This past Saturday, I watched men take off their clothes for three hours.
I was at the Third Annual New York Boylesque Festival, presented by nightlife impresario Daniel Nardicio and Thirsty Girl Productions' Jen Gapay. Once a year, the festival presents the finest in male burlesque performances from across the country and the world--Canada, Austria, Japan, England, and of course the good ol' USA.
In case you need a refresher, "burlesque" as it was originally used in the 1800s means any form (play, novel, poem, etc.) that makes a traditionally serious subject appear ridiculous. The basis is, of course, in comedy. Burlesque performances, which developed a bit later, incorporate that idea and swirl in striptease for a cocktail of bawdy, hilarious delights.
So yes, I did in fact sidle up to B.B. King's in Times Square with AS (many thanks to Daniel and Jen for having us!) for an evening, hosted by the raucous drag queen Sweetie, of boys bumping and grinding to everything from Dean Martin to The Beatles to Barry White and then some. One by one (sometimes four-by-one!) they took the stage and strutted their stuff, an artfully tossed jacket here, a sexily (yet not unironically) removed sock there.
Even as I write this, though, I wonder what it means to sexily remove a sock, perhaps one of the least sexy items of clothing there is. Does one slide it off gently with one's fingers, or grab it roughly with one's teeth? Oftentimes watching a burlesque show is a surface tour of the carnival of sexual/comedic preferences and experiences--what is sexy to one person is decidedly not to another, just as what's funny to one person is not at all to another. I love how these two entirely subjective qualities intersect in burlesque, and it's great when, as an audience member, you find a performer who "speaks your language" and has the same outlook as you do. As the audience, you are captive--you think, "this makes me really uncomfortable!" or "I LOVE this!" and you end up learning about yourself and your own preferences throughout the course of an evening. And people say it's just stripping...*scoffs*
I had seen boylesque performances before, peppered throughout the fall's New York Burlesque Festival (which features mostly females), but never a show of just all men all the time. I figured it would be pretty much the same as the female performances?
Nay. Incorrect. Nope. In fact, in my humble opinion, they were better! Campier! Sillier! Funnier! After seeing bald, sexy men with unusual sideburns swallow balloons whole (I'm looking at you, Albert Cadabra! Bravo!), viewing six-feet-five-inches of man extract his torso from a metallic blue corset while wearing matching sky-high platform shoes and hot pants all the while cocking an eyebrow or balancing a fake parrot on his chin (the delightful Mr. Gorgeous), and hearing a rightful trash-talking the Disneyworld that New York has become (the incredible and legendary Tigger!), I know why I like it better, too. The boys, overall, have a greater sense of the ridiculousness of what they're doing.
Sometimes the ladies forget to be ridiculous and just go for sexy instead. To me, that ridiculousness is the primary difference between burlesque and what happens in a strip club ("Ya gotta make ya strip special!"--forgive me for citing this video again, but it explains the difference so well!). I find there's so much more enjoyment in burlesque when people don't get lost in their own sexiness. I'm bound to think you're sexier if you can make me laugh, boylesquers and girlesquers alike. There's more power in flirtation and, the idea for which burlesque is historically known, the tease.
I love the idea that the festival has a full ownership of the word "boy," too. "Boy" is silly and lighthearted and evokes the original parodic intent of the form, but it doesn't discount the commentary that burlesque can be. And really, "manlesque" doesn't have much of a ring to it.
Something else I loved about the show is that the body positivity that rings through the female performances carried over into its male counterpart. Burlesque today, no matter the identity of the performer, has never been about shoving a visual ideal down one's throat--people of all shapes and sizes and ages and ethnicities perform because, really, as long as you love your body everyone else will, too (isn't that the way it should always be?).
Many kudos to Daniel and Jen for putting together an evening of diverse, quality performances to stimulate the brain, the eye, and whatever else they had in mind. And if you want to check out some amazing burlesque shows, keep yourself posted on Jen Gapay's Thirsty Girl Productions site here (Jen was recently voted the
Take a look at some of my pictures from the night below!
|The Cast of the New York Boylesque Festival|