Cultural Appropriation in Burlesque
Cultural Appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing understanding or respect to this culture.
Cultural appropriation occurs when members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed.
While cultural appropriation was historically aligned with racist performance traditions, and has occurred with great frequency throughout the history of burlesque, the continuation of this causes harm and is not acceptable.
A number of cultural elements that may not be problematic outside of burlesque, become hurtful when those cultures are used in burlesque numbers. The striptease and parody in burlesque means that it is inherently disrespectful to the subject matter and impersonation of BIPOC in performance allows the profiting from a minority group without compensation, while also taking away a potential employment opportunity from a BIPOC artist.
The Bombshell Burlesque Academy has a strict policy against engaging artists that partake in cultural appropriation on the stage or in the classroom.
Lila Luxx here, Director of The Bombshell Burlesque Academy. I've decided to write this in a more personal manner because we're not a massive corporation with a media team, and this isn't a media experience, rather an aim to move forward in the world with more care and compassion.
Personally, I've absolutely created acts that were harmful in the past, and watched others and said nothing. I own these hurtful choices and have taken steps to rectify them, including retiring the acts, educating myself and donating show fees and income. I'm also white, and don't wish to talk over voices of peoples who are hurt by Cultural Appropriation, however I think it's important to be very clear on what's right.
This is a big topic, and like all things race related, it's not a matter of if but when a white person will cause harm, and how to do what we can to minimise these instances. A vast amount of resources are available on this, but I'm going to focus on Cultural Appropriation in Burlesque specifically.
I highly recommend reading these great articles as a starting point:
There are a number of things that we have implemented at The Bombshell Burlesque Academy that you may or may not be aware of, and new things that we are doing going forward to help create and maintain a safe space for everyone who wishes to join in burlesque.
This is an ongoing process and there is always work to be done. Here is our starting point:
Burlesque is For Every Body
Since 2019, we have invited students who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, and/or BIPOC to join in a complimentary Beginner Burlesque term.
There is no quota and students names are not disclosed or recorded. The reasoning behind this is threefold:
- Burlesque, like all art as recreation, is an expensive hobby. Historically, the costs involved have been a barrier to some oppressed groups, resulting in an imbalance of privilege of those who have been able to take part in classes and performance,
- Our space is for all bodies, including those of all races. We hope that our classes and shows can be reflective of the diversity in our wider community; and
- Currently, our teaching staff is comprised of white women. An additional aim is to identify and mentor performers from more diverse backgrounds on a path to professional performance and teaching.
While we have included Cultural Appropriation information in our soloist course, the vast amount of our student body isn't exposed to this until then. To rectify this, we are:
- Including this page on our website, linked to our Terms & Conditions,
- Introducing a welcome sequence of emails for new students that links to resources, including information on Cultural Appropriation,
- A Cultural Appropriation module will be added to the next release of the Virtual Bombshell Burlesque Academy,
- Hosting a workshop on Cultural Appropriation with access in person and online; and
- BBA tutors are attending a Toolbox Talk/Workshop to better educate us on cultural sensitivity and humility.
The Bombshell Burlesque Academy will continue to support Point of Change with studio and administrative support for workshops, prizes for fundraising and student performances, where appropriate.
Our By Donation workshop, started in 2020, will continue to run annually with access by presentation of a donation receipt to a charity supporting First Nations peoples.
You may find yourself with a question around Cultural Appropriation that isn't answered by any of the articles above. We are currently researching to compile a list of burlesque specific consultants that may be able to assist with these kinds of queries and will populate it here once it's ready. In the meantime, please remember that asking for this kind of help is emotional labour, and we recommend the following considerations be made:
1. Email, rather than DM, your consultant and ask for consent before asking the question. Be prepared for that person to decline, and be ready to ask elsewhere for an answer,
2. Please offer compensation in exchange for this work. This could be via a PayPal link, a donation to a charity or other contribution by discussion; and
3. Be aware that BIPOC are not a monolith, and individuals will have different experiences and opinions. You will likely need to do more research than engaging one consultant.
This is by no means exhaustive, complete or anywhere near "enough", rather an attempt at being transparent around how we are actively trying to make our space safe for everyone.
Many thanks to the energy and effort of the artists who assisted in the development of the current action plan:
Thank you for being willing to learn and grow with us,