Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show

Performing Desire

Ophelia Bitz, the tour de force behind ArtWank  and the Ringmistress at some of the UK’s finest Burlesque and Cabaret shows gives you her tips for performing desire.

I adore people with huge ambitions. A hungry mind is a sexy mind, and I’ll buy dessert for anyone shamelessly working their ass off and exploiting all their talents. Desires, dreams, drive, hunger; what else do you go to the theatre to see? Who indeed make the best lovers? The communicators, those who know what they want and how to make it happen.

Burlesque, striptease and other erotic entertainments are of course a great field for the enactment of fantasies, using the most basic communication of desire; body language.

Ophelia Bitz (c) David Hammonds

Ophelia Bitz (c) David Hammonds

In my years as a comedy stripper I enjoyed using my body as a punch-line, an exploitation of flesh to poke fun at sexuality in order to level out the audience, and ideally, spread a bit of love and self-acceptance. It was only when audiences would use me as a sounding board for their own pet theories on burlesque, women’s bodies and sex after the gig that I realized that all my good intentions were great for my ‘process’, but often people just see what they want to see. In this case, a naked 19 year-old dicking about with animal puppets and bar-tending equipment, or on occasion, a liberated fat chick. This was about as political as the feedback got. My art-student soul was crushed.

Similarly, working as a life-model I have posed for countless almost unrecognizable pictures of myself, the artists subconsciously drawing the body they know the best, their own. Or perhaps it is that sitting still for hours, counting how many limbs have gone to sleep is so boring that I was hallucinating. All things are possible.

Obviously it is part of the job description of performer/muse to be looked at, but it bothered me that all the personality, jokes and politics I thought I was weaving into my work were mainly lost on my audience, and so I resolved to make explicit my intentions. I picked up the mic, started leaving my clothes on (mostly) and the foul-mouthed emcee incarnation of Ophelia Bitz was born (some years before my exploration into pornography really began). Now in my charming days of reading meaning in skin flicks, in the performance of desire, I return to thoughts of body language.

Arguments against striptease and pornography are varied, with the main criticisms being objectification and the dehumanizing of the female body, countered by the empowerment argument. It cannot be denied that a vast majority of sexual imagery is repressive and damaging to women, but I do not believe that sexual performance is in essence anti-feminist. In a hypocritical hypersexualized yet slut-shaming culture it is valid and important to use sexual expression as a political device, and here I call upon performers to consider their communication on stage. Or like Annie Sprinkle says, “The answer to bad pornography is not no pornography, it is to make better pornography.”

Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle

The term used in ethical porn circles is ‘agency’. Does the performer have sexual agency; are s/he/they experiencing real pleasure, directing the action, dictating the boundaries? When you’re stripping are you offering yourself up to be consumed or are you letting the audience know exactly what you want to happen, who you are and what the terms are?  To be a proud stripper or sex-worker has a huge post-feminist appeal to it, and many performers have intentions no further than creating an act that is super hot; an agenda that in pornography is often lauded as authentic and stylish, whilst in burlesque is sometimes derided as one-dimensional. Potato, potaato.

My heart will always belong to comic subversive burlesque but who is immune to the scorching moves and blatant sexual aggression of Luna Rosa, or the tigerish prowl of La Loco? Watching gorgeous people insinuate sex ain’t no sin, and when it’s done well, boy does it raise the hairs on the back of your…whatever.

Ophelia Bitz (c) Bichard

Ophelia Bitz (c) Bichard

It is done well when you sense the performer is enjoying themselves- whether it alleviates your moral guilt for oogling flesh or gets you drooling into your socks, the peeler who can bring real eroticism to the stage is the act that is remembered.

For a professional performer of any kind this will involve a certain amount of rehearsal; a good stand-up comic is the one who makes you believe they just came up with their material in the moment.

Do as you will, you stocking-clad lovelies, but consider this; to convey one’s own desires and objectify one’s audience instead of providing a canvas for fantasy projection could well be some next-level feminist shit. And who doesn’t like that? There is still nothing more cage-rattling to the status quo than a woman unafraid, direct and engaged in her sexual appetites. Of course attraction is subjective but if you can make your audience feel that you are, to quote the great Abigail Collins, “blowing up like an airbag down there”, believe me, they will be too.

So, some fun exercises to play with when developing your next sexy vignette:

1. Masturbate. Fantasize.

At length and with variety. Whether you chose to do this on stage or simply as part of your creative process is up to you, darling. Getting in touch with your desires and your body is important for every human on the planet but especially if you are offering yourself as an icon of sexuality. Don’t dream it, be it.

George Carlin on Masturbation

George Carlin on Masturbation

2. Objectify Your Audience

This can be through an explicit exhibitionism, the ‘I’m getting a kick out of you getting a kick out of watching me watching you’ game which can be communicated through unrelenting eye-contact such as in Sarah Lea Cheesecake‘s infamous shibari strip, techno-vouyerism via Rubyyy Jones‘ webcam show or a coy glance over the shoulder a la almost everyone in possession of a feather boa.

3. Touch Yourself.

I’m going to say it again. If you’re trailing a satin glove over your skin then ennnnnjoy it. Nobody will care if you mess up your choreography because you’re having a personal moment. Hell, practice shifting between engaging the whole room and total introspection. It’s a risk but if you can do it you’ve got one over the other girls, and I will buy you dessert. See Beatrix Von Bourbon‘s Venus In Furs for a great lesson in luxuriation.

4. Your Body Is An Amusement Park.

One of the very many excellent things about Julie Atlas Muz is her ability to morph between graceful dance goddess and butt-clapping clown. This is a woman with so much self-love and respect for her flesh she can use her pussy as a mouth piece for political speeches. Yes, love your young and beautiful self, and prize your sexuality, but don’t forget, we all fart, sweat, shit, age and have earwax. And that’s a-okay; you’re sexy because of all the things your body can do, not in spite of.

5. Pick Up The Mic. 

Or at least in your rehearsals verbalize what it is you are saying with your body. Write yourself a script and then make it into a mime. You can probably recycle a fair bit of it for sexting later on.

6. Come To ArtWank at the Empire Theatre, Bristol this November 14th, there’s porn and jokes in it. 

Over and out,

Ophelia Bitz x

One comment on “Performing Desire

  1. Pingback: Burlesque Weekly Roundup | Ivy Wilde

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2013 by in Coochie Crunch Blog and tagged , , , , , .

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