Writing by Evana De Lune
From the moment we’re born, society bestows upon all women a weighty term: “respectable.” Throughout history, women have been persistently reminded to maintain their “respect” — a patriarchal concept often synonymous with restraint, silence, and conformity. But what if we chose to redefine it?
A Historical Resistance
In the rigidly bound world of the Victorian era, where decorum and societal constraints often overshadowed personal expression, burlesque emerged as a brilliant act of defiance. Initially conceived as a satirical counterpoint to the grand operas of the time, burlesque was imbued with wit, humour, and sheer audacity. It was not merely entertainment; it was a statement, a tongue-in-cheek affront to prevailing conventions, daring to be provocative in thought, form, and display.
As this rebellious art form voyaged across the Atlantic to the vibrant tapestry of the United States, it underwent a tantalising transformation. The once primarily comedic spectacle began to entwine with elements of striptease, escalating its audacity. This melding of humor, satire, and sensual expression amplified burlesque’s challenge to societal norms, continually pushing boundaries and redefining notions of what was deemed ‘respectable’.
Growing up, I often found myself on the periphery, a square peg in a world of round holes. Especially as a dancer, constantly moving and dancing in public, echoes of “Why can’t you be normal?” and “Act respectable!” became an all-too-familiar soundtrack to my life. In the eyes of many, my penchant for self-expression and my refusal to conform was mistaken for ‘weirdness’. I yearned not for the hollow title of being “respectable” as defined by patriarchal norms, but to be respected for who I truly was. It wasn’t about fitting in, but about being acknowledged and valued for my authentic self.
This yearning led me to follow my girlfriend at the time to a dimly lit dance studio in Melbourne, the first time I would experience a burlesque class. The atmosphere was electric, pulsating with passion, creativity, and most importantly, a different kind of respect. From the encouraging nods of fellow dancers to the patient guidance of the instructor, I felt seen, appreciated, and respected. And as I transitioned from student to performer, this sense of belonging only intensified. On stage, the spotlight wasn’t just a beam of light; it was an embrace, a symbol of an audience’s respect and anticipation.
Within the glittering universe of burlesque, I discovered a community that championed individuality. Here, success wasn’t about fitting a mould; it was about breaking it. Every shimmy, every tassel twirl, every carefully designed costume told a story – not just of the performer, but of the journey they had taken to be on that stage. The overwhelming respect I felt from the community wasn’t just for my performance, but for my authenticity. Immersing myself in this world reshaped my craft and my entire perspective on respect and self-worth.
Workshops: A Sanctuary for Self-Discovery
But the impact of burlesque doesn’t end on the stage. Recognising the transformative power of this medium, I have extended my passion through my burlesque dance workshops — spaces where women from all walks of life gather to rediscover themselves. These sessions, often booked to capacity, serve as a testament to the collective yearning many women feel: the desire to redefine what’s “respectable” on their terms. Here, in a safe and supportive environment, we don’t just dance, we celebrate our bodies, challenge societal expectations, and reclaim our narrative.
Beyond Superficial Judgments
The world of burlesque and the empowerment it brings prompts a broader question: What truly defines ‘respectable’? If history and society have often tied respectability to clothing, behavior, and societal stereotypes, it’s time for a new narrative.
Burlesque has taught me that true respectability goes beyond superficial judgements. At its heart, it should resonate with authenticity, unwavering integrity, and the kindness one extends to the world. It’s found in genuine compliments, the support we offer peers, the courage to advocate for what’s right, and the humility to acknowledge when we’re wrong. By embracing this evolved definition, we can foster a society where individuals, irrespective of their choices, feel genuinely seen and valued.
In the mesmerising artistry of burlesque, I’ve found a haven for self-discovery, empowerment, and rebellion. My mission is to pass on what I have learned, continue to challenge the stereotypes and limitations of yesteryears, and dare to redefine womanhood, respectability, and self-worth for future generations.