Sexy, sumptuous and scintillating. What could be hotter than burlesque? The corsets, the costumes and the tassels all add up to quite the treat for assembled audiences.
And don’t think for a second that disabled people aren’t getting in on the action. We chatted to Amelia Cavallo who is blind and part of the burlesque show Showgirllies.
B is for Burlesque is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability
How did you get involved in music and theatre?
I grew up in the United States in New Mexico – Breaking Bad territory! In fact my high school is the school from Breaking Bad so you get the picture.
I started playing the piano at the age of 3. From there I got involved in drama and performance, particularly in high school.
I was lucky enough as part of my undergraduate to transfer to study at the University of East Anglia. I used to use all my spare time to head straight down to London to take in as many theatre performances and shows as I possibly could. I absolutely loved the buzz of the city.
During my time in London I got involved in lots of performance, theatre and art and it was from there that I was invited to take part in my first ever professional performance, a burlesque show. I must admit – I knew nothing about burlesque. I was absolutely terrified.
The show was put on by a fantastic company called Extant which is the UK’s only professional theatre company of blind and visually impaired people. They created the show and have been the driving force behind much of the performance work I have done since, both burlesque and otherwise. For this first gig, they brought together a group of visually impaired women to put together a burlesque show called Showgirlies.
It was a wonderful exploration of sexuality as a visibly impaired woman and it really allowed us to develop a sense of community. We spent a lot of time discussing the unique experiences and challenges that we faced as blind women. It was a real confidence boost to so many of us.
Developing my own art
I decided to stick around in London and that’s when I developed my own piece. My performance sits somewhere between burlesque and performance art which a lot of people tell me is a really refreshing way of doing the performance.
I’ve spent so much time dangling 20ft in the air as part of my performances and I’m totally relaxed doing that. But ask me to stand in my underpants for a performance and I’m always terrified. I must have done the performance more than 100 times now and I’m still terrified by it.
I think it’s so terrifying because the piece is really built out of the feeling of vulnerability as to how I look – as a blind woman who doesn’t always know how I look to the outside eye. Doing this piece has really helped me confront some of those feelings of vulnerability.
I find doing the performance so empowering and it’s definitely one the best things that I’ve ever done!
How does the audience react?
The audience reaction hugely depends on where I’m performing. I’ve performed everywhere from dark drunken bars to corporate entertainment.
In many ways I prefer the dark drunken venues as people seem more willing to open up and let themselves go.
A big part of the performance is me asking the audience to describe my body back to me. That can be massively risky. Asking a room full of strangers to talk about your body! It helps that people have had a few drinks and can talk a bit more openly. Even in the seediest and darkest bars I have never had anything but kindness and enthusiasm from people!
I find that so many crowds are hungry to find something new, something subversive. And this is so often not something they’ve seen before, so they’re quite engaged and excited.
Impact of being disabled
I find it interesting to read an audiences reaction. So often you find that the stronger you are or the prettier you are then the less that people see you as blind. So many people tell me that I don’t look disabled because I’m up on stage doing the performance. People can be really shocked that you’re sexy because you’re disabled!
The performance is really important as it’s about being empowered to be sexy blind. I’m blind, I’m a woman, I’m American, I like cats, I’m lactose intolerant. These are all parts of who I am, that make me who I am.
B is for Burlesque is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z