Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On Body Image and Lucky Pierre's

I contemplated weighing in on the story about New Orleans-based Lucky Pierre's now notorious decision to remove the popular and talented Ruby Rage from their lineup, which was based on a judgement about her body type. I had a lot of thoughts about that, but I determined that I'd need to make a few things clear before I felt safe editorializing my opinion on the matter.

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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Managing My Moniker

This week, I wanted to address a topic that as a burlesque performer, I get asked about a lot; my performer name, and the circumstances with which I use it. A lot of people that I perform with have a variety of different rules and circumstances behind the names they use, and about a year into performing, I decided I too needed to set some boundaries about how and when I appear as Dale Stones.

When I started taking classes and practicing striptease, I had no idea what to name myself. I had no idea what I wanted to say with my performance name, other than this vague certainty that there had to be a pun in there (I mean, that's how they come up with porn titles, right?). At some point, the person who first started bringing me to her performances, Jenny Jewels, mentioned that I should have a name that refers to a distinct quality. My yellow hair, perhaps?

The name I picked was a tribute to the stoner, guitar-playing surfer hippie Dick Dale, with "Stones" being a quintessential reference to the lifestyle, and a euphemism for the anatomical component needed to go out and do this kind of performance. Plus, although it didn't have a punchline in it (see fellow performer "Ricky Lime"), it rolled off the tongue, in the same way "hail stones" does. And I was ready to make it rain.

During my first year of performing, I used to give that insecure introduction to people I didn't know in the burlesque scene--you know the one.

"Hey, I'm Dale. Or you can call me           , or whichever really. I'll turn and look if I hear either! Har har har. Man, I'm such a loser. I'm going to go hide in a bathroom stall."

Aside from that being a comedy of idiotic non-sequitors that used to tumble out of my mouth at least twice a week, it's a statement that used to define me as a performer. What I eventually realized when asking someone about another performer I just met was that whenever I gave someone two names, chances are they didn't remember either one. In thinking about the most successful performers I know, I can always remember his or her performer name. For a handful of performers, I don't even know their real names, and still don't have a clue. From a marketing standpoint, I consider this a good thing. It means that I've heard of their brand, and it's embedded in my mind. It's effective branding, in that it's a name that ideally comes up when people are looking to book. This was something I was denying myself when I introduced myself as two people--and I didn't present either identity with true confidence.

Pictured; "Confidence."

This isn't to say that one shouldn't introduce his or herself how he or she wants. Rather, it was a way for me to answer a question about how I wanted to present myself. In a performance setting, I'm going to introduce myself as Dale Stones. That's it. That way, people will remember the name of that performer who just went on stage and pretended to play his own wiener like the bagpipes--and what name to tag on Facebook.

Nobody wants to have to deal with the double duty of un-tagging their semi-nudes from their work-week profile just to have to request permission and re-tag all of them under a different user. That's what total hell sounds like, and I don't want to have to endure that drudgery ever again. That's enough of a reason to not give new performers I meet my real name (at least not unless they ask for it). There's a chance that name might be associated with things my boss or grandmother might find unsavory--and I don't want to make my grandmother sad.

Just kidding, my grandmother helps me darn my costumes. It's my boss I don't want being sad at me.

...unless of course I'm telling him what I think about having to file that report by Monday morning.

A lot of performers I know use their names as an identity. I found that there are a lot of people who separate their actions and tendencies from the different names they have. From my name alone, people might have assumptions about what I do and what my hobbies are, which are ultimately misleading. I don't surf, I don't use drugs, and I am the furthest thing from a hippie slacker that you can picture. Alternatively, some people believe that what they do on stage should be a direct reflection of what they are in real life. For me, if the stage characters I show the world were anything like how I am in real life, I would have 66% fewer friends, and a lifetime ban from the Smithsonian.

Realistically, this is my way of compartmentalizing my day and night lives respectively. Though not necessarily an ego thing, especially when I start correcting people about what they call me when I'm backstage at a venue.

And in so doing, it helps me be a consummate professional in at least two aspects of my life.

I'd be curious to know what some of your own rules are, fellow performers.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Intro Post

Hello one and all!

This is Dale Stones of Sirlesque, and I decided I wanted to do a blog.

Wow. Out of all the topic sentences I've written in my twenty eight years, that one is far from my strongest, but I think I'll just have to move onward and upward. Since I just this month put in for space at both Club Cafe and the Dance Complex to teach and show off new members in the small and no-longer-exclusive male burlesque circle in Boston, I figured I would also want to start writing about my burlesque-y observations to channel that giving back attitude. This seems as good as any a place to dump all of these words, in the hopes that some poor soul might find them and confuse them for 'wisdom.'

I've been going at this trade for nearly five years. If you'd asked me half a decade ago if I thought I'd be performing the art of comedic striptease on the regular by now, I probably would have wet myself in front of you. While I've always loved performing in any capacity people will let me, I've also been overwhelmingly nervous and self-critical for just as long. To say that burlesque is transforming is selling it comically short, as evidenced by how much I credit I give it for my own growth and accomplishment.

Burlesque is my yin to the yang of my professional self. I work a day job in an environment where the tie I choose to wear is a tool with a much different purpose than the tie I wear on my weekend stage. I love the inspiration it gives me that dressing sharply is as important for my confidence and execution as undressing sharply, given a different place and time. It allows me to simultaneously act coyly and smile inwards, as I deflect the questions people ask me about my weekend.

But I realize that secret double-life (ooh, secret agent-y sounding) carries a different weight than that of the women I perform with. That in knowing my striptease is not a stigma, but a gesture of empowerment that won't endanger me professionally in the same way it would for a female-presenting performer is something that troubles me when ruminating on the way society regards our performance discipline.

I realize that I'm privileged. I have the option of telling friends, coworkers, and professional contacts that I strip on the weekends, and that I likely won't lose my job. My sexuality is not up for public consumption in the same way my female co-performers is, and it's not fair that they assume more of the risk for sharing the same hobby. Whereas I am often commended for running around nearly naked in public, I share the stage with people who are often shamed for doing the same exact thing. And that's not okay.

So I guess we just have to keep working to make it normal. Let's just keep putting good shows on, and see how well we can naturalize the discipline for everyone. I figure that everyone who does burlesque has to tell their parents, and just like some performers have supportive families, I figure maybe I'll eventually get my dad to come to a show or two. Maybe not.

So I started a class for guys to learn male striptease, and will be getting my students on stage in a showcase on March 28th at Club Cafe. I'm including different performers and personas in the community, and will hopefully have a fun, all-inclusive show to give you. Let's get people involved, and maybe we'll have more folks coming out to see what we're all about. And someday, maybe it won't be that weird thing your friend does, but a great story about what you did last weekend--and something to be proud of.

Dale's All-Male Yardsale - March 28th

See you all around!