Archive for the ‘Nightlife’ Category

Feminism and the art of burlesque have traditionally had a complex relationship. It is empowering? Degrading? Subversive? Creative? Clichéd? Pandering to the male gaze? Subverting that gaze? Here feminist and burlesque fan and performer Ciara O’Connor gives her view.

The word “burlesque” has cropped up in polite conversation quite a lot recently. Christina and Cher’s affront to the word notwithstanding, every so often someone brings it up when out for drinks if I say I’ve just been to a show… and often there is a reductive remark about strippers. Take for example Maeve Higgins’ recent comment on the Tweeter : “Burlesque is so shit. Stupid middle class women stripping.” I’m not sure if Maeve has ever been to a show, but I know her comment was a reflection (if a slightly more abrasive reflection) of some peoples ideas and conceptions of what Burlesque is and is not. There are always people who are indifferent towards any medium, the decriers declaring Burlesque is dead, those who say it is anti-women, and those who couldn’t care less.

Feminist burlesque performer Blackbird, aka Emily

Because I’m a fan of the art form, and I occasionally perform at cabaret shows and see a lot of different types of burlesque, I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring.

Burlesque’s etymology denotes a send up, it is a derisive imitation, grotesque parody. Burlesque is close in meaning with caricature, pastiche, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque). From the Wikipedia entry on Burlesque we see that it isn’t just all 1950s pin-up wither, its been around a long time: “”Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics.“

Later forms of burlesque came in the popular variety show format. These were common from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and striptease as part of the show. Burlesque has historically been seen as a cheeky, low-brow and very bold form of adult-only theatre.  Performers draw from theatre, mime, improvisation, movement to music, as well as all forms of dance. They are also usually loaded with cultural reference and spoof.

There has been a resurgence of interest in classical Burlesque in the 1990s which quickly became popular in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe. This resurgence also birthed what is referred to as Neo-burlesque (see Hot Press this month for a very interesting round-up of Neo-Burlesque in Ireland). Neo-burlesque often removes the nostalgic aspect of burlesque and uses contemporary music and themes, so you may find yourself watching Jessica Fletcher do a striptease to Gothrock. The beauty of burlesque is that it can be anything and everything, as creative as your imagination and the boundaries you put on yourself as a performer.

A friend writing a blog on fashion and feminism recently described me as “someone who I imagine came into the world screaming ‘I am a feminist!’.” As a feminist-from-the-womb – or at least a young age, I was needless to say not immune to the impressions the media give out about burlesque, and my inner feminist was in twitch-overdrive when I went to my first ever burlesque show. My twitching quickly subsided – and not only was I completely hooked: I was fascinated, enthralled and excited, brimming over with ideas after it – I was convinced that in my eyes, burlesque was decidedly feminist.

As I wrote recently in a guest blog for Dr Sketchy’s,  decontextualised women’s bodies are everywhere in society.  Disembodied perfectly round arses in Reebok trainers, floating breasts selling car insurance…. our world is saturated with nudity, implied nudity and women’s body parts, exposed, scrutinised, made grotesque and vilified… or portrayed as perfection and symmetry and the ideal we should all strive for/compare ourselves to. Burlesque shows are one place where you get to see real women’s bodies… not on display for the sexualised gaze, nor for “auntie Gok” to truss up like some Christmas ham and stuff into magic knickers to try to fit into normative beauty standards, but just – celebrated.  Cheered.  Whooped at and hollered for.  Breasts, bellies, smiles of all ages and types, none of them detached from the woman they belong to.  In fact, firmly in context as the performer is not only showing off her body but her creativity… her body can be tattooed, pierced, decorated with body paint, breasts all different shapes and sizes adorned with nipple tassels; they have meaning, they have context.  These are real bodies, (ab)normal, individual, all appendix scars and jiggly bits.  In a society where nudity has become so… meaningless… here it is loaded with meaning.

Also, the burlesque scene in Ireland is decidedly radical. The performers are smart, creative and quite amazing men and women who do fantastical things with the medium. A great example is my friend and fellow fabulous feminist Emily. She is a stunning performer – she creates acts that are thought provoking, political, visually stunning, sometimes hyperfeminine, sometimes very masculine, always impeccably costumed and gripping from beginning to end. She tells a story and makes a statement in a way that is firmly tongue in cheek and yet quick off the mark and very intelligent.

