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Fans of Faith and Mindfulness

Not gonna lie… after reading about Faith Bacon’s untimely end I got a little choked up with the wings.

I watched Behind the Burly Q on Netflix (amazing, by the way) and one of the dancers described the abject despair and revulsion she felt during her first performance when she looked into the audience and saw the men in the front row masturbating. The burlesque back in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s was, more often than not, exploitative. The dancers were often poor, mistreated, and desperate.

And yet, the burlesque of today looks so empowering– the performers seem to have real agency. I have no hesitation seeing burlesque as an art form. The documentary A Wink and a Smile, also on Netflix (also amazing), suggests that contemporary burlesque upends the more traditional dancer as sexualized object. Instead, the dancer is performing her sexuality through her burlesque persona, a character of her own creation that she uses to articulate the dynamics of agency and desire. It makes me think that the contemporary burlesque dancer is fiction in motion.

I wonder though if it’s possible to perform and not feel some degree of shame. I’m not suggesting that there is anything intrinsically shameful about burlesque or stripping: it’s a specific part of American culture that created the stigma and labels it shameful– that’s the same cracked culture that slut-shames pop stars and victims of sexual violence. Maybe people just can’t perform anything, even day to day life, with out some degree of shame.

The yogic practice of mindfulness, nonjudgmental self-awareness, is one way to approach transcending shame while fully inhabiting the body. Mindfulness travels well, so I imagine then that anything done mindfully could liberate and embody. Writing, eating, walking, singing, surfing…. dancing, too, I bet, especially if that dance includes giant feather fans. Who could possibly feel bad with feather fans? Well… nevermind. Obviously many people can and do, Miss Bacon included. We need mindfulness and fans, together, I suppose.

This is why I like the direction burlesque is going in: 1. it’s gender and trans gender friendly, 2. it’s more racially diverse and allows dancers of color to reclaim symbols that have been used to exoticize, 3. It’s creative and glamorous and kitch all at once, 5. costumes, and 6. It’s about choosing how, when, and how much to perform the inescapable. It’s important to note too that not all the early burlesque dancers in Behind the Burly Q described their work as shameful. Quite a few of them found fame and money and felt a lot of pride in their talents and resourcefulness during a tough time in American history. That felt good to hear. With all this in mind, and without disregarding anyone’s experience, perhaps the burlesque of yesteryear may take on a new meaning, or at least another aspect, too.

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Faith Bacon performs “Dance of Shame” (sexuality is complicated)

Looking up some old burlesque acts and stumbled upon this gem: Faith Bacon, delicate veil work, and tiny sparkly pasties and thong. Miss Bacon was once known as America’s most beautiful dancer, but her life came to a tragic end when she jumped out of the window of her hotel room in 1956.

I used to dance with veils back when I did traditional Romani dance and traditional Middle Eastern belly dance– it was always my favorite, but it can be very tricky. I’ve been tangled in my fair share of chiffon and silk, and I felt like an awkward fish in a net that was far too good for me. And I wore a lot more clothes than Miss Bacon. A LOT more clothes. And even with two skirts on I was still nervous as hell. I am so impressed by how confident and comfortable she looks in this performance– her expression is as relaxed and warm as a velvet fainting couch. And yet, it’s the “Dance of Shame.” Burlesque means parody… perhaps she’s parodying the very notion of bodily shame.

I like it.

Haitian Fashion in the 1950’s: rocking those skirts and hats!

For a small scene, I wanted to look up some popular Haitian fashion from the 1950s, especially for well-to-do young women. I came across this delightful site kreyolicious.com that has loads of beautiful pictures of Haiti through the ages. It was even better than I imagined, and I have a very pretty imagination, so I had to share. Goodness, I love when research takes me exactly where I need to go.

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Miss Haiti 1959-1960 Claudinette Fouchard, the daughter of anthropologist and scholar Jean Fouchard. Damn, girl!

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Haitian teens enjoying the day. Look at that hat! That skirt!

Photos from kreyolicious.com

Quail Bell Photo Tale: “Free Spirits”

 

I don’t know how I forgot to mention this on here, but I’m very honored to be in Quail Bell’s Photo Tale “Free Spirits” as the poet and model. There are so many things that I love about Quail Bell Magazine— it’s a fantastically beautiful indie lit and art mag that ranges feminism to the surreal, and these photo tales are such A GREAT IDEA! Fashion, diversity, and poetry should always be together. And I’m especially stoked because Quail Bell let me explore my two favorite things: Romani fashion fusion and complicated identity.

This is especially dear to me because “Gypsy” fashion shows up a lot in magazines and usually trades on offensive and misguided stereotypes about the culture, and usually doesn’t acknowledge that it is a culture at all. This is an utterly depressing state of affairs. So thank you, Quail Bell, for being progressive and delightful, and for letting me be a part of something I love. 

Photo Credit: Christine Stoddard, photographer and Quail Bell Editor extraordinaireImage