AskNBN #20: What's it like to perform in Burlesque?

    AskNBN's Karli Goldenberg finds out what it’s like to perfrom in Burlesque, Northwestern's yearly flagship striptease performance. Transcript below.

    Karli Goldenberg: By 9:15 on the opening night of Lipstick Theater’s Burlesque, a line had already formed from Lutkin Hall to the eastern end of University Place for the 10:30 show. If you thought that the line was excited, just listen to the applause.

    Karli: Burlesque is well-known on Northwestern’s campus, but the performer’s experience is not. So, what’s it like to perform in Burlesque? I spoke with Jamie Joeyen-Waldorf and Cindy Chen to find out. I’m Karli Goldenberg, and this is AskNBN. First, I spoke with Jamie Joeyen-Waldorf, who has performed with Burlesque multiple times, about her experiences.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: I’ve done it for 3 years now, so this is my third. I perform about a 2-minute routine to a song that I’ve chosen and choreographed something to. Burlesque is just a place where people take off as much clothing as they’re comfortable with to be at peace with their body, and share that kind of confidence and positivity with other people that attend.

    Karli: Even one year later, people still approach Joeyen-Waldorf about the impact that her piece about body weight has had on them.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime experience to just perform in front of 2,000 people. Like I still have people that come up to talk with my about my piece from last year.

    Karli: Joeyen-Waldorf spoke about how the performers are at the center of the creative process.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: You do what speaks to you. So, last year it was a piece about body weight, and those kinds of issues, and this one was about graduation. I just kind of like find something that’s scary to me and then put it on the stage.

    Karli: Joeyen-Waldorf also dispelled certain myths associated with Burlesque.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: People think that people who do Burlesque all look a certain way, or have all the same experiences with sex and their body. A lot of people do Burlesque, and they’re all from different backgrounds, we try to get as many different types of people as possible, and there are many different body types. They don’t tell you that you have to take off a specific amount of clothing. If you wanted to come out and just take off like one shirt, that would be fine.

    Karli: Joeyen-Waldorf also spoke about the ways that performing in Burlesque has changed how she sees herself.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: Once your body is seen by so many people on campus, it’s like a whole ‘nother world. I think that it’s made me a lot more open as a person. It’s really validating to see when you’re on stage, hearing so many people scream your name, and people cheering. It’s really validating and positive.

    Karli: Burlesque has helped Joeyen-Waldorf to see herself and her body on her own terms.

    Joeyen-Waldorf: I struggled with my weight for a really long time throughout my life, and I think that after my three years of Burlesque, I definitely am still working on dealing with my body weight, but it’s not because I think that I have to look a certain way or I think people think I should look a certain way. It’s what I want it to be.

    Karli: I also spoke with Cindy Chen, who has performed in Burlesque multiple times as well. This year, Chen performed in a space-themed number at Burlesque.

    Chen: This year I coerced my rocketry team into doing it with me, so we had a number called “Space XXX."

    Karli: While Chen had never planned to do Burlesque, one conversation with her suitemate started her journey.

    Chen: My start in Burlesque was me walking past my suitemate’s room. She was trying on her outfit, and she called me in to get my opinion on her outfit, and I asked her what it was, and she said, ‘Burlesque, it’s tomorrow. Do you want to go?” and I was like, ‘Alright, sure. Why not?’ And that’s how I entered the wonderful world of Burlesque.

    Karli: For Chen, Burlesque has been a body-positive, inclusive, encouraging space centered on empowering performers.

    Chen: And I also really like the fact that Burlesque is all about empowerment and inclusion and seeing what’s wonderful about yourself, and owning your body and being like, “Yup, I’m hot.” It’s a wonderful and body-positive place to be, and everyone encourages everyone else. I guess every week when I go to rehearsal, I’m baffled by the amount of love and encouragement that’s there.

    Karli: Chen dispelled the common conflation between Burlesque performances and stripping.

    Chen: I think the most common one is just, ‘What’s the difference between Burlesque and stripping?’ The easiest way to clarify that is that stripping is for the audience, and Burlesque is for yourself. The space and community that Burlesque is in is empowering and all about body-positivity and inclusion, whereas stripping is not.

    Karli: When asked if performing in Burlesque has changed her relationship to herself, this was Chen’s response.

    Chen: Oh yeah, absolutely. Before I did Burlesque freshman year, people would tell me that I’m beautiful, but I’d never really believe them or take them seriously. I would just say, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re just saying that because you’re my friend,’ and you know, whatever. But after Burlesque, having people cheer you on with such confidence, even when you just take off a sock or strut across the stage, it really helps you realize that I am a wonderful person, and I do have the confidence to own a stage and look into the mirror and be like, ‘Yup, this is me, and I like it.’

    Karli: For Chen, participating in Burlesque was about more than the show itself; it was about confidence and owning her body. The love and support of the Burlesque community is something that Chen thinks that everyone should be a part of.

    Chen: And why I encourage everyone to, maybe not perform in Burlesque because it’s not for everyone, but why I encourage everyone to be any part of the community because you learn so much about how to really love yourself and how to love other people for exactly who they are.

    Karli: That’s it for AskNBN. You can find more episodes of AskNBN at under the audio tab. Make sure to subscribe to AskNBN on Apple Podcasts, so you get a notification every time we post a new episode. I’m Karli Goldenberg, and thank you for listening.


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