Burlesque might seem old-timey, but it’s a hybrid of theater art, dance, and striptease that is very much alive and well in today’s cities. Boston has its very own scene, of which the award-winning Boston Babydolls are an influential part. In 2006, the troupe founded the Boston Academy for Burlesque Education (B.A.B.E.) and never looked back. Though tucked away on Allston’s Braintree Street, it’s a bright-yet-intimate headquarters where a steadily-growing -- and overwhelmingly youthful -- group of women is being transformed into classic bombshells with attitudes to match.
B.A.B.E.’s classes run in month-long series, the most popular of which is "Introduction to Burlesque." Each class is designed to stand alone and structured around three elements: a move, a tease, and a talk, the latter revolving around a multitude of topics, from the history of burlesque to how to create your perfect costume. At $25 per class, few people have an excuse to not give it a whirl -- even you poor college kids.
“The recent group of students I had -- about twelve of them -- were mostly in their '20s,” said Devora Darling, 26, a B.A.B.E. instructor and Boston Babydoll.
Burlesque is important on its own: It’s fun to perform and beautiful to behold. It’s art. It’s theater. It’s sexy. But more than that, burlesque is empowering, even if it isn't always trying to be.
“I don’t really talk about empowerment in class,” said Miss Mina, B.A.B.E.'s headmistress and Boston Babydolls co-founder. Instead, the empowerment her students experience comes through action. It doesn't need to be talked about; it just happens. Of course, B.A.B.E. students are also encouraged to pay attention to their own comfort zones, even if that means skipping out on getting fully nude.
B.A.B.E. brings in students of all ages and body types. In a society where women are bombarded with images of the “perfect” body and fatphobia is encouraged, it’s easy to forget that we are all, in fact, okay just the way we are. Burlesque shows and classes offer rare opportunities to gain some perspective by seeing what fellow women really look like sans clothing and technological tricks. No one is perfect, and that’s the beauty of it.
“These days, a lot of women really enjoy going to burlesque shows,” Mina said, “and I think that has a lot to do with the feeling they get of ‘I could do that,' whether they actually would or not. Seeing a woman being on stage and confident and talented and sexy and comfortable with their own body is really inspiring.”
Another part of what lends burlesque its body- and sex-positive aspects is the very definition of the art: Burlesque is all about the tease, not the nudity. Instead of treating the body as a sexual object in and of itself, the body is a vehicle for sexiness. According to Darling, the body “ends up being just a detail when it comes to the overall picture” of performances, which are multi-faceted and complex beyond just stripping down to tassles. Anyone can be sexy without fitting the popular conception of what that means, allowing burlesque to showcase bodies without placing value judgments.
“Burlesque, while it does involve exposing the entire body, is more about the process of doing so than of what the body itself actually looks like,” Darling said. “It is really an outlet for creativity and letting your own personality shine through, rather than your shape or size. One thing I love about teaching is seeing the excitement and change in demeanor that occurs when [students] are handed a pair of long gloves and a boa. While you might have to be tall and thin to be a supermodel, any body type can do burlesque.”
By teaching burlesque to young women, the Babydolls are sharing with others how to enjoy one’s body shamelessly, a message that needs to be heard. “[Burlesque is] a good way to get in touch with an interesting form of creativity and your inner sexiness,” Mina said. “It’s a place where it’s okay to be sexy for yourself.” B.A.B.E. has successfully curated a safe space where women can be exactly who so much of this world tells them they should not be: themselves.
Photos by Robert Klein (top) and Mike Pecci (bottom)
By Vanessa Formato -- Vanessa Formato is a 22-year-old Clark University graduate, freelance journalist, vegan cupcake enthusiast and video game aficionado. She blogs about body image and tweets about puppies. So awesome, even John Stamos is impressed.
The author is solely responsible for the content.