An Evolving Burlesque Meets Classical Ballet

On Tuesday, I decided to expand my theatre horizons and attend The New York School of Burlesque showcase at the Parkside Lounge located in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. I was invited by dancer, Aurora Black, who was debuting her surprisingly original burlesque act for the very first time. There were several acts, each uniquely expressing the art of seduction. There was a cowgirl, a housewife, the typical saloon brothel showgirls with boas and feathers, an Asian nun gone bad, a Latin bachata dancer, a very serious girl who looked like Cleopatra with handcuffs, and then there was Aurora Black, a classical ballerina who performed her act on pointe in ode to Arabian Coffee from the Nutcracker.

At first, I must admit I was taken in by the schtick of sequence tasselled pasties spinning out of control as a result of some light-hearted teasing of these gimmicky personas. This was my first time ever seeing burlesque (the only other time I had seen any stripping was in Tijuana, Mexico after too many margaritas, but I won’t get into that). The audience was quite a variety as well, everything from young hipsters to supportive grandmothers. All in all, good old American family fun, I suppose. The host and director of the New York School of Burlesque (a red-headed woman styled like Betty Page and Dita Von Teese in vintage attire), by the name of Jo ”Boobs” Weldon, was quite entertaining herself; a legend in her own right, effortlessly took us through each act with bawdy innuendos and motherly or madamly support of her students, some of which she humorously referred to as ”virgins”.

I have learned with this performance that burlesque has become a vehicle for women to express their bodies freely and without shame,  no matter what size and shape they are. This may be considered progress in the feminist movement. Any practice of exercising confidence for women is a positive thing. However, what about the art itself? I mentioned the art of seduction being a fundamental element of burlesque. By the second act, this started to fade for me. I kept thinking about those lovers who have said that there is more to sex than just the genitals, even the stroking of an elbow can be sexy. Perhaps, foot fetishers have a point. I saw one set of breasts, I saw them all no matter how you shook them (Someone pointed out that the reason for this is because I like men, good point). As a theatre practitioner, I started to become numb and a little bored with this kind of burlesque, until finally ”the act we were all waiting for”, Aurora Black tip-toed out on stage.

Quite frankly, I already had a very high expectation for the quality of her performance. I have gotten to know Aurora and her work for over two years now. She is not only an exquisite dancer,  but a fine choreographer, director, producer, actor, etc. She is a master of many things and has a reputation of being stern and strictly disciplined in her work, which is not unusual for a classically trained performer. She is also very professional, intelligent, and physically very beautiful (Do we hate her yet, ladies?).

As Aurora began to dance, I was transcended into another place. I forgot that I was at the burlesque. Titties and tassels became less and less signficant. This was about fine art, the figure of the body, which was now reminding me of a Renoir painting. It didn’t matter if Aurora took her clothes off, her dancing stood alone. Aurora has a magnificent line, and her passion and grace brought tears to my eyes (So did her perfectly chiseled derrière – bitch). Aurora’s dance included what every ballet seeks to capture: the telling of a story through the aesthetic of movement and shape of the body. Emotionally, my senses could have easily been transported from this dark and dingy nightclub to Swan Lake at the New York City Ballet.

The question remains to be answered as to whether or not a new form of art has been created with the merging of Aurora’s classical ballet background and her newly found love for burlesque. Burlesque has a long history of merging different art forms such as contortion, acrobatics, and musical performance with the art of strip tease. I believe it has probably all been done. However, Aurora has proven herself in my eyes to be the primaballerina of burlesque. I only wanted it to last longer, perhaps even a full length ballet…naked? Three minutes was not enough. But, then again, I like to make love, artistically speaking. Bravo Aurora, and bravo to all the women out there who are relentlessly spinning their tassels and burning their bras for self-expression.

To view Aurora Black’s performance, please click here:

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