I chatted with Diamond Minx, a metro Vancouver burlesque performer. She gave me a history lesson and answered burning questions about the fine art of burlesque.
She told me all about the Neo-burlesque community, a movement to bring back the art of burlesque. Burlesque goes back to 1800s, though what most people think of as "Burlesque" is usually the elegant striptease of the 40s and 50s. The word burlesque comes from the Italian term for "mockery" and often includes political and social satire and humor.
Diamond explained what's exciting for her is how female driven burlesque is. There are female performing artists working with female producers, costume designers, and choreographers. There are few other performance styles where you get to artistic direct all parts of your performance. Actors get scripts and costumes are provided -- and directors tell them what they want the performance to look like. It's a group effort. Burlesque allows the artist to display him or herself the way they want to appear on stage.
She loves how Neo-burlesque embraces a wider view of beautiful and sexy. It's not just what the performer looks like but what they bring to the performance. A strong performer is entertaining no matter their size, and personality is extremely important. It's subversive for women of whatever size, shape or age, to get on stage and say, "I'm sexy and let me show you how". It's a worldwide movement that celebrates the allure of humour and drama.
We discussed the importance of body diversity in the burlesque community. Women appreciate seeing other women like them on stage. It's powerful to be an example to women who don't match what fashion magazines say a woman should look like and celebrate a spectrum of sexy. Body diversity is about not putting anyone down on either side of the scale.
She spoke of the frustration felt by slender women looking at memes that say real women have curves. "Real women have whatever they want. There's too much negativity and we need to be supportive. Body diversity in burlesque lets all women know there is a place for them."
Diamond was a professional stilt walker and fire performer in the past. In her early 30s she developed back problems and was tired of just being the pretty thing that walked by at festivals. She wanted to be the focus on stage and to put forth a performance that made a statement. She was never shy and enjoyed being her own artistic director, so burlesque was a perfect fit.
I asked her what people get wrong when they imagine life as a burlesque performer. She laughed and said, "They assume we make more money than we do. There's a saying: exotic dancers make money, burlesque performers pay for their costumes." She also spoke of misconceptions in the nuances between modern stripping and neo burlesque, though they share the same historical roots and are both valid art forms. One of the major differences is that burlesque challenges sexist norms, and perceptions of gender, sexuality, and "a woman's place".
We discussed a recent high profile case where a performer was rejected based on her size. I asked if she had experienced this herself. Diamond explained while she has experienced similar things, it's rarely so blatant. She attributes it to the balancing act between celebrating the gender and body diversity that is one of the cornerstones of the Neo-burlesque community and marketability as our art form gains a larger, more mainstream audience.
As for her relationship, Diamond's husband is a performer, so he has a passion of his own. They are mutually supportive and he enjoys her stage joy. For Diamond, dancing is like breathing.
I asked about her body image. She told me, "My body doesn't look the way I want it to, but life is too short to wait until tomorrow to do the things I enjoy. I won't let dissatisfaction with my size stop me from expressing myself as fully as I can."
Diamond's idol is Mae West and she models her view of the world around her. Mae West was the highest paid female actress at 40 when she broke into Hollywood, short and curvy and not conventionally pretty. She had such confidence and attitude; she demanded attention. She was like "But of course I'm the most wonderful thing you have ever laid eyes on." She exemplified working with what you've got even if it's not what's in the magazines. Diamond's burlesque name is in honor of Mae West's most famous character -- Diamond Lil.
If you're interested in seeing Diamond perform with her group of amazingly talented and body diverse performers, you can catch her in New Westminster on May 22 at 8pm at the Columbia Theatre and get tickets here.
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