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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Burlesque dancing boosts esteem for sexual assault victims


    Courtesy of Kira Martin: Magnolia Tarte, a burlesque dancer, performs during the dress rehearsal for Burlesque for the Soul, which opens Friday at 8 p.m. at the Surly Wench Pub.

    Burlesque for the Soul has a bit more behind it than just a striptease. The show will be making its premiere at the local Surly Wench Pub Friday.

    “It kind of sounds like a conundrum — people taking their clothes off for the sake of people getting their clothes ripped off,” said Kate Johnston, co-founder with her partner Stephanie Johnston of both the Surly Wench and Black Cherry Burlesque. “But that’s the point. We are claiming our bodies back.”

    Burlesque for the Soul is a mentorship program instructed by members of Black Cherry Burlesque, one of Tucson’s local burlesque troupes. The program not only teaches a unique style of dance, but provides a platform for women and men affected by sexual assault to rebuild their confidence and affirm their sexuality through performance art.

    “Confidence is at the heart of burlesque,” Johnston said, “but you can’t just teach someone to be confident. To truly break down the walls that are keeping them from the stage, if that’s what they want, you really have to get down on a personal level and find out what took their confidence away in the first place.”

    For a lot of people, what took that confidence and replaced it with shame turns out to be an instance of sexual assault.

    “When you see a woman on a burlesque stage, shedding her shame that she’s learned throughout her life, it’s contagious,” Johnston said. “It’s a statement that brings down a wall. It’s another person that inspires you to be who you want to be and not to be ashamed of that.”

    Stacé Moore, a member of Burlesque for the Soul since it originated last November, emphasized the importance of this kind of community support system.

    “The men and women that are a part of this mentorship come from all walks of life with different burlesque styles, body types and stories,” Moore said. “Burlesque for the Soul gives the performer freedom of expression and an encouraging hand to hold throughout the process.”

    The Johnstons’ endeavors extend even further than a local discourse. This Friday, during Burlesque for the Soul’s first show, the group will be participating in the creation of the Monument Quilt, the nation’s first-ever national monument to commemorate survivors of sexual abuse.

    The quilt, comprised of 4-by-4 foot squares on which the stories of survivors are written or depicted through photos or memorabilia, has been assembled across the country using squares submitted by survivors and those affected by sexual assault.

    The national manifestation of a public discourse that has been contested for years is perhaps an indication of that discourse’s steady success. This Friday, Burlesque for the Soul will be giving out information on how to contribute to the creation of this national landmark.

    “We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed,” reads the Monument Quilt’s official website.

    That public support process is part of what Burlesque for the Soul seeks to bring to Tucson.

    “You can say the words ‘raise awareness’ all day,” Johnston said, “but until you truly hear someone’s story, you can’t really grasp what sexual assault is. It’s such a vague term that dismisses the profoundness of it.”

    By sprawling personal testimonials of sexual assault across a national monument, the Johnstons are seeking to promote that discourse.

    “When you see somebody’s story written on the quilt, it changes your perspective about the whole concept of how sexual assault affects people,” Johnston said, “and if you’re a survivor, it’s validating.”

    Tickets to Burlesque for the Soul are $10 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m., the show starts at 8 p.m. and an encore performance will take place at 10 p.m. for the later crowd. All proceeds from the show will go to the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

    Don’t miss a night of scandalous performances and empowering political discourse with members of Burlesque for the Soul at the Surly Wench Pub.

    Follow Ian Martella on Twitter @DailyWildcat

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