A few weeks ago, a friend and I saw Dita Von Teese perform at The Fillmore Charlotte. Not knowing what to expect, and viewing it from the second to the last row, I was a bit underwhelmed by the show. Perhaps it would have been more tantalizing if I had been closer, had been a loyal fan, or had been with a date. What I instead found most interesting was the crowd — lots and lots of women. I sat next to two talkative drunk girls out celebrating a birthday. They said they loved to attend burlesque shows because it made them feel sexy and ravenous.
I was confused at first why so many women were laying down $80 to see other women strip? Then I remembered one of my favorite passages from “What Do Women Want: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire” by Daniel Bergner. In it, he relays a conversation he had with a professor who researches desire. She took him to a provocative Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas, and like the Dita Von Teese show, although the audience was evenly split male and female, the performers were mostly female. The ticket-buyers, she said, “were gratified, given a live version of what they were used to from a million images on billboards, in magazines, on television: for the men, an opportunity to lust; for the women, a chance to compare.”
The drunk birthday girl next to me leaned over and asked how small Dita’s waist is. “What do you think it is, like 20 inches? God, she’s so tiny! I would love to have that figure!” We went on to discuss the performers choices in costumes, the lighting that gave their skin a flawless glow, and how they all had such lovely, round, perky breasts.
And it’s not just that we wanted to be like them, we wanted to BE them. As the professor in Vegas said, “To be desired was at the heart of women’s desiring. Narcissism, she stressed–and she used the word not in a damning judgment but in plain description–was at the core of women’s sexual psyches. The females in the audience gazed, erotically excited, at the women on stage, imagining that their own bodies were as searingly wanted as those in front of them.”
“We” — I included myself because I too want to know what it is like to be “searingly wanted.” I didn’t connect much with Dita’s routines. They were too sparkly and candy-colored for my tastes–like watching a Katy Perry video. The performer that mesmerized me, that made me want to BE her, was Lada Nikolska of the Crazy Horse Paris (see image below). Her set was simple – only a curvy, red velvet sofa. Her outfit was simple – black lace. But she made me stop and stare. Her movements were fluid, yet purposeful. She was graceful and commanding at the same time. I will never know what it is like to be in a body that looks and moves the way hers does. But I long to know.