light at the end of the pier.
The more daring women engaging burlesque as an art form were actually articulating beauty & glamour as illusion to their intelligence; hiding an behind a carefully made up mask of kohl, glitter for camouflage and long lashes of cultivating a very subtle community of creative, intelligent, educated and cheeky women in their own salons, not privy to the patriarchy. So much bettet, especially if it isn’t, definitely wasn’t obvious to the men of the species that these ladies exist to exchange empowerment regularly art and literature. It is a clever power play by the women on the edges of society, who attained power through the manipulation of men but also very risky in the past for some communities. I very much want to devote a post to women of colour like Perle Noire and New Oreleans burlesque but that day isn’t even (though she was the one I tried to imitate when I got home and no more cart wheels for me, maybe I can be a mermaid reviewer?). I look good doing swirly arms since my legs are too injured to dance again, even for fun. Mermaid…
Earlier this year, I was watching (again for the third time) a two season period drama on Netflix that I love, The Paradise, a BBC TV rewritten show of Emile Zola’s work. It’s been reset in the UK, taking place in a fictional shopping store in the Bellé Epoque era called The Paradise and its growth into the modern department store shopping store like David Jones, Myers, Selfridges or Mark & Spencer. It shows the social and class structures such moving from individual commissions in a sales department, independent stores, at a tailor struggling, the creation of a working clas along with the roles of women in private and public spaces, women in bars and movement of wealth from the noble class to merchant class to the working classes. It also introduced the ideas of credit for goods before money was received to the merchant class of creating conditions for unions and the necessities in creating smaller cottage industries to survive.
When I studied experimental archaeology in Leicester in 2004, I did not recognise what I was seeing was a victim of the industrial revolution having to add cottage industries to the estate to supplement every day living such as having to adapt extra daily work to accomodate these secondary home industries from milking, to knitting, making jugs and other ceramics, making sewing supplies like spinning wool and thread, weaving mittens. I studied the button trade in Knighton,near what was on the edges and wealthier due to the Roman presence of Leicester in the Midlands – supposedly always a wealthier suberb because of the traditional oppdia (not that the later Roman roads or via) hurt at all.
I was clueless since Australia’s industrial revolution based on convict labour didn’t look like exactly what I was seeing. The blanks were machine made (better than ones I later saw in Sydney suggesting this wasn’t forced/punished labour with me newer or advanced equipment given Knighton’s socio-economic status) but probably from left overs of a bovine femur but it was hard to tell if it was from a traditionally butchery family or a very large middle class family but I was unable to access all the records for the cottage as the blanks were they were found not in situ but when being gardened. It could’ve been the well to do family who used to maintain the grounds or a second or group of families doing it to supplement their income as a group or even the land owner helping to keep the lands afloat. Not every landlord was terrible like in Outlander but if you’d like some Irish, non-burlesque, check out Susan Arthure’s archaeology blog about the first clachan in Australia: https://dontforgetyourshovel.com/about/
Things from the middle ages were used, recycled and upcycled. Mostly the cottage industry was a woman’s work including changing the wage/salary system but The Paradise also gives its female working like Myrtle characters like the ladies’ department shop girls enough time to see how they adapted to the changes. If you like Upstairs, Down Stairs or Downton Abbey. Four of the female characters are radically different of the show, but both the two main brilliant characters, Denise of Peebles (niece of a tailor who is being pushed out of Main/High Street by the department store), and Clemence of gay Paris (a store buyer and mischief maker who bring fireworks and a dice game known as hazard to England), see the store in the terms of a female gaze in direct opposition to Miss Audrey, head of ladies department, a strict traditionalist until Clemence suggest that a woman can have a career and love, Miss Audrey cannot reconcile the views and chooses love. However this is one of one three possibilities of the world that a woman can take like entrepreneurial Denise – she can marry and give up her promotion to head of ladies wear eventually, take Miss Audrey’s path or the third she chooses. In the beginning, she is embraced by store owner de Moray as a protgree after she is initially encouraged by de Moray (shop keeper) as “his little champion” for several clever ideas that are centred around inventing the woman.
