Sunday, 24 January 2010

Reading and research... and trying not to look dodgy in the process.

Dear Heart,
As well as my less than graceful first foray into ballet lessons I decided a book might help me. As my day job is in a library, I was already in the right place! Scouring the shelves for something that would help me with my practice at home, I found 'The Ballet Book - A Young Dancer's Guide' by Andrew Ptak.

Now, I am clearly not a 'young' dancer (especially by ballet's standards) but it was the only one with pictures of the different positions and techniques so I snapped it up. It did however, make me feel a little odd looking at it in public places. This highly visual tome was published in 1984, long before we, as a country, were all hysterical that even our own grandmother could be a paedophile waiting to lure sweet faced little tykes off to 'look at some puppies'. I have to say, it felt very strange to be openly looking at photo after photo of a little girl in a leotard demonstrating her flexibility. Still, it can't be as strange as some of the instructions I saw online where the model was a male dancer (perhaps in his twenties) with a tight leotard and a huge, shall we say, 'talent'.

Whether renting this book and risking my colleagues thinking I am interested in funny business with children will pay off and improve my dancing is yet to be seen but at least it means I can study the positions in my own time instead of desperately scrabbling to pick them up at class. Knowledge is power. Hopefully.

Earlier in the week I also had the pleasure of expanding my mind vis a vis burlesque by reading an enthralling MA thesis:

"The Fantasy of Real Women"
New Burlesque & The Female Spectator

by Emily Lane Fargo.

This article came to my attention through the MoB forum and a link posted by talented burlesque performer and all-round clever clogs Glorian Gray (to download a PDF of the thesis - and you should! - go here: )

I was so enthralled by this paper that I flew throught the nigh-on one hundred pages in no time. It discusses burlesque in the context of gender in a totally accessible way and reading a lot of what the author's sources said about burlesque and gender identity played out through performance really struck a chord with me. I felt so validated reading this that it has actually made me consider resurrecting an idea for an act that I had previously put to one side as I thought there would not be an audience for it.
I felt this thesis pinpointed for me a few thoughts that I had kind of been on the cusp of but had not quite been able to completely access, especially with regard to the concept of the burlesque aesthetic being about obvious artifice, creating beauty while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that it is not real.

As a teen and a younger woman I always felt that there was something fundamentally different between people like me and the 'beautiful people', it never occurred to me that the difference might just be powder and paint (and photoshop, and hair extensions, and shapewear and...). Burlesque shows you something beautiful but makes it blindingly obvious that the beautiful thing is not really real - reminding us that no beautiful thing is ever really what it seems. And I think that's a good thing. It doesn't devalue beauty in the world, it just makes the process more evident and reminds people that beauty is not solely the privledge of the born-beautiful.

In short, I think this essay is a must for anyone who is interested in how burlesque has come to be what it is in terms of gender and what this means for performers and their audiences. It also has an interesting section on alt-porn giants the Suicide Girls which I found quite enlightening.

So after all this exercise of the old grey matter I am going to go and do something mind-coddling (probably work on my patchwork quilt and watch some catch up TV).

'Til next time!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Bally-Nuisance

After a year where burlesque was securely fixed on the back burner (while I tried and repeatedly failed to attain a driving licence, finally passing on my fifth attempt at the end of November) I decided that January would be the start of a more serious focus on burlesque.

I had decided some months ago that once I had my new wheels I would take the opportunity to take a class that would help me in my endeavours as a performer. In the end I was torn between taking a dressmaking class to improve my costume making skills or taking a dance class to improve my grace, poise and movement onstage. The decider for me was performing on a bill with two very talented performers, Dani California and the inimitable Beatrix von Bourbon. Seeing these two move (each in their own way) across the stage with every gesture flowing flawlessly into the next, always in perfect control of their body, with no hint of stumble or fumble I felt like a clod-hopping klutz by comparison.

Now, anyone who has seen me perform knows that my acts are not particularly dance based. I tend more often to use pantomime and facial expressions connected with 'movement' rather than dance per se, however, watching these performers so in control of their bodies, so perfectly comfortable and fluid made me realise that, for a performance that is more pleasing to the eye, and more comfortable to perform it would be really useful for me to take some dance lessons and the general consensus was that ballet would be the best choice. My sister came with me as she loves to dance and has fancied giving ballet a go for some time.

So last night was ballet class number one. I was nervous. Partly I was nervous because the class was in a village about twenty minutes drive away and this would be my longest drive unsupervised by someone with driving experience. Mainly I was nervous that I would be the worst in the class. The drive turned out to be fine, but my nerves about the class itself had some justification. Although I do not have two left feet exactly I do have really poor spatial and bodily perception and issues with left and right. I find that once I have made a movement myself I can replicate it again without any trouble but looking at someone else and trying to copy their movements and the shapes they make is tricky for me for some reason. I can see what they are doing but I find that hard to relate to my own body. It's not just movement, if I have to copy a pose from a photograph it seems to take me longer than most to translate the image to myself and make the same pose. I see the basic shapes but often confuse which arm/leg should be doing what and which direction each part should be pointing in. So this was always going to be a challenge for me.

We began with barre exercises. So far, so good. I am nowhere near as flexible as a lot of my classmates and I sometimes found I was doing the exercise with the wrong leg at the wrong time, but essentially I felt I was keeping up. The teacher and the other ladies were friendly and welcoming and it felt like a non-judgemental space where it was ok if I made a mistake. The came the proper dancing. The teacher led us through a couple of short and theoretically simple combinations. They were not simple to me! After a couple of tries it became clear I would need to abandon any attempts at the graceful, balletic arm movements and just focus on my feet for now - they needed all the help they could get! I found it so hard to find the rhythm of the steps (normally not a big problem for me) and although I could see a bent knee or a straight leg with pointed toe I found it difficult to translate even one static position from the dance to my own physical position- moving from one to the next, and in time, I found impossible. Some of the other women in the class were clearly inexperienced too but I felt that I was lagging quite obviously behind.

At the end of the class the teacher came and chatted with my sister and me for a few minutes, even complementing Sis on her turnout (she has been practicing!). Despite the fact that I was quite clearly more Mavis the Fat Fairy than Sugar Plum Fairy I felt positive about the lesson and hope that if it's hard then that means the improvement it will make to my movement on the burlesque stage will be all the more marked when I finally do master some of these techniques. I am looking forward to returning next week and Sis and I are even considering going to the Modern class they run beforehand to really make the most of the resource.

So that was my first ballet class. As my Grandad used to say when Sis and I used to twinkle our toes around the room doing make believe dances 'Ballet dancer? More like a bally-nuisance!' But hopefully with time this clunky-duckling might evolve into something a little closer to a swan.

'Til next time!

Welcome to my blog

Welcome Chaps and Chapettes to the blog belonging to me, Emerald Ace, Nottingham's most rubber-faced burlesque performer.
I have started this blog as, after over four years performing burlesque, I want to up my game, learn some new skills and raise my own personal bar for performance and creation of acts. As part of this I have decided blog my experiences along the way on my quest for burlesque self-improvement.
I hope that my musings on this and the record I will keep of my exploits as I attempt to become a better burlesquer will be of interest to other performers and maybe even to burlesque afficionados.