#2 The Burlesque Handbook: a vegan read

October 17, 2010

Quick addition to yesterdays post.  This is a blog about being vegan in the burlesque world so I feel it is only fair to give a quick critique of the burlesque handbook. Now, Jo is not vegan.  She never says she is and even run a burlesque show that is a tribute to cheese.  I won’t therefore pass judgement on her non-vegan behaviors, but will just discuss parts of her book that vegan readers might want to know about.

There are three sections of the book that deal with pretty un-vegan topics: Chapter 4 – Fans: Your Fine Feathered Friends (pages 87-112), a section on choreography with feather boas on pages 40-42  and then the section on feathers as part of costumes (pages 136 and 137) in Chapter 6 – Costumes – Constructing Outfits for Deconstruction.

Now, I should point out that the chapter on fans does mention to variety of different kinds of fans one can use and even create, something I have mentioned on this blog before (for example Lefty Lucy’s flannel fans), so there is ways for vegans to find the chapter applicable.  The chapter does mainly focus on feather fans though, how they move, how to take care of them and how to create your own feather fan.

The boa choreography could easily be done with boas that are not fathers or made of fake fur, so this part isn’t really anything to be concerned about.

As for the information on feathers as part of a burlesque costume, the chapter does say that they aren’t necessary and are just aids to a costume that exaggerate movement, much like fringe would.  Jo goes into how best to adhere and sew feathers onto outfits or headdresses, which does make me sad because although I will not wear them, I must confess adding a feather to a hair ornament  can give authenticity to vintage look or make an outfit suddenly more glam and showgirl.

I often feel sad about how it seems some burlesque performers will just through a feather on an outfit for no other reason that the idea “feathers=showgirl=burlesque.”  This is why there is one section of the book I want to talk about which falls in Chapter 1: Inspiration: Your Internal Theater (one of my favorite chapters in the book). I give you now Jo’s take on why she uses feathers:

“Although I don’t identify myself as living as a Native American, still more bits of information I got from my family inform me of some of my identity and affect some of my passion for burlesque.  I was always inspired by the idea that each feather in a chief’s bonnet represented an act of courage, and I wanted one of those long ceremonial headdresses. When I was told these were reserved for male figures of authority, I wanted one even more! Without yet fully understanding all the meanings of those ceremonial bonnets, I decided I decided I wanted a feather for every time I walked down the street in a tank top, trying only to beat the heat but knowing I would get unwanted attention and catcalls as well.  Part of my interest in cross-dressing came from the idea that I would earn one of those headdresses whether I was a man or not…I sometimes think about this when I am handling my boas.  Feathers represent bravery, power, and charisma to me, and I love wearing them.”

Although I will not wear feathers, I grew to have a deeper respect for Jo when she wrote about what feathers meant to her, that there is a reason and purpose behind her use.  There are many argument against it, but it does give me some good feelings to know that they a reflection of her heritage and upbringing rather than just an add-on to an outfit.

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