Body Positive Burlesque Show Stays Tame

Mary Fischer

On Tuesday, amid controversy over the cancellation of Safer Sex Night, the ’Sco opened its doors for the Sexual Information Center’s second-sexiest campus tradition: the annual Burlesque Show. While the show turned out not to be so explicit after all, it was attended by a diverse crowd whose support and high spirits made an otherwise tame evening successful and, as presumably intended, empowering for the attendees.

To most, “burlesque” refers to a sexy variety show, usually staged in nightclubs and featuring plenty of nakedness. The SIC’s program, however, was intended to play toward the burlesque’s earlier, less extravagant and less sexualized tradition, with a noticeable lack of nudity. This relative modesty complemented the new direction the SIC seems to be pursuing: a more serious, nicely formatted, safe space for discourses around sexuality. Whether this made the event more or less successful is a matter of taste and what expectations one brought to the show.

After a fun and cheery opening act by OSteel, who defined sexy as taking one piece of clothing off (most of them were initially wearing big sweaters) and dancing a little, the Hotsie Totsies raised the temperature with a well-choreographed 1930s-style vaudeville dance. Any kind of recording or picture-taking device was forbidden, ensuring a safe space for a small striptease show, and the crowd was happy to contribute to the comfortable and open atmosphere. The cheering was motivated by excitement and pride, especially from the female members of the crowd. At a “professional” burlesque show, performers must radiate confidence, and the goal is to be sexy and sensual; for the SIC’s show, what seemed more important was an appreciation of the courage it takes to display one’s own body and own one’s sexuality.

The next two acts, a Primitive Streak improv set and a short burlesque dance, captured this modest theme in a fun, comedic way that definitively served to lighten the atmosphere. The purpose of incorporating not only one, but later a second improv group, Kid Business, into the show, however, was somewhat vague. While comedy and parody were part of old-fashioned burlesque shows, the improv did not seem to resonate with the sexy but shy theme of the night. That being said, both groups had great performances and were simply overshadowed by those acts that incorporated dance, music and the kind of sexiness the audience was looking for.

Particularly entertaining was the performance of “Rhys and Siena,” who mastered a partner dance with striptease. Not afraid of physical contact and nearly nude, they twirled and spun around each other confidently. Equally high in energy and admirable in terms of precision in execution was the performance of the Umoja Steppers, Oberlin’s student step team. The team’s confidence, in particular, radiated from every step the dancers took. The second part of the performance featured a very strong feminine drive in the troupe, which was definitively one of the highlights of the night.

The end of the show marked the high point of the night, even though it was not necessarily the most “burlesque” part of the event, and much of the audience had already left. The Fry Boyz Jazz Ensemble was not only easy on the eyes, but also played with such passion that almost no one in the audience could watch without dancing and laughing. At the end of the night, the SIC’s Burlesque may have been light on the “burlesque” and the nudity, but it was rich in fun, confidence and empowerment.