Cabaret and burlesque is currently making a big impact on the entertainment scene. Watching some quite subversive cabaret the other night, I began to think about nudity. A beautiful woman had just stripped to her underwear and was putting the tit-tassels to good use. Usually, I watch a show and think: ‘I could do that!’ As the tap dancers reach a frenetic climax, the actor hits his dramatic high point or the trapeze artist spins on his aerial swing; I like to think that give or take a couple of lessons, I’d be great at doing this.
Of course this isn’t true at all. I’m terribly clumsy, have no acting talent and am no good with heights. This fantasy of my own performing ability does not emerge when I watch strip tease. I know I couldn’t do this, ever. The reason being this: I have no desire to exhibit my naked body. Stripping is not for me.
As a teenager, I loitered shyly on the gay scene and the weekly schedule in the small city where I lived included a drag act on a Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. Bingo on a Sunday night and a stripper on a Friday. I became pretty blasé about their naked bodies gyrating in a small back street bar. Swinging cocks splashed baby oil over a bar full of men who were just tipsy enough to not be too worried about getting the stains out of their best Burtons Menswear jackets. There was always a local vicar who had barged to the front for a good eyeful, craning his neck and applauding with gusto as he leered at the sun bed orange flesh.
The routines were often samey and on the more obvious and tacky side of ‘fantasy’. The three foot stage would be peopled by unconvincing policemen, cheap and stained ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ air force pilots and construction workers who were so manicured that they had clearly never seen a cement mixer. The routines were mostly the same and give or take an inch here and there, the physiques varied very little with their inflated muscular, just the wrong side of deformity, and their rubber band constricted penises. There was the odd exception.
On one notable occasion a hulking man pulled out a cucumber from his obligatory giant holdall, bent down on all fours and rammed it straight up his sphincter. This was fine and earned a healthy hum of approval. Approval turned to horror as he pulled the said fruit back out of his arse and bit the end of it off. A bar full of slightly uptight gay men gasped in unison and considered the food hygiene implications. Of course, there was always talk of the odd performer who over stepped the mark with audience participation, but I never witnessed this, which I have no regrets about.
There’s nothing wrong with cheap back street bars, ropey strippers or the joys of the hen party crowd. In all its place and its own particular and unique merits. Striptease can also be a real art form and burlesque (and indeed Boy-lesque) combines the art of dance, glamour, drag and strip to make an often dazzling spectacle. Just don’t ask me to do it. I’ll be the one dashing to cover myself with a towel in the changing rooms.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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