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Middle Class Pole Dancing

From Ron Taylor

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Love the photo. Not sure if it is a comment on the Burlesque Festival or an advert for the next HB festival!

From Heidi Bang Tidy

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Anyone who thinks Burlesque is either a) Middle Class or b) Pole Dancing has clearly never seen a Burlesque show. Which is a shame because they just missed out on some of the finest burlesque performers in the UK right here in this town this weekend.

We are grateful nonetheless. The publicity from this banner has been priceless. So far 30,000 have viewed the image of the banner we have on our Facebook page. You can't buy that kind of exposure (pardon the pun!)

If anyone genuinely wants to know anything about either the Festival or Burlesque in general, they are welcome to email me. I am happy to discuss any aspects of the art form and welcome healthy, open and honest debate.

We are proud of what we have achieved with the Festival and have nothing to hide (our costumes wouldn't allow it anyway!)


ps: for what it's worth, there nothing wrong with being Middle Class OR a Pole Dancer imho

From Dave H

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

As a town that so often high-5's itself for being the epitome of a tolerant, accepting and creative society, are we to read from the banner that we are only tolerant to those who do what we do, or follow our exact way of life? Disappointing, and a cheap shot.

From HJ

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I don't mind revealing that I have been the victim of sexual violence and for many years, I hated my body. I signed up for a burlesque class a few years ago, expecting some smuttiness that I was sure I would hate. What I got was a body positive teacher who helped me see that all bodies and sexualities can feel empowered and that empowerment is what people define it to be. I no longer hate my body or have the same problems with flashbacks and shame and I think that the environment burlesque promotes tackles that kind of hatred.

I never went on to perform, I am a private kinda person. But for me, burlesque celebrates not just womanhood, but manhood and that of people who identify outside that binary gender model. It has helped me see bodies outside of the narrow sexual parameters of popular culture. Burlesque includes elements of caberet, athleticism, curve appreciation, the variation in human bodies and what they can do. As a woman, I find these events to be well managed, respectful; I have never had to suffer cheap pick up lines or sexual harassment in burlesque clubs the way I have in ordinary clubs.

I worry that sex is becoming a commodity and that not all women working in sexual arenas have agency and power. I don't think that burlesque legitimizes a consumer gaze. I think it offers a view of sexuality that is human, in all it's reality. A view that includes polite applause, stretch marks, socializing, drinks, merriment and all the things lacking in strip clubs.

I can't say what the protest was about given that it was a one liner. Middle class, how so? Pole dancing, in what sense? I can say that as a feminist, a victim of sexual violence and someone who doesn't buy cosmo/would never take a pole dancing class in my life, burlesque has been a positive force in my life.

From Linda W

Thursday, 9 May 2013

These are the OED descriptions of burlesque.

1 an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody: a novel which is a burlesque of the literary life

[mass noun]:the argument descends into music-hall burlesque

2a. variety show, typically including striptease:
[as modifier]:burlesque clubs

While it is obviously good that HJ has been empowered by the experience, it is important to understand that burlesque in the form taken by the festival is about striptease and erotica. Not that this should prevent anyone from going to a burlesque club: far from it.

But I think the pithy graffito was from someone who probably took umbrage at having the Town Hall used for the promotion of striptease. I may of course be mistaken, but as I understand it the burlesque artistes involved were all women, presumably in various states of eroticised undress. While humour may well have been part of the experience, to disengage the concept of erotica from burlesque is akin to The Sun describing Page 3 as 'harmless fun.' After all, if there were any male performers, I would imagine they were in the vast minority, while I am assuming the audience mix was less one-sided.

I am happy to stand corrected if in fact it was 60:40 male-female in the performer department. I may have misread the publicity.

I have no objection to people seeking out ways of titillating themselves, whether they describe it as artistic or not, since this is part of a free society. I do have an issue with it being described as a festival akin to the Blues Festival and using council-paid premises to do so. Having a banner hung where the last banner was for the Duck Race inevitably prompts questions from the young children in this town as to what it is and whether they can attend.

It is disingenuous for the Burlesque community to ignore this. Unless burlesque isn't intrinsically about sex. Which might be the case of course! I often find myself wondering why more people don't wear nipple tassles, stockings & suspenders while going about their everyday business. They're very practical, after all.

Oh and Heidi Bang Tidy? You're right that here is nothing to be embarrassed about in being a pole dancer. But I'd be surprised to see a Hebden Bridge Pole Dancing Festival. Unless you're planning to equate the two.

From Sarah C

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Like Heidi, I also welcome open and honest discussion, which is why I took, and shared on social media, a photo of the Middle Class Pole Dancing counter banner.

The HB Burlesque Festival banner was displayed in a prominent public place that appeared to give official endorsement to the event. I was pleased that a counter banner was put up next to it, giving voice to the fact that there are plenty of people who don't feel comfortable with burlesque.

I can't speak for the people who put up the banner (well done, whoever you are, for getting this discussion going!) but for me the question is: if it had been a pole dancing festival, would it have been held at the Town Hall and would there have been a banner advertising it in the centre of town?