There is a scene when the other girls prank her by putting Denise in a sizes too small but she still sells the dress by describing the dresses to the female gaze and why it makes a lady attractive. The rough until through trial and error with the other women who are liminal or seen to be lesser society,does not wish to marry and settle, often out does him multiple times by playing often to the female gaze to open a new market that ends with her opening a feminine comestic stores; she agrees to marry Moray but only if they will marry as equals. She does well, successfully like Dita by playing to the ladies’s gaze and I think I like it best when Denise tells the other girls her envisioning for ladies night, a table with a man’s hurried caught in a woman’s necklace on her toiletry table next to the new cosmetic cream which Clara suggests they all be be needing the period of a cold shower from the female gaze. On the flip side of it, there is when Denise suggests to the new proprietor dof the local men’s club dress his ladies in delustred red satin (or velvet, I forget) with black lace so that they girls look mysterious in the shadows cast by candlelight using the make gaze carefully as she explains to the shop girls before the men get her, the women will tell them want they want.
This is a creative way of the women fenale empowerment for sure, women as objects guidee by their own choices. What we have is that the women (real, fictional, historical) that got the men to underestimate them time and time again and won the battle of the sexes (see Cersei attain power and Sansa Stark use it in the latest Game of Thrones, I’ve been told she was playing both Jon and Littlefinger). Von Teese just did it by confessing she’d becoming an invented distinctive beauty who was a small town blonde, admitting she was self created in her own right by finding a mentor or two and climbing the Hollywood stairs on her own two elegant feet by practicing and perfecting her art. Really she is spot on in saying there is both choices when you consider Audrey Hepburn’s career after Breakfast at Tiffanys as a secret Nazi defier by doing ballet to raise funds and later worked at the UN as a representative among other achievements over her long career.
These type of women taught me I could create and recreate myself as much as I wanted and for me, names are symbolic and as interesting as as martinis and trying my first gin in two weeks! In Dita was a role model that allowed me to be equally could be both how I wanted to look (punk, cute & quirky back then rather than high class idol) but not deny being dreadfully smart with unusual scholarship choices. That my intelligence was to be valued by the beautiful and interesting people later on as I get older and my looks appreciated when I cultivated them for special occasions appreciate help me to feel more positive about this body I inhabit. And every woman should use both to their advantage and it’s becoming more about gender equality (I wish that debate was more about comfortable in your own skin so you can have boundaries, body positivity for healthy & consent than less about toilets boundaries or hem length telling a young woman her education is less important than male sexual boundaries). I might write about Emma and some other classics mixed with my time studying and Shakespeare but I think we are getting to my limits for today! Buffy and Ovid might be an interesting starting place when Paradise Island and Murder at the Fae Court run by ARC take place very soon! I’ll do my best to the pages up soon but I’ve been unwell so accidentally wrote a personal essay on Burlesque.
It’s only now I’ve found my style -especially in my thirties, that I realise Dita was right about having some mystery about your look, a best fake smile is essential to cultivate and never appear to be the smartest in the room when you are in a room full of brilliant people or you’ll never learn a subdue thing. Dita Von Teese essentially admitted she was a beautiful fabrication that she had essentially and intelligently created herself in a world where created people are celebrated and forgotten by it, she gained entry on her own terms and strengthens women and queer rights.
On June 23/0616, it was the first time I felt my long held ideals on body objectification/subjection (despite my feminist studies screaming NO! It’s the dark side) needed to be re-evaluated, released and renewed. I am surprised by the need to communicate this at a higher education level; that missing is that both male and female gaze is alright within a respected/controlled environment. Burlesque is that teachable moment with consent, rules of etiquette – there is nothing absolutely wrong with admiring beautiful bodies of both sexes whatever your gender. We did until very historically recently see the gaze in a more equivalent way until the reign of Victoria’s mourning and modesty. We need to look at individual modesty and empowerment for young men and women, I keep thinking if men were given body positivity from a young age and taught boundaries and consent, we’d have less angry young men out there with nowhere to go to expose their emotions.