Lilly DeValle's barbershop act gradually turns from cute to creepy

Another burlesque performer, Lilly DeValle, cuts a striking figure on stage, playing a cheesecake cutesy character who has a dark and evil side – for example her cute barber shop act which quickly transforms into a bloodbath as she hacks up the poor unsuspecting customer in her barbershop chair. She is a true storyteller and has impeccable comedic timing. One of Dublin’s queen’s of the burlesque scene Miss Bella A Go Go is one of the most creative people I know, sewing and handmaking all her costumes, her  incredible mind is full of fantasy which she expertly brings to life on stage with incredibly intricate themed shows, such as her recent Steampunk Cabaret.

So for those who may reduce burlesque to “stupid, middle class women stripping” – I’d like to extend an invitation to come and see a show. The scene here is vibrant and bristling with life and energy. The performers (male and female) are dedicated to making you smile, cringe, cower and giggle like a kid. I asked my friends when writing this why they attend these shows, and the consensus was strong – the striptease element is the last thing on the list. They come to find something different, something entertaining, to find like minded people and to have fun. The nudity in the shows is a great leveller. It’s an opportunity to dress up, to drink cocktails and smoke cigars, to travel to another world for one night only. And who among us doesn’t enjoy some escapism now and then?

If you think you’d like to give a show a go, then I would highly recommend any of the following nights:

The League of Decadent Bastards

This will be the show of the summer – an all male cast and an amazing line up including some of my favourite cabaret artists, a proper treat for the senses!

Burlesque and Cabaret Social Club

The mainstay of the Dublin scene, mostly classical and vintage burlesque and music, monthly, at the Sugar Club

The Love Cats Burlesque

Fabulous troupe of burlesque artists, comedians and musicians in Dublin

Dr Sketchy’s anti-art school – for the artists among us – where life drawing meets cabaret

AND watch out for shows from: Sedition Industries, AWOL tattoo studio Galway, The Pony Girls, Midnight Burlectro, Sideshow Cabaret and many more over 2011.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She has been working in women’s health and education for many years. In her spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and is a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi.
Her twitter is ciara_oc

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Lemme start off by saying that I’m no fan of girl groups. Nor boy bands. Nor any homogenised battalion with their own colour scheme and dance moves. Though I’m going to rant about a sneering take on Irish popstrel Una Healy, I must admit that haven’t heard a single song from her band, The Saturdays. I wouldn’t know The Saturdays if they’d been creeping into my lugs at night and crooning subliminal messages directly into my noggin. I’m not writing this from the perspective of an indignant fan, in other words. I’m an indignant twenty-nine year old Irishwoman, though, which gives me more than enough in common with my subject.

So yes, Una Healy is a gorgeous strawberry-blonde pop vocalist. Once a struggling singer-songwriter, she now makes up 20% of The Saturdays, and so is appropriately dolled-up and adorned with sparkly things. Last weekend’s Sunday Independent featured a piece by Niamh Horan, calling out Ms. Healy for being a bad role model and a drunken mess, basically because the writer has seen paparazzi images of Una looking rather worse for wear on a number of early-hours occasions. Her latest excursion resulted in her taking a tumble in front of waiting photographers, who naturally zoomed in and went all out.

Ms. Horan was most put-out by the whole thing.

…you’ve got to wonder what her parents must think. Not to mention her reserved country and Irish musician uncle Declan Nerney.

Indeed. Especially as Una was wearing a

… skirt up to her backside

… at the time, which I would have thought was probably her lot in life, being a member of a girl group. And hey, it’s not like she was out there wearing fishnets as trousers with a gigantic teabag on her head. Though if she was, we’d probably swoon and call it art, eh, Lady Gaga?

