First of all, as a male presenting performer doing burlesque, I understand that I'm being held to a different beauty standard than my female presenting co-performers. I realize that Ruby's experience was hers alone, and that I don't hope to completely understand the sequence of events from her perspective nor with her set of experiences. I can't even say that I understand the situation from empirical observation--my commentary is all derived from news and social media coverage, effectively making it hearsay.
But I do have feelings, because burlesque is my artform too. I want to stand up for fellow performers because I do believe that this community is one of the strongest support structures I've yet encountered on this small planet, and I enjoy having the privilege of its acceptance. I know how I would react if the same thing happened to me, though I can tell you that nothing like this actually has.
A year before this happened, Ruby had made a commitment to working out and training her physical self in order to boost her performance and her self-confidence--and then got dropped from the roster because of her size. The fact that some single douchey, unenlightened business bro can waltz in, knowing none of this, and from the back of a room declare a person unfit to perform on a stage based on a once-over of her appearance alone is the watermark of a fucked-up sexual patriarchy.
Ruby mentioned this in her statement to 21st Century Burlesque Magazine: "After losing so much weight my confidence soared, and many of my co-worker performers had told me that they saw a change in me. That my performance got even better and better each time they saw me. For me, it wasn't just the weight but it was the confidence I gained with knowing if I could lose 45 pounds, I could be a really amazing performer."
I can say that I know what this might feel like. If someone looked at me this year after putting that much effort into my body and performance, I'd find it invalidating and demoralizing. In the past few years, I too have had people say that since I committed working on my physical self, my body and my performance has changed for the better. And yet, if I got cut from a lineup under the same pretenses? It would take very ounce of restraint not to find that garbage waffle and key his eyes out with my ensuing rage-boner.
|...and then add this little victory dance to round things out.|
Although Lucky Pierre's official response was woefully inadequate, I wanted to point out that fellow performer Dangrrr Doll was tapped to write a well-worded piece speaking to the merits of their decision. She wrote that even dime-store artwork is something that talented artists produce, and it fits a need somewhere--but that art in all forms won't ever meet everyone's tastes. While I agree that there's a place for everyone, I disagree that burlesque is something that can be bisected and given to different audiences--anyone and everyone should have the chance to get up and do a bangin' striptease. That's why I'm starting my own class and amateur showcase, and I can't imagine turning anyone away for any physical reason.
Burlesque means many things to many people. In my case, it's a positive way to address the many facets of my personality. With it, I directly confront my insecurity, my self-image, and my confidence level. I use it as my tool to measure what my body is capable of, and through it I've been initiated in skills for which I would not have found an aptitude otherwise.
I can speak for the dudes when I say that we pressure each other both overtly and subtly about our physical appearances. When I first started performing striptease, it was hard to not imagine it as a hot guy's club where only the hardest abs and firmest biceps are allowed entry. Early on in the group's lifetime, Sirlesque's members were always encouraging each other to work out, which added to the fear that I wouldn't be sexy or entertaining or worthy of the price of admission--and that people would want me off the stage so they could get on with enjoying the rest of the show.
|In my mind, "the rest of the show" looked like this.|
Whenever I encourage other men who are interested in burlesque as their performance medium, the initial reaction is always the same. I always hear something like "I could never do that, I'm not in good enough shape." For everyone who wants to do burlesque but finds that his or her physical condition is the main roadblock, I always point to the main things that drive an act--practice hours and confidence. True fact--I urinated 5 times in the ten minutes before I did my first striptease because I was so nervous. But looking back, I'm glad that I didn't chicken out.
|I can't remember if this is a photo of me being scared or wetting myself. Dealer's choice?|
It took me years to build any kind of confidence whatsoever. I spent years being embarrassed about what I was bringing to the stage, and considered quitting constantly, because what was I even doing? It didn’t make sense that I felt incapable as a performer but still wanted to perform. Barring any other ideas or inspirations, I decided I wanted to make some changes for my own benefit.
I don’t know exactly when I decided to confront my own body image issues, but I do know that men have a lot of trouble talking about them where they exist. Men are expected to be stronger and more physically capable, and for a time I certainly didn’t feel that way. When I started working out regularly, it became a way to measure myself through my new capabilities. Since burlesque is an art in which every body type is accepted, I didn’t feel that there was pressure from the community, or even from the patrons. I felt that I wanted to improve myself, and the confidence and stage ability I now have is a direct result of the time and effort I’ve put in to work out my body and learn and practice new skills.
|Such as being a lion.|
It’s opened up a world of new possibilities for my choreography. Two years ago, I couldn’t carry a fellow performer off of a stage without difficulty, so I put the time and effort in to giving myself that strength. A year ago, I couldn’t dance confidently enough to create passable choreography. Six months ago, I was so inflexible, that I couldn’t hold an acrobatics partner in a steady L-base. Now, I’m proud to say that at the end of this month, I’m debuting an act where I’ll be dancing a three-person Paso Doble burlesque in which I base a series of acrobatic moves and lift a dance partner high over my head. I couldn’t be more confident about what I’ve been able to accomplish.
So I understand why, in a discipline where all body types are accepted and welcomed, performers Like Ruby Rage will make the effort to work out their bodies and strive for more physical ability. The confidence that comes from that is indescribably satisfying, and is a welcome boost to one’s performance chops. The idea of that accomplishment being invalidated and threatened by someone who has no idea what kind of work and dedication goes into a magnificent burlesque performance is an affront to everything we work for.
There are venues out there that feel the need to manage their performer rosters like an episode of The Biggest Loser. You can bet I'll never support those venues or performances, because they reinforce a standard that has no justification for being there. Here in Boston, there are four troupes of burlesquers who splintered off from the original group because it was run by somebody who had similar standards for admitting and curating his list of performers. I have to thank this person, because without him, Rogue Burlesque wouldn't have existed, and Sirlesque wouldn't have had a supportive sister troupe that taught us all the right lessons about this amazing business. To that end, I know that Ruby Rage and Bella Blue are now walking that same path by distancing themselves from that poisonous venue and their caustic attitude.
And believe me—discouraging somebody who is passionate just makes them hungrier for success. You’re giving that person fuel for her fire. Keep doing your thing, Ruby. I'm rooting for you.