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!

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