I’ve never been a fan of strip clubs. Sometimes, the sleaziness is what makes it fun, but mostly, they’re dingy and expensive, and they make me feel desperate. However, I try not to hold fast to this perspective, as I know many people who enjoy stripping and I often hear talk about how “stripping is empowering for women.”
I think it’s important to keep an open mind, but I still can’t help but wonder: how is taking off your clothes possibly empowering? There had to be some reasoning—I just couldn’t deconstruct it.
I was checking out the upcoming city events calendar, and noticed that the Toronto Burlesque Festival was on that same weekend. I figured: close enough!
Before the show, Sauci Calla Horra, the Founder and Executive Producer of the Festival, admitted to me that burlesque is relatively PG-13 in comparison to stripping.
“There’s a lot of sexual content in it and obviously we’re disrobing, but nothing too raunchy,” she told me.
I know I said I’m not a fan of strip clubs, but still I hoped this wouldn’t be too tame.
Luckily, I spent the next few hours watching aerial acrobats hang from ribbons with tassels on their tits, flailing dicks and people basically fucking on stage.
Sauci tells me you can find more provocative content in a music video or bus shelter.
But I had just watched a man light a torch on fire with his cock. Would anyone really want to bring their 13 year old to one of these shows?
Sauci is right though; our society is a bit of a sexual whirlpool. Besides, burlesque dancers usually keep their bits covered, so in a technical sense, it is relatively mild.
In a society of kill counts, tinder hookups, and girls posing doggy style in designer shoe ads, I can see how kids can get the wrong idea of what it means to live in a society of acclaimed sexual freedom.
Rather than feeling comfortable with our bodies and with a healthy perspective on something as natural as sex, teens grow up using it to satisfy insecurities, or as a form of elevation.
Sauci told me about how she got into burlesque, “I think before I was feeling a bit divorced from my sexuality. This [burlesque] puts it into the forefront. I decided to pay more attention to this part of myself. Opposed to not thinking about it, or worse, hyper focusing on sex.”
It’s like alcohol: in high school, the kids who would get carried away in ambulances were always the ones with overly strict parents. Those with more experience approached drinking comfortably within their limitations.
“Maybe it’s more artsy and part of a show… but you’re still ultimately taking off your clothes,” she told me.
But still, the difference remains. People of all shapes, sizes, and genders perform burlesque, the audience being populated almost completely by females and couples. It’s more about a sexual celebration, where as stripping is more about satisfying a carnal instinct with a five-dollar bill.
In terms of objectification and standardization of beauty, stripping and burlesque are polar opposites. Burlesque is sex as expression. Stripping is sex as transaction.
In terms of taking your clothes off, I think that Sauci is right “It instills confidence. Everyone wants to feel attractive. It’s human nature.” She continues, “Really good performers connect really well with their audience and make them feel special, which is a wonderful skill – a great service for humanity,”
In the end, I think that sex is a controversial tool, which grows increasingly dull with each swing of the axe. Sure, sex can be spiritual and serious. But sometimes like burlesque, perhaps, we just need to hump each other the way a dog humps a pillow.