Recently I rolled down to Volupte burlesque club in central London to review the show for MTV Staying Alive... I know what some of you are thinking - what's that got to do with MTV, and did I really need to be asked twice?
Of course not, free show, free three course meal and a bottle of wine on the house - who you kidding, I'd do it all again just for the hospitality of it. Though aside from those frivolous reasons, I was repping MTV Staying Alive to debate to what extent was the showcase gender empowering (as part of their 'Battle of the Sexes' series) - and how much of it was just tassels and sleaze. My fellow journalist Claire Shrophall joined me to pass her own perspective on the matter.
This is how it all went down. Happy Valentines reading my people:
Dita Von Teeses, tassels, and skin… perhaps what a first-timer would expect from a burlesque spectacle. On February 3, at central London’s Volupté burlesque cabaret club I got no Von Teese, but expectations were ultimately blown out the glittery water…
The lights dimmed, and out came three vibrant, show-stopping acts; Chinese New Year themed performances, “vintage cabaret with an Asian fusion”. The lush food provided by Volupté took a place on the sidelines as I was fully engaged (and completely distracted) by the traditional Chinese dance styles, attire and belly dancing; gyration so close to our table in the intimate venue that they practically shook our wine glasses.
Make room for Marianne Cheesecake (no, not our dessert, but headlining compare for the night). Therein laid the flip to any preconceptions, as Marianne gave up some time after her stunning solo piece to speak of her love for the beautiful and empowering entity that is burlesque.
Passionate and professional pretty much sums up the starlet; having studied in acting, improvisation, clowning and other arts in Toronto before skipping to the UK in 2004 to focus on a job she finds “fun, fulfilling and refreshing”. Is burlesque empowering I asked: “Yes, in all aspects; from the hair style to the make up, costumes and choreography, it’s my choice, my own… I have the creative control.”
What about the ‘sleaze’ perception I hear some naysayers say. The audience in Volupte was respectful no doubt, with a mixture of male and females in applause, including the odd drunk-head shouting “Arriba Arriba!” (Chinese New Year guys, not Mexico Independence Day). But on any occasion a heckler wastes their time to objectify and suppress these women (very, very rare in Volupte), as my friend Jacqueline Campbell (feminist, activist and writer) says, “There has to be some middle ground between suppressing sexuality completely and exploitation, allowing both men and women free choices to indulge in whatever practices they find fulfilling…”
And with men and women in the audience, and on stage in other shows (male burlesque performance being called boy-lesque by Marianne), it seems gender empowerment doesn’t even need to be the issue if the presence of respect and fulfilment is reciprocal. “Come see a show. Don’t misinterpret, or stereotype it” Ms Cheesecake says. “Burlesque is an evolving, always expanding art that keeps me and the audience alive.”
To read the full MTV Battle of The Sexes column, along with Claire's views, click here.