For me this is a complex issue. I understand the argument of empowerment by people (largely women) getting in touch with their sensuality and feeling good about themselves – full power to HJ. I'm sure that most people performing burlesque are thinking body positive, but I would proffer that many watching are objectifying.

We live in a prevailing culture where it appears that a good deal of men expect women to be available to/for them at their (the men's) convenience. So going to a mainstream venue and watching women (un)dress and act sexily can, in my opinion, have the effect of endorsing that objectifying behaviour.

From the burlesque shows I've seen (yes, I have been to some and have known both burlesque performers and 'regular' strippers) there has been plenty of objectifying going on. The consequences of this is that some men, at least, feel they can expect any woman to behave this way for them, evidenced by harassment of women by men in the vicinity of burlesque events. And yes I have observed this.

The point is that apparent civic endorsement legitimises and normalises the objectification of women as sexual commodities. By liking and agreeing with the counter banner I support the notion that it is ok to object to the public endorsement of this event and to acknowledge there is another opinion.

From Graham Barker

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I may be taking my life in my hands by suggesting that people lighten up a bit here, but the 'pole dancing' banner is surely more Derek & Clive than Banksy. Its humour comes not from what it says, but from the fact that someone has gone to the trouble to stick it up there. What it does demonstrate though is that Hebden Bridge is a great place for over-analysing things.

From HJ

Friday, 10 May 2013

The problem is, if you acknowledge that both men and women can get something from burlesque that isn't sexual expolitation because there is nothing inherently sexist about burlesque, then why do we need to consign it to the backstreets?

If burlesque is recognized for what it is, performance including caberet, dance, magic, music, comedy; and we acknowledge that audiences and performances cover all genders, why do the minority who personally feel that it is titillation get to decide for me where I view burlesque?

I feel that a banner over the town hall with no images on it is pretty easy to explain to children versus the sexualised billboards/magazine articles/music videos that children are bombarded with. With a study coming out this week that shows that a huge number of unattended kids online are accidentally coming across porn, why so much hysteria over a banner containing the word burlesque?

If a parent cannot find an age appropriate way of explaining to a child that some shows are for grown ups, I fear for their parenting, not the poor childs fertile mind. It is impossible to edit and censor this world for children, it was never possible to do so.

If the council needed a sex show license to put on a show that included hard core sex stripping for a paying male audience, I can see why people might feel that inappropriate. While burlesque involves nudity, it is of the carry on variety. It is not in your face, factory farm type nudity. I respect pole dancers and strippers for their choices, but I agree, a town hall is not the venue.

Like it or not, the history burlseque came from a rich heritage of dance hall and music history, including emancipation of women and acceptance of their rights and sexuality. As an art form that requires skill, it should have festival status like anything else. Burlesque is not, contrary to popular opinion, a woman taking her clothes off to a backing track. To put on an act (of Heidi's calibre) requires choreography, a talent, costuming, singing /dancing /magic /firework etc, it is not just lazy stripping for money.

Men who feel that women are sexual objects will feel that way regardless of a burlesque act at the town hall. Issues like how we teach consent to our children, naked women in advertising, how low the rape conviction is, sexual harrassment in the work place, sexual violence (is it one in four women who have been sexually assaulted?) are all really viable issues. But the men who I see burlesque with, my male friends, are not to predatory types nor do they disrespect me.

I am not saying that burlesque isn't sometimes an invite to men who will behave badly, nor is it neutral, because it tackles sexual issues. But I think there are a lot of assumptions here about what burlesque actually involves, that play down the skill of it.

I don't want to live in a world where sex is censored, in a 'think of the children!' manner. I want to live in a world where the sexual culture thrives on respect, manners and valuing other people. Nothing I have ever seen in burlesque runs at all counter to that.

Oh, and I wear nipple tassels, stockings and suspenders under my clothes when it might be required later, they are actually remarkably invisible and comfortable. I am a woman who can integrate my sexuality and also be a business woman, friend, daughter, sister and partner without having to deny my sexuality in the places it is appropriate.

It is interesting that sex and ordinary life are not seen as so compatible, we have to send erotica and sexuality somewhere totally out of view because if I embrace it on my terms, I'm being terribly oppressed by the patriachy, whether I feel that way or not.

Rape, sexual violence and harrassment is not a sign I ought to take my sexuality out of view/we should hide burlesque. It is a sign I should offer another way by being proud of my body and modelling positive sexuality that is inclusive and has some humour.

It's actually horribly sexist to shame a female outlet for women's sexuality by insisting that the presence of a few idiot guys ought to make it forbidden. Men will always try to occupy my sexual space and I will always insist that I have the right to be sexual in a way that edifies me where I am not harming anyone else.

Why are the people who reject sexual expression so obsessed with everyone elses?

From Heidi Bang Tidy

Friday, 10 May 2013

I am so pleased this has sparked a healthy and respectful debate. Obviously I am of the opinion that a burlesque festival has as much right to exist as any other event since I am co producer of the festival (I might add that this festival was run by an all-female team)

I don't feel I need to add more argument here about why we feel a festival should be staged since other folks seem to be doing a great job there and - of course - I am biased.

I did just want to clarify a couple of points to add more information /answer a few points.

