Difficult words to use when talking about why burlesque is, despite the appearances, an intellectual activity (or at least it can be)


Dedicated to my mom.


Cultural and social identity associated to one’s biological sex. An object of fear and misuderstanding among heavily Catholic communities. Gender is understood as a sum of personality traits, behaviors, social roles and stereotypes understood as belonging to a given biological sex but not directly resulting from it. Contrary to what one might hear in a Polish church, gender is not endorsing any specific rules or behaviors (especially sexual ones). Gender studies make us wonder why we think of something as feminine or masculine and what are the social consequences of such thinking for us and others.


Not the summer one and not Kamp! (an excellent music band). Camp is a kind of hipster aesthetic. Something is cool precisely because it’s kitch. Ironically cool. The notion of camp appeared at the times of counter-culture of the 1960s. Accoording to Susan Sontag, who in 1964 published an essay Notes on Camp, the essence of this convention is conscious preferences to that which is clearly artificial, exaggerated. Kitsch may be unconscious, but camp is always premeditated.

Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much.”

What art is camp? Ballet. Fashion (haute couture!). Glam rock. Drag. And of course burlesque!


In the context of burlesque we talk about normative and non-normative body. Normative body is the mainstream body. The one you see on TV, the Internet, on the covers of magazines. The body you think „normal” of in your cultural-social context. Non-normative body is any body that does not fit your standard. Talking about body normativity makes us wonder, what kind of bodies we consider “normal” and what kind of bodies are unusual and deviating from “the norm”.


The concept of gender perfomativity appear in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. Gender performativity means the the way of contructing one’s gender through play and repetition. Performativeness is then a concept turning our attention to the artificiality of activities highlighting our gender affinity. Such activity is, for example, make up or wearing a particular kind of clothing. It can be talking in a certain way. It can be correcting someone’s behavior as “unbecoming” of a person of specific gender. Gender performativity (like majority of “normsl”) is most evident when it is opposed, e.g. in drag show. Drag culture (here understood as performing as someone of a different gender than one’s own) has a long and rich tradition in theatre, pantomime, opera, later of course in the cinema, TV and contemporary music. Drag queens and kings are people specializing in performances where the idea is to show gender in an exaggerated, comical way.

Interesting fact: I studied American literaturę and I had a course titled „Literature – psychoanalysis – feminism” where we also discussed Butler. The conclusion of this class was „Every gender performance is a bit drag” 

I must admit that this is one of the reasons I like to say I’m a burlesque “performer” – because burlesque for me is a performance.


In the considered context (which is gender vs. sex), subversion is behavior or attitude negating the normative opinion on sex, gender or sexuality. Subversive behaviors denounce and undermine gender mechanisms and gender-related stereotypes; they deconstruct established bipolar divisions, androcentrism and heteronormativity (this I will not explain, check it out yourselves). This can be done in two ways – by taking behaviour of gender other than one’s „own” or by exaggerating behavior associated with one’s gender. You can also change the context of a specific behavior or stereotype, e.g. by taking a heteronormative song, film, tradition and embedding it in a queer context.

Third-wave feminism

If the first wave of feminism dealt with the position of women in the legal and educational context (the right to education, the right to vote, the right to own property) and the second in the professional and sexual context (gender equality at work, the right to contraception and abortion), then the third wave of feminism focuses on the importance of such factors as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic position in women’s empowerment. The emphasis is put not only on fighting against gender-based violence, fighting for reproductive rights, but also linguistic violence, supporting motherhood, and finally freedom of expression of womanhood. So in a nutshell – a woman does not have to give up make up and high heels to call herself a feminist. She can be a wife and a mother, she can be single, she can work in a corporation, she lead a household and still be a feminist. In the context of burlesque? She can show her body onstage and still be a feminist. She can make her act a performance using camp, using stereotypes associated with what a woman does and how a woman looks and make it a personal manifesto. Or she can just have fun and enjoy her body and her sexuality. And still be a feminist.

“Neo-burlesque performers, like strippers in nightclubs, play out fantasies about a woman, but we should note a significant shift happening in neo-burlesque scene. Firstly, performers working on an act go back to their own fantasis, seek their own alternative femininity. Secondly, these ideas constitute in an audience a kind of meta-fantasy of a self-confident woman who fully accepts her own body and is not ashamed of her sexuality, in other words, is not ashamed to desire and to be desired”


(Agata Łuksza, “Corsets, stockings, pasties. Femininity in neo-burlesque”, Tematy z Szewskiej 1(11)/2014, Wrocław)*

*translation mine