An aside from me, since I mentioned Queen Victoria is that I’m finding interesting in the steampunk revival movements, an authentic eighteenth and nineteenth modesty of dress is played by one core element made by materials that are as accurate as possible; where as the more fantastical elements group can be very be sexy versions of Victorian science fiction design like Sky Pirate or Cyber Punk (or closet but hopefully recognised Whovian).
So after all that theory, I was terribly impressed to be told by the gender neutral MC that Von Teese’s two male entourage are actually also international students taking women’s studies classes at American studies paid for by Von Teese. Surprising progressive and I realised I needed to be progressive too in my out look on my body and judging other women beyond body positivity. I’m not a 2D fuckdoll cut out in weird angular shots abs neither are they despite what we are told what our shortcomings are and I need to embrace what suits me and cultivate my image and encourage other women to do the same for themselves. Lots of scarves and hats I think for me!
So after interviewing my Lonely Archaeology blog’s premier celebrity, Ms Sapphire Snow of Peaches ‘n’ Gin Burlesque, the Adelaide longest running local dance studio (that teaches burlesque along with disco and fan dancing among other skills), I saw Dita was coming to Australia with The Big Teese: Strip Strip Hooray with an Adelaide show show near my birthday and I convinced a certain parental figure that seeing the Queen of the Art of Tease, washing herself naked in champagne in a giant crystal studded Martini glass, with an olive would make me a better person. It actually did. I actually began to stop hating the way I look based on the Tunguska event of last year, there’s still symbolic blood on those ballet slippers from when I crawled out of that Coober Pedy exhibit with expensive taste in Bollinger ($15 a cup is expensive to me!)and my new name (Clara Rosetta) and the blog. I’m still avoiding mirrors like bloody Catriona will jump out at me so let me know if mishaps appear but since I do have nice eyes, I’ve started wearing eye glow make up again and pretty neck accessories, a very good scarf or necklace and I imagine the silk cashmere might actually act like Mongol silk gambersons that made it easier to pull out as the fibres rapped around the fang and if the fang was a double or serrated fang. I’m just weird sometimes and it shows how far you reading! I’m trying Sapphire’s little bit of glitter approach, wear whatever makes you glitter or feel glittery. Yet back to Monster school for this Valkyrie…
What people don’t realise is a single incident, one subjectfication of your body in a negative way despite being greatly for months or years now, I’ll always probably own red shoes that made me realise I was a subject and that guy had thought much of me, but worse, that hadn’t ever thought much of me. Those shoes became objects in a Hodder’s entanglement system to remind me I’m bright but not a bleeding heart subject and I’ve started wearing all of rings I own in rotation when an older guy related to Mr Tunguska said I must be unhappy that I have no bling on my hands (subjectfication score 1; not given to me by a man so I must be easy boundaries wise; assumption 2; when really I’m just clumsy and lethal and not a girl’s best friend with sharply cut stones)… Dita and her ladies made me realise women do glamour for women not Hugh Heffner and Jett Adore (who is a male burlesque dancer I’ll talk about shortly), actually used the art of tease rather than stripping in their acts – in his act, you saw very little but these cute white boots with leg flicks and samurai swords with a paso double cape (for the hell of it?). Mystique was the basis of both acts!
I decided to cultivate the art of my own mystique in my life and wear my rings on a daily basis that a man hasn’t bought me and buy into the cheap art of subjectfication is be happy. The rings are my symbolic boundaries I don’t need sleazy older men who was try to guilt younger women coming into their primes into lowering consent and boundaries. This is why feminism, boundaries, safe spaces, equal opportunity and consent are necessary courses to be taught at high school and I believe burlesque, which is definitely objective to the performer but sexually explicit entertainment, rather than stripping for subjective pleasure, is necessary art form. The local leaders like Dirty Martini, Dita and Jett Adore are doing a great job of defining objectification and consent for both sexes into safe spaces and setting appropriate boundaries between stripping, burlesque & cabaret (and the more politically charged escorts/call girls) on boundaries & consent simply not being there in sexual encounters to protect them. Women aren’t subjects to be bought or sold or chattel. I’m beautiful and you ain’t seen nothing but my brain.
