Burlesque PH Battles Taboo Through Storytelling & Sexuality
Manila/ Vibe/ Pop Culture

Why ‘Burlesque is a Revolution’ According to its Performers

AN H 1 Photo by Burlesque Philippines

Dance has always been a popular art form. But for a conservative country such as the Philippines, certain styles have yet to be embraced with open arms. With a particularly outspoken religious sector, artists and creatives often tread carefully around expressions that may be deemed “too provocative.”

Enter, Burlesque Philippines, a dance troupe that – while mindful of the cultural context – is both political and rebellious.

“I think at its core, burlesque is a revolution,” said Antoinette Noir, President and Artistic Director of Burlesque Philippines. “Even with the glamorous, elegant shows that we do, [I think] just being a woman in the Philippines, taking her clothes off and choosing to do so, is an act of rebellion in and of itself.”

Burlesque is a revolution
Courtesy of Burlesque Philippines

So why, then, do it? Why earn the ire of titas around the country or tiptoe around the cultural norms that have gotten multiple artists arrested for “blasphemous” artistic expression? While each dancer may have his or her own reasons, for Antoinette, it was simply due to the art’s empowering nature.

“What drew me to [burlesque] was the body-positive nature of it,” she shared. “I saw performers that didn’t necessarily conform to what was commercially considered attractive. They came in all shapes and sizes, and they were able to go out there and show that this is still sexy.”

In fact, burlesque – which is typically thought of as a purely feminine art form – is welcoming everyone. All genders, all sexualities, and all types of people are welcome. In other countries, people with disabilities have also been known to draw a crowd to the stage.

Burlesque is an inclusive art form
Courtesy of Burlesque Philippines

Ultimately, what ties the troupe together, despite their diversity, is their passion for storytelling. That is what burlesque is at its heart. It’s not about selling sex, but about selling a story.

“When you watch a burlesque show, we don’t perform for the audience’s gaze. What you see on stage is our fantasy,” shared Antoinette.

In burlesque, the power dynamic between dancer and audience is vastly different from other types of performances. For one, dancers in burlesque are allowed to touch audience members, not the other way around. They dictate the reality of what one sees on stage.

“We don’t try to fit into an audience’s fantasy,” Antoinette mentioned.

A portrait of a dancer
Courtesy of Burlesque Philippines

But does the sexual connotation of burlesque ultimately hurt the storytelling? There’s no doubt that imaginations are tickled with thoughts of sex and sexuality, but one wonders how that bias affects the onstage performance and how people view it.

“Burlesque was really just comedy, you know,” shared Antoinette. “Shakespeare was considered burlesque at the time. It was theatre for the masses and a lot of [the] time it was satire.”

According to Antoinette, burlesque developed its sexual connotations through its satirical view of noblewomen, ballerinas, and even strippers. As it evolved, burlesque married this sensuality with a cheeky playfulness that now allows for the art’s ostentatiousness. Today, it can even be considered political.

A portrait of a burlesque dancer
Courtesy of Burlesque Philippines

“Burlesque is also holding truth to power,” Antoinette enunciated. “It’s holding a mirror up to society, and I think it’s important to get to that point where we can criticize society and poke fun at it.”

Therefore, when watching a burlesque show, it’s important to look beyond the overt sexuality. “Definitely, we’re pushing for sex positivity,” shared Antoinette. “But if we have a show that’s not necessarily sexual and is maybe more funny than it is sexual, we’d like that to be considered also. The hope is that people get the message [we’re trying to send], sexual or otherwise.”

In many ways, performing burlesque parallels life lessons we learn as we go through our own journeys. In order to make the most of it, you’ve got to be free of inhibitions. In order to be brave, to get up on stage, and to be vulnerable to a host of strangers, you have to simply take that leap.

“You’re never going to be confident enough to go up there and take your clothes off,” joked Antoinette. “So it’s just a matter of doing it anyway: going out there, doing your best, and hopefully next time, your knees shake a little less.”

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