I was rightly riled by Horan’s attack on Healy. Whatever you may think about booze culture in the UK and Ireland, or about wimminfolk wearing minidresses in January, what’s righteous about singling out a grown woman celebrating a friend’s birthday and haughtily hypothesising how her poor Mammy must feel about her partying ways? It’s not as if Healy threw up on the pavement, dodged her taxi fare, or lamped a nightclub toilet attendent. She had a few drinks, tripped over her own feet, and looked less than graceful getting into a taxi. I doubt any manner of uncle would disown her for that … although it’s certainly an evocative image, Declan Nerney weeping into the Sunday newspapers whilst clutching his Nano Nagle action figures; “My kingdom for a shapeless tunic!”

Obviously, we have to advocate taking responsibility for one’s own actions, especially when one is nearly thirty, in good health, and financially independent. Ms. Healy chose to become a pop star, and so invited a certain amount of public attention down on her head. But that doesn’t mean that she must be held accountable for every angle she is snapped from. That doesn’t mean that she must remain poised and coiffed and boring and blank-eyed, for fear she may appear off balance or chunky and so frighten impressionable tweens. In fact, the notion Horan seems to push here – that female celebrities should restrict themselves to a particular hem length and a particular bedtime, that they must be graceful above all else, and that they must never lose control – is rather too sinister to chance adopting as standard. Young fans striving towards unattainable perfection and constantly berating themselves when they fall short? What a depressing thought.

Personally, I wouldn’t advocate Una Healy as a role model, but it’s because Una’s an entertainer, not a neurosurgeon. If my nine-year-old comes home and tells me she wants to be in a girl group when she grows up, I’ll probably roll my eyes and say something disparaging about the cost of fake eyelashes. That wouldn’t be half as disturbing as her coming home and claiming she wants a career as a dewy-eyed mannequin, Stepford-elegant with a silver ramrod up her jumper, though. Una Healy’s antics may well stop upsetting Niamh Horan when Niamh Horan accepts that Una Healy’s not an international ambassador. She’s a young, pretty popstar. Surely, then, she can wear her skirts as short as she damn well pleases?

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Living overseas, as I did for most of this decade, has all sorts of random benefits.  My favourite? From time to time, you get to experience the kind of thing that seems like it must have been made up for tourists, except that no tourists are within a 15-mile radius. At a trade fair in Anchorage one February (ever want to see the Pacific frozen over? Alaska in February’s a decent bet for that), I became entranced by an old man in a coat made from a bear he’d shot and killed himself. The man wasn’t that entrancing, nor is the fact that he’d shot the bear, per se. It was more that, you know, how often in your life are you ever going to meet a bear hunter, let alone one dressed for the sub-zero temperatures in a little number he’d skinned himself? I couldn’t stop stroking it (the COAT, you filthy people), much to the appalled amusement of my beloved colleague.

Last December, our final one in Dublin I had a similar moment. It didn’t involve culturally-appropriate clothing – no cloaks of finest peat for the Irish – but it was one of those things that had extra significance for happening in Ireland. I discovered that the *true* Irish national anthem is, in fact, this song:

I was in a cheesy club with some of my favourite people on the island. It was the early hours and, as they say here in a gloriously euphemistic manner, there had been drink taken. In other words, the entire place was full of rat-arsed Irishfolk holding each other up as they brought the place down. Right towards the end of the night, on came the Pogues (not literally, though that would have been an even better story). Every. Single. Person. in the room suddenly pulled themselves together, stood upright as if at Mass, and burst into pitch-perfect, declamatory, Shane-McGowan-style-swaying song. It made me beam, and beam, and beam some more. OK, so most people know some part of this song, but to be in an entire room of locals all belting it out as though Christmas depended on it; that was something I had no idea would happen.

It gives me goosebumps and makes me giggle every time I think about it. A year on, back in stiff-upper-lip England, we’ve got the song on permanent repeat this Christmas. Need to make sure our Irish-born three-year-old is word-perfect before his passport’s revoked, after all…

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Hurrah! We’ve just had another annual tits ‘n ass fest previously known as Halloween, and it was like Kentucky Fried Chicken out there, with all those breasts and thighs.

French maids, slutty vampires, busty pirates, micro-minied milkmaids, pussy in boots, all available on a street near you, probably goosebumped but bobbing merrily, and not for apples I hasten to add.

