It was a cold, dark night in downtown Los Angeles. The windowless building gave no hints as to what was inside. I couldn’t even be sure if I was in the right location. As I entered Bordello, I was transported into a dark and elegant bar with plush red booths and romantic lighting. But I wasn’t there for a date. A rousing band played for a while. And then, at long last, the main attraction…
The curtain rose. A performer by the name “Lucy Furr” appeared on stage dressed as Pikachu. She hid behind a handmade cardboard pokéball while methodically strutting around, removing her clothes, and teasing the audience with what hid behind that pokéball. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and it was only the beginning. I was watching an anime-themed burlesque show by Devil’s Playground in which nearly a dozen gals dressed in cosplay performed sensual numbers, and I was immediately mesmerized.
That night was my introduction to “nerdlesque,” a booming performance art that combines the tantalizing tease of burlesque dancing with nerd themes such as sci-fi, anime, and video games. It takes two things that are stereotyped as being diametrically opposed and throws it back in your face to scream, “Yes, geekdom CAN be sexy!”
Burlesque has been around for decades. Unlike strip clubs, burlesque elevates the strip tease to performance art. Sometimes it doesn’t involve any stripping at all. The “nerd” element comes in when dancers dress up in cosplay and create performances around a specific character. The costume, music, and choreography are designed around the character’s theme. Sometimes the number even tells a story.
What I found most interesting watching nerdlesque was that not once did I feel sleezy or like I was doing something wrong by enjoying it. The audience didn’t catcall or act lewdly. They were actually cheering the dancers on as if they were gymnasts completing tumbling moves. Before I knew it, I was too. There was a really fun spirit about it all. We were nerds enjoying a sexy, fun, and empowering experience.
The nerdlesque concept boomed several years ago with the Devil’s Playground show Star Girls, in which dancers performed burlesque numbers as various Star Wars characters. The gals performed mind-blowing numbers with amazing props, costumes, and moves. Star Girls blew up the internet, and nerdy women everywhere found inspiration to show off their sexy side. Including me. Nerdlesque troupes have formed all over the world, and a google search will lead you to one pretty easily. There’s Hollywood Jane Revue in Los Angeles, The Glitter Guild and Cosplay Burlesque which travel to various conventions, Tight and Nerdy the Weird Al tribute troupe, Geekenders in Vancouver, Pink Boombox in San Diego, Society of Sin in New Orleans that puts on actual nerdlesque plays, and so many more.
So what’s it like to actually DO nerdlesque? Preparing yourself for the first time can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not used to performing live. As a stage veteran, I found that I didn’t have time to be nervous. I was so focused on performing my choreography properly that “Holy crap, I’m about to show my boobs to a room full of friends!” didn’t cross my mind until moments before I did it. Then my brain went, “Well, this is happening.” When the moment came, my friends… cheered. I was thrilled to hear it because it meant that I was being entertaining (also, boobs). Afterward, I felt rather liberated. One of the awesome things about burlesque is that even when mainstream media usually only shows a limited ideal of women’s bodies, burlesque embraces all bodies. Big or small, tall or short, fit or not so fit. I’ve found the whole thing to be a very body positive experience. When I perform, I don’t care if people see my cellulite. And you know what? They don’t care either. They care that I’m performing as The Joker, or Edward Elric, or a post-apocalyptic road warrior. They care that I’m funny. They care that I’m showing them a great time. When everyone is having a great time being geeky, that’s all that really matters.
Featured image credit: Micheal Helms