What do you think of when you think of burlesque?
Sitting in a café in town drinking ice tea and a latte, would you know that I was sitting for an hour chatting to a local woman about her profession of burlesque performance? Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Scarlett Flame- burlesque artiste, fire performer, model and muse. Scarlett Flame- university graduate, Mensa member, part of the community, lovely woman.
The art of burlesque is met with such a suspicious attitude that even in today’s comparatively open society little progress has been made towards understanding what it really is about. And that is what it ultimately boils down to- people just don’t really understand what it is all about.
Trained in ballet since the age of three and inspired and adopted by a circus family- where belonging and difference are the same thing- Scarlett learnt all she knows from her ring mistress mother.
“Burlesque and cabaret is all the skills of the circus, for grown-ups. I’d put off doing it for years, doing normal jobs, but they are not for me.”
Burlesque means something different to everyone, from performer to spectator, and everyone gets something unique out of it.
Scarlett loves all things dark and glamourous, using her “always been a bit if a goth” mentality and her love of punk to shape her burlesque persona and image. With modern attitudes proving that it is okay to desire sex and pleasure that is fun and glamourous, we could say that people are becoming more and more open about how they feel.
Why then can Scarlett’s profession be viewed so negatively? And why does she continue regardless?
“You can’t be offended until you’ve seen it”. Scarlett sticks to her ‘When Show Girl Meets Bad Girl’ style despite the consequential stigma.
Flaming Tease, her burlesque and cabaret show, has grown to shows outside of Stirling due to her determination and persistence.
“It is about pushing the boundaries of what society think. Scarlett will not be told what to do. For some it is still unacceptable for women to say what they think.”
Men still have an issue with the fact that I am strong and a business woman.
“It is sad but true. I can’t have a brain because of what I do. I was accepted into Mensa at fourteen. Art still stretches you mentally.
When I am on stage I am outspoken, untouchable. I often get asked about getting hit on in clubs: I never get hit on in clubs- men are too scared of a woman who is in control.
Already it seems that there is not just more to the art of burlesque itself, but to the people who practice it. Burlesque is giving people across the world the confidence they may never have otherwise achieved.
“I am painfully shy when I am not on stage. I have a huge issue with anxiety, but that completely changes on stage.”
Scarlett doesn’t have any of that so it doesn’t matter. I have worked with women who have come to me to find that confidence, and the confidence to have a voice and an opinion in the world.
“People will always have an opinion. We are an easy target. And burlesque gets a bad rep because of it.”
The burlesque scene in general is one of the most welcoming at the moment, and becomes tighter and more supportive the more judgemental the rest of society may view them.
“It is a weirdly fantastic community, where difference is appreciated. It doesn’t matter if you are tall, short, fat, skinny, it is all about the fact that everyone is welcome.
And we all love being on stage. Everyone always brings new ideas. It is just fun.”
Gender, body or shape doesn’t matter in burlesque either- it about the magic of the performance and the story that it is telling.
“I’ve met performers who bill themselves as genderless, where the audience can work out who they are if they want to.This acceptance has always been there, it is just since the pressure groups and the media have pushed this sort of thing to the foreground that it has become known. In the industry nobody cares what you do off stage.”
But why then, if it is such a skilled, friendly and positive professional environment, does it still get a bad rep?
“At Flaming Tease we have male burlesque dancers who want to work for us. But the problem we still face at Flaming Tease is that society taboo- how will the people react? In Stirling ,stripping is not well received. We get new people to each show and we have to ease them in or otherwise they would not come back.”
Stirling tends to be more closed about burlesque and other various types of performances than Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Scarlett and her fellow performers having to fight to get acceptance in Stirling.
At her first show in Stirling the venue only allowed a female audience in case men enjoyed themselves.
“I have not faced this anywhere else. It is something I am determined to change. Castle Leisure, the owners of Fubar, don’t see anything outrageous in what we do. They fight our corner.
Originally from Nottingham, Scarlett moved to Stirling to study Film and Media and English. Like most of us, it was a case of not really knowing what she wanted to do and thus picking something she was interested in and good at.
After university, she had jobs working with young offenders and victims of sexual abuse and got into burlesque after modelling for a friend at a body painting competition, but never told colleges.
“I was at the Women’s Sexual Abuse Crisis Centre in Paris and my trade was not frowned upon. But in Britain it is more so. Britain are really funny about it, whereas Germany and Austria, for example, it is not really an issue. Britain even has an issue with body painting because of the element of nudity, whereas in Austria it is a family day out, and the nudity is incidental.”
This is just like burlesque.
Sadly, Scarlett decided to give up the work with young offenders after her bosses were not happy when they found out what she did on the side.
“I will leave then, as I am not going to give up what I love.”
As a whole it seems that the people of Britain see burlesque performance as exploitation of women, not empowerment.
We are not being exploited by stripping on stage- some men can’t get their head around that. If anything we are exploiting you by selling you tickets. Burlesque can be a feminist thing- we do it for our own amusement. It is about producing art for the sake of producing art, just like a singer will perform without a record label and an artist will sit at home and paint.
Ultimately, it seems evident that a lot of people do not get the message behind burlesque.
The message that it is okay to be different; to have your own style; to push boundaries; to have a voice; and to have confidence in yourself.
Burlesque is an art, and the performers and artists are normal people who have found their community and their niche. It is a shame that this niche is viewed so negatively, but people like Scarlett will continue to work to ensure that attitudes change.
And if they don’t, well she will continue loving what she does regardless.