The night after Dita Von Teese, I saw the Australian Burlesque Festival’s I saw the one and only showcase, Shakeorama. This Australia show is the oldest traveling burlesque troupe in the world and included headliner US star, Dirty Martini who established burlesque as a movement in Australia; the ABF organiser, Ms. Dolores Daquiri and inter and national champion, Zelia Rose (she was my favourite). I was thoroughly enchanted by Ms. Sapphire Snow in peach with her fans and our local girls, the Gin House Floozies who looked innocent with their white fans and yet I was definitely thinking of running off with the ABF or Dita. Offer permanently stands but I won’t force you.
What I like about burlesque is that at least in Australia, you may look, you may cheer but the touch boundary is a No-No especially of the performers or masturbation – boundaries and consent again. This I can’t get through enough after some major sleaze work at an engagement I should have stayed in hospital for. And no the rumours are not true, I do not have powers over cake though I tried one. Boundaries would have helped there. If we could teach kids that there is no acceptable touch zone without (minus an accident or emergency), maybe we wouldn’t have this problem where I chose to invite mail friends to things I’m interested in and I’ve gotten that number down to zero in my life. Congratulations, I can take you anywhere dude friends who respect women.
Between the wide range of performances and different styles of dancers in both shows, reinforced my body positivity for me as a former girl who was bought up all tall beach blondes or petite ballet types or a Russian model for a best friend where I had curves and the gifted with Italian cans and hips that love bread, yet I wore neat buns and tea skirts that don’t go over my knees. Then these very beautiful women were openly displaying their bodies without shame, but with their artistic technique skills & talent, looks were secondary to the creative forces of a burlesque mistress and her art form with the exception of removing costumes. This is the science of engineering, seperate to dancing, a creative skill in its own right and I hope to get in a blog post in with a former burlesque dancer who also can sew corsetry. I want to cover as much as you find interesting.
At the ABF, there edge some dancers were proudly fierce as Zelia Rose, I suspect she is descended from a long line of an amazon princesses and I’m going, if she ever offers me a ride in her invisible plane (the lady has the technique of a prima ballerina but the golden flash eyes in the eyes of a tigeress). Or serpentine numinous acts inspired by Medusa because as mentioned earlier, in new burlesque and modern cabaret movement, there is a world inhabited by intelligent and articulate women on the edge of society as it always has been which translates into creating this performances. I’ll be interviewing one of these burlesque intellectuals next week I hope, Ms Ivy Ambrosia, who studied honours with me. It’s going to be a long article if I’m lucky because she’s brilliant, talented and sharp witted. And much smarter than I am, so I’ll have to get my research prepared for the green goddess!
At the Big Teese, there was actually an internationally reknowned male performer known as Jett Adore who dances with his own troupe so this artwork isn’t just limited to female burlesque performers. He creates an issue for me earlier that week when I accused a Facebook celebrity known simply for her pictures as something not flattering, along the lines of Facebook eye lingerie under the Kardashian effect, to/dr famous for being famous but no talent except but looking attractive. So Jett Adore messed with my ideas of male and female gazes (sociocophilia) as we’ve been trained in contemporary age of post feminism that both male and females have been trained to automatically assume the male perspective and creating the woman as subject. Jett Adore subverts the idea of gaze by becoming both for male and female as do many of the other dancers.
Now I don’t agree objection of male or female bodies in artistic and creative spaces is was innately evil/deviant/unnatural force of human nature. I’m beginning to think there isn’t enough balance in feminist scholarship or post modernism thought that female subjection is the problem, not objectification in the arts and humanities. The idea of objectification paired with consent, body respect and a safe space, gaze and admiration not are not a negative space in the arts, humanities and creative industries. This has been a long post but in the next fortnight we have the SA Burlesque and Club Burlesk before Flinders university goes back for me!
More details about Miss Burlesque SA here.
More details about Club Burlesk July here.
For more intro on classes or the above events, Peaches ‘n’ Gin Studio about Burlesque: http://www.peachesngin.com/
Clara Rosetta, 07/07/16