WesBurlesque will ring in its 12th anniversary this year with a performance that combines comedy, music, and dance. Since WesBurlesque’s conception in 2003, students have flocked to the WestCo Café to become temporarily absorbed in a performance platform that addresses the human body, sexuality, and notions of desire. Under the direction of Taylor Dauphin ’15, Lucas McLaughlin ’15, and Liza Sankar-Gorton ’15, this year’s show will focus predominantly on self-love and confidence.
“That is the goal of Burlesque,” Sankar-Gorton wrote in an email to The Argus. “So when we perform we’re all somewhere on the path toward that goal.”
On this quest for self-actualization, Burlesque encourages its performers to form a more intimate relationship with their insecurities, or buried aspects of themselves that have potentially served as a source of bodily discomfort, something many of the dancers have faced.
Sankar-Gorton believes that this specific quality of the show is a vital aspect of unity among cast members.
“You’re telling your [cast mates] your embarrassing moments; sharing the things that make you feel guilty, ashamed, and disgusted; revealing your insecurities; and, literally, showing them your nearly naked body,” Sankar-Gorton wrote. “The most gratifying part is feeling vulnerable and supported simultaneously.”
For the Burlesque performers, the opportunity to tackle their insecurities in a setting void of judgment is instrumental in discovering extensions of themselves of which they might not previously have been aware.
“My routine for a long time consisted of playing basketball and doing physics,” performer Ziggy Zacks ’15 wrote in a message to The Argus. “Burlesque has made me embrace a side of myself that I barely knew existed. It has allowed me to be myself on the most primal of levels, and address issues I only vaguely knew that I had.”
In an effort to discourage escapism and promote natural confidence, the directors mandate a sober performance from the cast members. The cast members agree that this has helped them become more in tune with their bodies.
“[B]urlesque is all about being comfortable in your raw form,” Zacks wrote. “Not after 1, 2, or 7 drinks, but when you are truly yourself. Confidence isn’t utilizing ‘liquid courage,’ it is about being comfortable with oneself. Why need help? You are awesome and you gotta believe it.”
Whether performers use WesBurlesque as a means of branching out socially, becoming more confident in their own skin, or embracing suppressed quirks, this show promotes an acceptance of self through an initial engagement with the unfamiliar.
“WesBurlesque has instilled in me an appreciation for my body and all I can do with it,” Sarah Seo ’16 wrote in an email to The Argus.
Seo commenced her WesBurlesque career during the spring of her freshman year, and will celebrate her third year of performance and first year as a choreographer during this year’s show.
“Beyond a show, Burlesque is a community—one that promotes enough bravery in me to want to go out on stage and perform,” Seo wrote.
Seo said that her participation in the show has helped to improve her relationship with her body.
“Never in a million years did I think that I would reach the apex of my confidence in just a bra and underwear,” Seo wrote.
This year’s audition invitations on Facebook communicated that everyone, regardless of hir role in the show, should have positive takeaways. The invitation suggests that attaining a sense of personal agency can extend beyond the reaches of the stage.
“It’s an experience that can be therapeutic, eye-opening, terrifying, transformative, and of course, exciting—for us and for our audience,” the invitation reads. “We recognize the need to strike a balance between making Burlesque be for us, the cast, and making Burlesque be for the community—we strive to have everyone take away something positive from this show.”
Sonia Lombroso ’16 expects to attend the show for her third consecutive year. Despite her role as a spectator, she finds the performance empowering.
“The first time I went to see the show my freshman year, I left feeling invigorated, impressed, and powerful,” Lombroso said. “These feelings increase every time I see the show. To watch my friends and fellow classmates take control of their bodies, strengths, and flaws is truly awe-inspiring.”
Despite these glowing reviews, the show has in past years been subject to criticism regarding the demographic of the audience to which it tailors its message.
Trouve Ivo ’16 wrote a Wespeak in The Argus last year that addressed a perceived lack of attention paid to the different facets that comprise sexuality, particularly those related to gender and sexual orientation.
“Even though it made me happy to see so many of my friends performing and getting hoot-and-hollered at, I am sad about the potentiality foreclosed by WesBurlesque,” Ivo wrote. “One can situate this event within a more common student hypocrisy at Wesleyan: a noncommittal critical engagement, which claims a progressive stance but inevitably avoids confronting racial, sexual, gender, and class tensions.”
Ivo wrote the article in response to his own experience with WesBurlesque.
“I wrote the article because I felt very implicated during WesBurlesque,” Ivo said, “Partly because of everything that I felt was erased. If you go to a show and it’s not representing your desires or sparking something deep within you, then it’s not going to connect.”
This year, Ivo is collaborating with a number of students on campus to found ESQUE, an event that will be held the weekend before WesBurlesque and examine non-normative sexuality and marginalized voices through performance.
“Instead of augmenting the preexisting Burlesque on campus, we’re trying to create something that’s totally different,” Ivo said.
Ivo was quick to convey that he appreciates all that WesBurlesque does for the students, and that ESQUE was created as a secondary avenue of exploration that has more of a political agenda. The hope is that ESQUE and WesBurlesque can work in tandem to have all people on this campus, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation, feel represented.
“I really don’t think that ESQUE is more important than WesBurlesque or [vice] versa,” Ivo said. “They’re both accomplishing very distinct things.”
In the face of this, WesBurlesque has opened up a dialogue with the larger Wesleyan community. Conversations, open forums, and Q&A sessions were held in the days prior to auditions and will continue through opening night to ensure not only that the ethos of the performance is clear, but also that individual opinions are considered when organizing the show’s trajectory.
“Regardless of whether it is ESQUE or WesBurlesque, both shows should ask the audience to consider their own definition of sexy,” Ivo said. “That will obviously be influenced by mainstream ideals of beauty. But it’s an important question to ask. These shows should communicate that individuals should be true to themselves no matter what they are doing.”