You may think you know what burlesque is. If you have a specific definition in mind, you are wrong. Burlesque is anything an individual performer wants it to be: It cannot be defined.
This is what I learned immediately after watching the documentary on a group of uniquely talented burlesque performers, whose home base is in Portland, Oregon. Directed and produced by Jon Manning (House of Last Things; Lord, Save Us From Your Followers) and produced by Julie Livingston (Cooking from A to Zest), the documentary Glitter Tribe will answer any and every question you may have had about burlesque, and introduce you to a vast array of characters while doing so.
There's Babs Jamboree, a personal favorite of mine, who brings humor into all of her acts. Jamboree identifies as queer, with her tagline appropriately being "a powerhouse of queer hilarity." In the film you can watch her dance and transform from a foil-wrapped burrito to a sexy jalapeño. Trust me, it's a must-see.
There's Angelique DeVil, who turned to burlesque when her career as a professional dancer wasn't everything she hoped it would be. DeVil is the real deal, and she has come a long way to be where she is now.
There's Isaiah Esquire, an expressive dancer who puts his heart on the stage. His personality is as beautiful and inspiring as his dancing; I swear I could talk to him and watch him perform for hours.
And that's just a few of many you will meet in Glitter Tribe.
In this vibrant yet insightful film, you learn more than simply the many meanings burlesque can possess. You learn the backstory of the incredible performers the film introduces you to. Burlesque is more than a performance; it has helped improve the lives of many performers beyond the stage. Babs was painfully shy as a child, and burlesque helped her become more confident. “That confidence has definitely bled into my real life, that’s been pretty cool,” says Jamboree. “Just having a creative outlet and feeling creatively fulfilled gives me a better quality of life. Sometimes I wonder maybe I should be directing all this energy to my career but I know that I wouldn’t be—it would be directed to more Netflix probably.”
Burlesque has helped both Isaiah and Babs become accepting of their bodies, which also transcends performance. “I could always see the beauty in others bodies, but it always took me longer to see that in myself,” says Esquire. “Once you’re on the burlesque stage or in the community where your body’s really celebrated, and then you realize that it’s all internal and there are a lot more people that understand you and love your body and see value in you than people that dislike it. It’s been a long journey being able to accept what I’m working with. It’s refreshing in a really nice sphere to be around so many different ideas of what is sexy.”
Jamboree agrees with this sentiment. “I feel like burlesque in so many ways helps us to honor our bodies as they are in the moment. It gives ordinary and everyday bodies the chance to be and feel extraordinary and worshiped,” she said.
In addition to an increase of confidence, DeVil found a sense of identity through burlesque. “Being raised as I was, in a small, rigid, conservative community, I was constantly torn between who I was supposed to be and who I actually was,” she said. “I spent many years after I left home trying to validate myself as a good person and seeking happiness and assurance. Burlesque allowed me to not only utilize my talents but also to authentically express myself and connect to others. The work, the travel and the friends I have made have really helped bring me to a level of happiness and contentment I never expected to attain. “
In addition to displaying the impact burlesque can have on the lives of the dancers, this film also may defy any negative connotation of taking ones clothes off onstage. In a conversation with me, Isaiah recalled an experience with a friend who did not really understand why “this lady (has) to take off her clothes for everyone to have this response,” given that she is a great dancer. "Where I come from, being immersed in this community for so long, is that the body and the amount of skin becomes really insignificant,” said Esquire. “You’re put off by skin. You’re hung up on seeing someone’s torso, and for me that doesn’t even register anymore because I’m seeing an empowered person making their choice with their body. There’s a certain art by their standard because they’re controlling it.” Burlesque is more than sequins and skin—it's empowering.
Yet, and importantly enough, this film displays how fun burlesque can be. “I feel like there’s a lot of people that will go shopping and be like oh but where will I wear that full length gown or silk pantsuit and I have a place to wear these ridiculous or extremely fancy things,” said Jamboree. The film shows the ups and downs, the nerves and celebrations, and friendships and relationships that come hand in hand with the burlesque community.
Glitter Tribe is set to be released in 2017. There is no official date yet, so stay tuned! Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
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