  1. the festival featured a number of male burlesque performers
  2. we were entirely self-funded and paid a hire fee for all our venues, including the town hall. Not a penny of tax payers money was used to stage the event.
  3. our audiences were 75-80 percent female
  4. the banner site over the river is privately owned and has nothing to do with Hebden Royd or Calderdale Council
  5. when the main banner was erected we saw our web traffic triple - an indication that there are many local people who were interested in what we had to offer
  6. the festival generated considerable trade for the town - we are still collecting data but early analysis shows that the majority of those visiting from outside Calderdale spent money in local businesses whilst visiting the town for the Festival. Once I have all the data I will post a link here for those who may be interested
  7. we were very careful to only use "safe" images in our publicity. We take child protection seriously. Our events were advertised as suitable only for adults.
  8. Our shows were mixed bills featuring gay, straight, bi, male, female, old, young, fat, skinny, black and white performers from various disciplines. Not all our performers were strip tease artistes (although many were and we make no apology for that) and none of them were exploited or forced to perform.

Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival is about celebrating diversity, sexuality, talent and humour in a respectful, safe and fun environment.

I hope this helps


From Dave R

Friday, 10 May 2013

As a male, I find burlesque not in the least erotic nor artistic.

Being a Northern lad, it always seemed a bit like curvy lasses in feathers and tassels trying too hard to be sexy.

To devote so much energy to arguing about opression and exploitation of women because a tongue in cheek poster took the p*** is a bit over the top.

But hey ho whatever twirls your tassels!

From Cllr Susan Press

Saturday, 11 May 2013

I just want to make it clear that the Burlesque Festival was not backed by the Town Council in any way nor does the Town Council have any jurisdiction over a building which is in the hands of the Community Association. If people have views on the matter I suggest they contact the Trustees.

From Jennie Heppleston

Thursday, 16 May 2013

I went to the Hebden Bridge Burlesque festival and had a hugely entertaining and fabulous time - my only regret was that i didn't take my two sons aged 10 and 12 as they would have seen real, liberated women (and man).

From Florence Fontaine

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Hi, I’m one of the performers that performed at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

None of my routines/acts are intrinsically about sex and you’ll find that this is the same for all performers performing at the festival. The comment made about all performers being female is also untrue, and the same can be said about the audience, that vast majority were female. Though sadly male performers are in the minority there are plenty of them around.

There are countless burlesque festivals around the UK and the world. It is completely appropriate for them to be described as such as Burlesque is an art form. If you disagree with this you are belittling a lot of people's main creative outlet. We also put in the same amount of effort in that musicians, dancers, artists etc do.

The OED definition doesn’t adequately describe burlesque. Burlesque is a satire, doesn’t always include striptease. I know plenty of performers who don’t remove any clothing. It covers a wide range of disciplines including side show performance, ballet, circus skills to name a few. I understand that not everyone understands or agrees with burlesque but the arguments against it are incorrect and misinformed and this saddens me

From Glorian Gray

Sunday, 2 June 2013

HJ, what a wonderful and well thought-out response!

I won't bother explaining what burlesque was historically, going right back to ancient Greece, all the way to 1940s London through to present day. I wont bother explaining the emancipatory ways burlesque let women enter male dominated society, or the way it sought to destabilise politics, culture and gender. But it did.

The revival today is a grassroots subculture and art form where in (predominantly) women, can be showgirls, stripteasers, comedians, magicians, singers, dancers, cross-dressers, acrobats, show producers, event managers and teachers.

You cant take the sex out of burlesque. Nor can you take out the visual spectacle, the satire, the variety, the slapstick, the pure creativity.

Just because the sex is there, does not outweigh the other elements, nor does it devalue an art form, or make it about commodification or sexualisation of women.

And the sex is not about creating hard-ons in men. It's about boldly, frankly and often comedically flaunting what we, as society, seem to get so uptight about, whilst simultaneously being obsessed by.

Ironically, (and when done properly) burlesque is thumbing its nose at exactly the types of complaints we have on here, and it always has done. People who complain that it is indecent or sexist have, sadly, spectacularly missed the point that the performers are trying to make. However, this is inevitable, as all art is interpretation, and you will view burlesque through the lens of the paradigm or way of thinking you have adopted (or been taught).

So some men and women think that burlesque is sexist, choose to dismiss the strong, intelligent, informed, creative female artists and business women who make it what it is, because we live in a patriarchal culture, and because some men might mistakenly think the events are to turn them on. That is up to them, but it does seem somewhat blinkered.

Burlesque is not perfect. Sometimes it gets it wrong, sometimes it does not understand the full picture. But what good it does do in terms of art and opportunities for women, far outweighs the mistakes it may make, or the consequences of John and Sonja down the road incorrectly assuming that the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival is about women turning men on.

PS if your little ones ask "mummy what is burlesque?" you can say "it is a type of theatre that is for grown ups". And if they are teens, tell them to research it online, they will get a wonderful, complex journey into the history of performance, gender and politics. End of.

Please use your name when posting. We prefer full names but will accept first name followed by an initial. We posted messages from one correspondent who just used initials, for obvious reasons. If this is a problem, please email - Ed