Once upon a time – quite possibly in a book I read – a costume entailed a sheet with holes for eyes, or donning all the black layers in your wardrobe, lashing on black eyeliner, investing in a warty nose and working on your evil cackle.

But now the snout is out and the pout is in, ladies; yes, flesh is the new black, and the witches are bewitching.

Halloween pumpkins in Damariscotta, Maine: not the fashionable costume choice this year.

For next year, remember that small is the new big, and BIG is out, out, OUT, so don’t hit the town dressed as Princess Fiona, a pumpkin, or Ann Widdecombe.

For 2011’s festivities, you could be a dirty devil, a Playboy bunny, Wonderwoman (leaving people to wonder how you manage to pee wearing that Lycra one-piece) or cavewoman, you lucky little hussies, or a belly dancer (always practical in the far northern hemisphere) or perhaps a kitty cat, with a long tail, a body stocking and a happy helping of camel toe.

I believe Red Riding Hood was hot this year, but then she would be, wouldn’t she, in corset and fishnets? Whips were big too, but hemlines are very, very small.

According to The Times (Saturday, 30 October 2010), spending on Halloween has risen from £12 million a decade ago to £300 million this year. Asda alone has flogged 60 000 pairs of fangs, 42,000 vampire suits and 30,000 tubes of fake blood.

Supermarkets – those recognised purveyors of couture and good taste – sold more than two million costumes. PVC and polyester outfits lined the rails, each one an itsy-bitsy, flimsy fire hazard for a floozy.

In fact, Halloween sales have actually outstripped Valentine’s Day’s merry shopathon, and this time the men didn’t even need to try…
It’s a trick women somehow played on themselves, and a treat for all the well-covered fellas.
So now who’s the pumpkin?

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Modern life is tough for teenage girls. Early and inappropriate sexualisation combined with a culture of binge drinking can lead to some fairly risky behaviour and very unpleasant outcomes. Pubescent girls are under intense pressure to conform to various idealised and unhealthy body stereotypes. No wonder mothers, older sisters and concerned females who have reached the relative safety of our twenties and thirties (ok, and forties) worry as they watch these vulnerable young women with their post-coital hairstyles, Day-Glo tans and ill-fitting air of insouciance hanging around pubs and nightclubs, often the worse for wear.

The temptation may be to consider curfews aimed at curbing the more excessive manifestations of carefree youth but we all know that knee-jerk draconianism doesn’t work. Ever since Rapunzel let down her hair teenage girls have been climbing out of upstairs windows and shinning down drainpipes to join the fun. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our teens surely depends on them taking responsibility for their own behaviour without feeling smothered by the fear of what might happen. After all it is nothing short of essential that independence is asserted. We all deserve our opportunity to enjoy the careful hedonism of our teens before taking on the weighty responsibilities of adulthood.

Perhaps a Swedish organisation established by teenagers can provide a model for young Irish girls to better protect themselves. United Sisters has helped hundreds of Swedish girls aged between 12 and 20 to cope with the pressures of life. The scheme, developed by two Swedish teenagers  in 1996, aims to shore up self esteem by exploding myths relating to body image and early sexualisation. The girls who participate are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and all projects are developed in response to the suggestions and requirements of participants. Weekly get-togethers facilitate discussions that encompass relevant issues including sex, drugs, role models, violence, and prejudice. The intention is to give participants the opportunity to explore these highly charged topics in a safe, supportive and informed environment. Voluntary adult coaches are on hand for times when their intervention is deemed appropriate.

Perhaps the most radical and effective aspect of the programme is the voluntary night patrol involving girls aged 16-20 who walk the streets of Gothenburg and Stockholm helping young people who are too drunk to take care of themselves; embroiled in a hostile or confrontational situation; or simply upset and in need of someone to talk to. Each volunteer undertakes an intensive three month training programme aimed at teaching participants self-protection techniques, first aid, ethics, legal studies, drug knowledge and conflict resolution.

Would a similar scheme work here in Ireland? Would Irish teenage girls welcome such an initiative?

