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  • Writer's pictureTish Bustillo

That first burlesque performance

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

‘The course will conclude with this group performing a burlesque routine in front of a small audience. At the end of the routine, we will remove our gloves and our bras’ said headmistress of the Amsterdam School of Burlesque Flora Gattina with a knowing smile. I immediately had the urge to run away in panic from the beginner burlesque workshop that I had signed up for. My G-cup breasts were supposed to stay hidden. They were so big that they already gathered too much attention when covered up. I could not imagine exposing them to the world in any way, not even in a safe dance studio and especially not with people watching. I started to plot my escape.

Flora noticed my unease and explained that how much I stripped was up to me, and that I didn’t have to expose anything I felt uncomfortable with. I was reassured enough to continue with the workshop. During the next few weeks, I met up every Thursday night with a group of women, and under the guidance of Flora we learned choreography, makeup and costume tips, while talking about our bodies and our sensuality. I found out that every woman there, including the ones with supermodel bodies, felt some shame about their bodies, just like I did. Slim ladies saw their bodies as not feminine enough because they lacked an hourglass shape. Beautiful girls felt complexed by large noses or short legs. All of us could spend hours talking about what we hated in our bodies while all of us struggled to find something we liked. I realised that our bodies were never the problem. Societal norms were the problem, and our belief that not fitting into those norms was our own personal failure. I realised that the parts I had been taught to hate were lovable. That many parts of me were actually stunning and unique and awesome. That I could feel strong and pretty when wearing an outfit that makes me feel good while dancing to sexy music. Every week my confidence grew until I had no doubt that I was going to remove my bra on stage at the end of the workshop, in fact, I was looking forward to it.

I will always remember that first performance. The audience was a small crowd, just friends and family gathered at the cosy pink studio of the Amsterdam School of Burlesque. As we executed the movements we learned from Flora, I felt like like an absolute sex goddess. Strutting on my high heels, caressing my body, teasing the audience with a slow glove removal, performing felt exciting and delicious. The audience cheered and clapped their approval as the music built up to that final moment of unclasping the bra. I tossed my bra to the side, proudly exposing the part of my body I had been ashamed of for so long and all I felt was absolute triumph. Lifting my arms in the air, wiggling my breasts, felt like a giant fuck you to society, to the patriarchy, to anyone who ever made me feel shame because my top was too tight or my cleavage was too low, everyone who ever made me feel like I was indecent just for having boobs, like I was the problem for making them uncomfortable. For the first time my body felt like it was truly mine, to do with as I please, for my own pleasure only.

I have channeled this energy and power through every performance I’ve done since that first workshop 10 years ago. My stage name celebrates the journey I’ve been on - I am Bustie La Tish, feminist burlesque warrior.

This column appeared in Dutch in the first edition of Norden, make sure you subscribe here

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