Eight years ago this summer, a number of events and “chance” meetings and connections and sparks and ideas came together in a combustible, most unplanned, unexpected way, and me and my friend Matt (yeah, the Matt I’ve been engaged to for the last five years!) got this crazy hankering to put together a burlesque troupe. Our first Bust-Out was Halloween, 2009. Seven women, including me, performed our first burlesque acts in front of a roaring crowd of 500 at an outdoor party.
It was transformative. It was intoxicating. It was empowering. I wanted more, and I wanted to share that first time, again and again and again with other women. Thus the Burlesque Experience was hatched from its mama hen, Les Femmes Aplomb. Would women want this? Would they sign up? The sure did and they sure would. Year after year. For seven years, twenty-four Bust-Outs, the Burlesque Experience has brought nearly 300 women to the stage, to strip and dance their choreographed burlesque debut for thousands of cheering fans.
What kind of woman has said yes to the Burlesque Experience? Every kind of woman.
For some women, the Burlesque Experience has been experienced as a stepping stone, a way to move toward bigger dreams of performing or producing professionally. I am touched and inspired by being able to support women and their sparkly dreams in this way.
For many others, the Burlesque Experience has been nothing short of a game-changer. A demarcation of where one chapter ended and another started, the point in their lives where they can look back and say I did that, and I was never the same. Through their Experience, they accessed their power, they reclaimed their bodies, they made peace with their pain, they discovered their courage, they blew through excuses, and obstacles, and self-imposed limitations. They became unstoppable.
What happens when a woman becomes unstoppable? What happens when a woman falls in love with herself? What happens when a woman allows herself to give and receive support from other women? What happens when a woman gets on stage and performs a striptease for hundreds of people? What happens? Everything.
And by some miracle, or divine assignment, some force that some call the universe, some call love, some call God, I was chosen to do this. It was me who got to guide them to themselves. Me who got to share this with them, me who got to grow with them, celebrate them, love them. Of course, I could not do this alone. This work has been supported by countless women, and men, over the years, alumni, each of them knowing what potent medicine this journey is. They’ve shown up in countless ways. I am grateful beyond measure. And there I go, deflecting again.
See, so many of us, from a very young age are taught not to be “too full of ourselves”. I remember growing up, it actually was looked down on by the other girls if a girl even simply liked herself. If liking yourself got you exiled from the tribe, what else could a girl do, but learn self-loathing? God forbid, she actually love herself. Scandalous.
Growing up, I never heard a woman say “I am proud of myself.” And I think that’s a shame, and I think the Burlesque Experience has smashed that false and crippling humility to bits, one performance at a time. For what is the Burlesque Experience been about if not self-celebration? On this stage we celebrate ourselves. The nerve of us! Who do we think we are!? I have even shied away from praise, when it comes to the Burlesque Experience. It makes me uncomfortable. “It’s not me, it’s something bigger than me.” Yes, and no.
Today, as eleven students prepare to take the Burlesque Experience Bust-Out stage for their first time, and the Burlesque Experience’s last time, as we prepare for our last show tomorrow night, our last curtain call, our last celebratory toast, our last Afterglow Dance Party, I am overwhelmed with emotion, with gratitude, and yes, dare I say? With pride.
I am proud of myself.
We must allow ourselves to be proud of ourselves. Our daughters, our sisters are counting on it. The world is counting on it. There is nothing wrong with a woman celebrating herself. We must stop acting as if there is. Be proud of yourself. Do things that shock you. Be bold. Be brave. Be the kind of woman people say of, “Who does she think she is?” Be YOU.
Most importantly, be in love with yourself. The world desperately needs women in love with themselves.
My work is not done. The end of this chapter means the start of a new one. I promise to you, my commitment to healing the world, one woman at a time is just getting started. I wonder what my next busting out will be… What will yours be?