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North Country Girls

Last night I went to see Rachel Unthank and the Winterset at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve experienced in a long time. pr_rachel_unthank The music was astonishing, the band themselves were both charming and hilarious, there was synchronised clog-dancing (aw yeah) and the airy gallery setting was perfect (although it was also, many years ago, the setting of the single most embarrassing incident of my entire life – seriously, it was the sort of thing that would make an excellent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm – so I can never enter the place without feeling a twinge of shame). So yeah, if the Winterset ladies ever come to town again, and you’re in the mood for music that sounds like a cross between Feist, Steeleye Span, Erik Satie and Steve Reich, make sure you come along. And in the meantime, go and buy the two excellent albums.

On a similarly female friendly note, tomorrow night sees the next Feminist Open Forum event. Here’s what’s on offer:

SOUND BITES: A User’s Guide to the Media

Thursday February 5th, Brooks Hotel, Drury Street, Dublin


Sue Russell, media coordinator with Age and Opportunity, also former radio producer with RTE, will consider the battle of the stereotype – an ongoing struggle. She will consider what sexism has to tell us about ageism – and vice versa, clichés and how to avoid them– parachuting grannies and blond bombshells – how to make an ally of your audience, finally, raising awareness in your target group.

Roisin Boyd was news editor at Spare Rib for three years, reported and produced in RTE for 16 and now works as head of communications at the Irish Refugee Council. She will compare being on both sides of the mike, preparing for interviews, getting coverage, the blessings of a good press release and overcoming media resistance to certain issues, such as asylum seekers and refugees in her personal experience.

Margaret E Ward, journalist, feminist and manager of ClearInk, will focus on the importance of “tone of voice” in all marketing materials, including the press release. She will encourage participants to think like journalists, when to contact a journalist, keep them interested in your subject area, teach you how to give quotes and be a subject expert …

Shauneen Armstrong aka Redmum will enlighten us about blogging. Shauneen has been blogging for four years at redmum.blogspot.com. She organised a campaign against the Government’s decision to withdraw the cervical cancer vaccine from teenage girls through the social networking site, Facebook.

Contributors from the floor will include Bernie Dwyer, radio journalist with Radio Havana Cuba and documentary film maker, Nuala Haughey, freelance journalist and media trainer, Anthea McTeirnan, Cathy Dillon and Fiona McCann all from various sections and departments of the Irish Times.

Sounds good, no? Alas I probably won’t make it down, but I urge anyone who might be interested to head to the hotel – the FOF meeting I attended was great and this is a topic ripe for discussion. Places are limited, though, so get there early.

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Can we talk about hangovers, just for a second? I know, the ‘waa-waa-I’m-hungover’ spiel is tantamount to looking at other folk’s holiday snaps for sheer boredom value, but please bear with me. As you know, currying sympathy from everyone is the only fun part of this situation.

Fuck me, but my head is in a right jocker today.

What started out innocently enough as a few innocent, sociable cocktails in Solas ended in a most undignified fashion. Regrettably, the Inventory Of Shame now runneth over: I ended up in Whelan’s – feeling like a relic – applying freshly-bought Origins body lotion to folk’s faces (yes, I’m that kind of drunk girl), and harassed total strangers into playing ’20 dirty questions’. There is a boy pounding the streets of Dublin today that knows more about me than almost every guy I’ve ever slept with. He wasn’t not even that cute, certainly not cute enough to warrant that sort of classified information. But in vino veritas and all that shite.

This morning, I felt as though my brain was bathing in acid and my gob was like Gandhi’s blummin’ flip-flop. With the smallest turn on the pillow, each brain cell moaned, heaved and squeaked in protest. I felt like I was sweating pure rum. I tried to summon my hand to reach for a bedside glass of water, but no dice. Way too much effort. Still, I think I’ve come off a little bit better than another pal of mine, who managed to throw a bass amp out a third storey window last night in his inebriated state.

But now, it’s 5pm; I am unshowered, unmotivated and, as my mother might say, droopy-drawered in general. Another day wasted. Arse.

Mercifully, I have already stumbled by chance upon a rather effective hangover cure: lashings of Pineapple juice, Sigur Ros and orgasms (not necessarily administered in that order). Breakfast roll; optional.

How about you? Can anyone else do better than that on the hangover cure front? Do tell…

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