Standing in a circle of 15 or so other women I thought “What am I doing here?”
To my left is a Mother and her 19 year old daughter, nervously shuffling and chatting to each other. To my right is a shy 20 something year old girl who has her arms folded in front of her. I look around the circle, a woman that reminds me of Stevie Nicks, a timid gentleman chats away to a group of loud ladies and there is a lady with the most amazing green hair I have ever seen in some funky rockabilly gear. Everyone is nervous. Its the first night of the Sass & Tease Beginners Class for Term 2 2016.
I am 36, freshly separated out of a 16 year relationship and with 2 school age boys at home. I am struggling in every sense, in my career, in my finances, in my mental state and just in life. But what am I doing here? I am about to start something awesome.
6 months earlier I had attended my first ever Burlesque show. Dragged along by my best friend I met at mother group, she knew I needed a night out and had heard about this show, “Shaken and Stirred”. I was nervous as we sat in the small, hole in a wall venue. I was excited because I didn’t know what to expect.
I watch an assortment of women come out confident, sexy, glamorous and sassy. These women looked just like me. But they exude so much energy and charisma. Something burst inside of me! I was inspired.
The Mistress of Ceremonies announced that the Sass and Tease Collective were teaching classes. I looked at my friend. “You’re going to do it aren’t you?” She knew me well. I enquired and was eagerly encouraged by the Amazonian Goddess before me. When the marvellous Tiffany Blue tells you to come to a class, you turn up to a class! It took another show to lock in my decision though. The seal of the deal for me was being knocked off my chair when the magnificent Abel Fox locked eyes with me and made a direct line towards me during a performance. Hot damn, I was going to learn how to make someone feel like that!
So here I was, standing in a hall, in my yoga pants about to be educated in bumping, grinding and sexiness. It was slow going but these women had all of us feeling comfy and motivated. They shared their knowledge and experiences and their confidence was contagious. Each week I was eager to get to that hall. To find out what amazing things we were going to learn and catch up with some of the wonderful people I was meeting. It soon became my favourite part of my week, something to look forward to where I could be me and feel creative.
Before I knew it beginners was over and I moved through to the Act Development course. Suddenly things were getting real, I and a well as a bunch of others were collaborating and helping each other to produce our first ever burlesque act for a graduation show! We worked hard and built such vast and fascinating ideas, we practised and gave each other feedback and helped each other create our burlesque/performer personas.
When show day came we were all feeling a mix of excitement, joy, fear and terror. But we encouraged and supported each other and presented a eclectic and eccentric production. The crowd was full of family and friends as well as members of burlesque and performing arts community all supporting us. It was a magical time and something I will remember forever. Mostly because that day was the birth of many baby burlesquers in the Canberra burlesque scene today, including me: Scarlett Mustang.
Since walking into that hall I have transformed and I’ve grown into a woman who is very different. I feel stronger, more confident and independent but its strengthen me in other ways. My two sons have loved watching me dancing around the house, listening to so many different styles of music, they’ve helped me sew and rhinestone. They’ve seen a happier mum. It’s made me a better mum!
My parents have been sitting in the middle of the crowd at shows, proud and boasting of their daughter up on the stage, my dad referring to himself as Papa Mustang. My mum cheering loudly and can be overheard telling people next to her how I made the costume myself.
Burlesque didn’t just provide me an outlet creatively but it has seen the forming of strong friendships, challenged my ideas of appropriateness and acceptance, changed how I approach things in life and taught me to appreciate how strong I actually am. For anyone needing something to inspire and motivate them, I suggest you walk into the hall, stand in that circle. And as was recommended to me, “Tits to Jesus!”
About Scarlett Mustang:
Since her first performance Scarlett Mustang has gone on to perform in a range of shows within Canberra and Sydney. She has developed her own production show, The Bewitched Variety Show and supported up and coming performers in the community as well as other performing artists.
She also met her current partner at a Burlesque Show! She says “It’s not easy being the partner of a Burlesque performer. You must learn to live with Glitter!”
Photograph courtesy of Who Shot The Photographer