Hours before the Midtown Moxies’ end-of-season show in June, their dressing room was packed with racks of feather boas, sparkling undergarments and silky fabrics. The performers strapped on silver heels and lace-up knee boots, chit-chatting as they donned their costumes layer by layer, adding in garters, bustles, corsets and capes.
Burlesque is closely tied to body positivity — a movement that challenges social negativity around body image. Many of the Moxies say the art form helps them build confidence. Dancers choreograph their own routines, which is key for some performers with physical limitations, as well as those who use striptease to tell stories about difficult life experiences, including domestic violence and sexual abuse.
CapRadio’s Sammy Caiola spoke to Stephanie Spencer — known onstage as Ms. Shirley Spring — about performing with rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety and other health conditions. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you explore body image and body movement through burlesque?
As I grew up, even though I was confident and outspoken and a huge extrovert, I always saw my body as different. I was always a little on the heavier side. But I didn’t let it stop me from doing what I wanted to, so I was in cheerleading and I played all the sports and I danced. It’s shown me that my body is very capable of doing great things.
In what ways does burlesque serve as a means of healing for you?
You have this negative body image, you have health issues ... I’m 38, I’m not 18. When you’re stripped down like that, to where it’s literally just you and the audience, and you’re standing there, the recognition they give you for what you just brought to the stage and the story you just told, it’s like baring your soul, but at the same time you’re receiving the validation back.
How do you accommodate your health issues when you perform?
Some days that choreographed two or three eight counts of having to move across the floor, some days that doesn’t work when your knees hurt or your feet hurt or your body hurts. So it’s the flexibility to know and be aware of what your body is capable of, to then turn around and be like ‘I can’t move that way today, so we’re going to do this instead.’ And you still have the same result … it just might look a little different. Being able to improv with what your body’s telling you is so important with burlesque.
Some of the Moxies use the term “disabilababes”. What does that mean, exactly?
It’s how you see yourself, and what you want to do and how you want to do it … We’re all still hot chicks. We might have something, either physical or mental or emotional … but it’s tapping into those “disabilities” and using them to project and show that the only limitation there really is yourself if you think about it. So how far do you wanna take it?
The Midtown Moxies are beginning their next season Oct. 5. Find show details and tickets here.