Felipe Campano is a sophomore studying environmental studies. Felipe has been a dancer with the Tufts Burlesque Troupe for two semesters.
Tufts Burlesque is a unique space on campus. With over 300 dancers, making it one of the biggest organizations at Tufts, Burlesque offers many students a special space for empowerment, healing and a fun opportunity to meet others and perform for an audience in a show unlike any other. In a blur of lingerie and colorful lights, Burlesque shows at Tufts are one of the hottest events on campus. It’s a tragically common tale: anxiously waiting on Tufts Tickets for Burlesque tickets to drop only to end up coming out of the frenzy feeling like you were hit by a hurricane — and with no ticket. With bold displays of sexiness, drama, good music and ‘camp,’ it’s all very exciting. However, Burlesque is also unique in how vulnerable it is; going up onstage in front of hundreds of your peers and dancing almost nude is no easy feat. Unlike nearly any other space on campus, there is a great deal of risk involved when people who are oftentimes complete strangers come together to put on a performance that so heavily revolves around nudity and sex. Equally important to all of that excitement and energy, then, are the rules and the club culture that make the shows possible.
In order to function properly, Tufts Burlesque has had to maintain a strict culture of sobriety, consent and boundaries. Dancers are forbidden from showing up to practices or performances inebriated, partner work is usually put off until after the first group bonding and choreographers are not to engage in any kind of romantic or sexual relations with their dancers in order to maintain a safe power dynamic. However, at least in recent years, it seems as though Burlesque has begun to stray from its stated mission and goals; a number of dancers are leaving the Burlesque experience with feelings of discomfort, unfulfillment, hesitation and even pain surrounding incidents of violations of consent or discrimination. From conversations with other past and present Burlesquers, it seems as though many potential dancers experience serious doubts around returning.
In trying to understand what was leaving such a bad taste in people’s mouths, I spoke to many of my peers, from former and current Burlesquers to those who for whatever reason hesitate to join and to those who were desperate to do so. From conversation to conversation, it seemed as though some themes were repeatedly coming up independently: discussions of their experiences with partner work and consent, feelings of discomfort surrounding the infamous afterparty and even the way the organization and its operations are set up. After much reflection and a lot of talking, I decided that I wanted to take action.
Over the course of a few weeks, I gathered the stories and needs of the community members I spoke to into a big melting pot-style Google Doc and set to work crafting a nearly 13-page laundry list agenda of areas where the club can likely use a tune-up, complete with some anonymous experiences, concrete suggestions for future improvements and comparisons with how other clubs have handled similar issues — then I brought it to the Burlesque executive board. In a meeting with some of the board members and a supporting fellow Burlesquer that lasted about two hours, we went through each item together, talked them out, shared notes and set out goals for changes they could implement for the spring 2023 show and beyond. Following the end of the semester, some really great updates were made, but much work is left to be done — Burlesque still deserves more.
The agenda is as extensive and exhaustive as possible, suggesting changes to a variety of topics including: creating greater community among the Troupe, improving the safety of dance practices and bondings, big changes and safety checks for the Burlesque afterparty (which has taken on a not-so-savory reputation as an ‘orgy’ of sorts), board operations, affinity dances and so on. Among the list of suggestions were required discussions of consent and body dynamics in every dance, better checks for ensuring consent between partners and Green Dot monitors at the afterparty. While the executive board did manage to implement some of the suggestions before the spring show — namely requiring sober monitors for the afterparty; a closed dress rehearsal; expanding the executive board; and hosting a pre-show, club-wide Action for Sexual Assault Prevention presentation — there are still changes left to be made.
As one of the most common concerns expressed in all of my conversations, the lack of transparency and somewhat detached leadership of Burlesque from its community prevents a lot of people’s feelings from being heard and addressed directly. Especially with four out of eight executive board members graduating this year, ensuring that the incoming board is able to stay true to the needs of the community is duly important. As a passionate Burlesquer, I want to make sure the rest of my community is heard; however, as I’ll be away from campus in the upcoming fall semester, my options for getting involved are limited, leaving me with a request to the community instead: Please help keep the club accountable to what it could — and should — be.
In order to give the community as much help as I can, I decided to create an abridged, community-friendly version of the agenda I brought to the executive board. Separated by topic in distinct sections, and with specific recommendations and concerns listed therein, it is my hope that some members of the Tufts community will be able to keep the pressure on the club to continue to improve and grow. The list is by no means perfect or all-inclusive, and obviously they are, of course, suggestions, so it is not my expectation that everything will be addressed in its entirety. However, seeing as the list is compiled directly from the interests of the community, it is my hope to see as many of these positive changes be implemented as is possible within the power of the Burlesque community and the executive board.
Nothing big ever starts without people talking about it first; in the same vein, in order for the club to heal its current issues and move in a better direction, the first step is to encourage conversation about said issues. With enough time and collective interest, I firmly believe the Burlesque community can come together and demand improvements for the future of the club. With the right people in charge and the right support from the ground up, I see a future Burlesque that is safer, more enjoyable, more diverse, more inclusive, sexier and more empowering than ever before. It’s about time Tufts Burlesque puts on its big girl pantyhose and gets to werk!