Spotlight on… BURLESQUE

Burlesque is a style of dance that’s sometimes misunderstood. From the beginning of the class, which started in late August, I was told that Burlesque is ‘pole dancing without the pole’. That’s simply not true. It’s much more than that. We aren’t like the movies. We don’t perform at some dark, smoky lounge in sequined corsets and feathered headdresses. We don’t dress in French maid costumes. We go, we dance, we have fun. 

Vanderbilt’s burlesque/fitness dance class, which is taught every Monday at 8 P.M. is a seductive, sexy way to work out. If you want to work out, at least find a way to make it fun, right? Each week we work on a new, progressively more challenging dance. Two to three times during each class we find one dance move to hold/engage for a solid minute. We call this our ‘sexy interval’, which focuses on strengthening one set of muscles. For instance, this week we got into ‘plank position’ and ‘grinded’ for a solid minute. However sexy, the class isn’t sexual. The body movements themselves are meant to be playful or maybe even seductive, not crude or nasty. It really is a great way to connect with your body and step outside of the box. So how exactly does class work? We all come together warm up, put on our Beyoncé remix tapes (occasionally some old-school MJ or Pussycat Dolls) and just leave everything else at the door. We’re encouraged to ‘sell it’ with our facial expressions and hand movements, because dance really is about using all of the body. Although we don’t formally have a dance recital like other Vanderbilt dance classes, last year the burlesque group had the opportunity to audition and perform at the party of country music singers Big & Rich.

From the article description so far, you probably wouldn’t guess this, but… I’m a guy. Oh wait. You mean I go in there with all the girls and do the overly-feminized dance routines? Of course I do. I am, in fact, the only guy in a class full of girls. The teacher, Nomalanga Eniafe, even refers to us collectively as ‘girls’. Dance, like music in general, is a way of expression that transcends boundaries. Since I’m a guy in this predominantly feminine practice, what are some of the social implication that lies around this? Are straight men who enjoy dance considered ‘gay’? Consider ballet. Are there straight men who dance ballet or is it also an overly-feminized dance as well?

After class, I hung around and chatted with our fearless leader, Nomalanga. For Nomalanga, dance is part of her culture. Being of African descent, she realized early on that the body is a ‘beautiful work of art’. Prior to Burlesque, she taught her specialty- West African Dance, which just from observing is a very powerful and spirited dance style. “Dance is a key part of understanding who you are,” she said. “People say they can’t dance. It’s not true. Anybody can dance if you just try.”

Over the semester, we’ve discussed several key elements that would apply here. First, what does seeing a boy wearing (VERY) short shorts walking across campus to a dance class say? Why does society automatically assume that he’s gay? It’s of course all about the shorts. The clothing on the body is used as a signal about the sexuality of the person. ‘Heterosexual’ boys just don’t wear shorts THAT short. So heterosexual boys set the bar, since we live in a heteronormative society, for what’s appropriate for each gender to wear in order to be perceived as ‘normal’. The same thing applies to the dance class itself. Just because I’m a boy in a ‘girl’ dance class, I’m automatically labeled as gay or at the very least feminine. Let’s go one step further. From this ‘gay’ determination, it further escalates to the assumption that I’m sexual submissive. Each assumption is used as a bridge on which something else can be inferred. Ok, so I’m gay. But, we can’t just go around judging sexualities simply because of the way they dress. If a girl has on a flannel shirt is she automatically a lesbian? Society has formed all these complex idealistic standards, and if you don’t fit in, you’re thrown to the wolves.

Once the gay assumption has been determined, then we throw in the ‘predatory fag’. “Dude, he’s a fag. You can’t be friends with him. He’ll try to make a move on you.” Society further concludes that all gay people are flaming, glittery, rainbow fairies, and that’s the only ones who are predatory. That’s just not true. Some of the straightest acting people I know are also the gayest. Watch out frat boys… the closets aren’t just for clothes around here.

From my burlesque dance classes, I’ve come to further understand how society plays into the discourses it sets for itself. What other assumptions does society make about a simple outward appearance? Does society marginalize any other groups by this behavior? Where is there a double standard within the heterosexual community regarding closeted homosexuals?

(Also, feel free to join us Monday at 8 in Studio A in the back of Memorial Gym. It’s free to watch.)


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