So far 2014 is a wonderful year for being fat in. A couple of weeks ago I attended Va Va Boombah’s third fat burlesque gala, and last Sunday night I danced myself silly at a 90s dance party also hosted by Va Va Boombah: Glitterdome! Va Va Boombah is Melbourne’s first fat burlesque troupe, a group of radical body positive fat babes who dance, sing, make you laugh, make you swoon, and have been putting on excellent burlesque shows and other events for several years now. As a result of all this fat fabulousness I am writing in this blog for the first time in almost a year! Hopefully 2014 will be a year of more fat blogging too.
I had never been to the burlesque before my first Va Va Boombah show, and I’ve still never been to any burlesque performance that wasn’t Va Va Boombah, so I’m no great expert on the genre. I know that mainstream burlesque is pretty fashionable at the moment, and I understand it’s defining characteristics to be striptease, dance, kitsch and camp and a buttload of glitter, all qualities Va Va Boombah shares. But Va Va Boombah isn’t just burlesque, it’s fat burlesque, and it’s the fat part that makes it most interesting to me.
It’s the fat part that had me so overwhelmed there were tears in my eyes during Miss Kate Quaintrelle’s pink, sparkly, fan-waving belly dance number near the beginning of the show. It’s the fat part that had me spellbound as Cleo Torres bathed in glitter, and clapping my hands in glee as Harry Potter (aka Cupcake Kitten) summoned a shimmering sexy patronus (Bambi Lipschitz) to ward off a Dementor (Madame Derriere in disguise). Okay, that was equally the fat part and the Harry Potter fangirl part, but Bambi Lipschitz is totally my patronus now.
The reason I felt so emotional about the VVB gala is that all those performers and all the other Boombahs on stage, they’re me. They are people I can identify with and see myself reflected in, doing things people who look like me are told we can’t do, and they are absolutely rocking it.
In a technical sense, the ever expanding Va Va Boombah troupe puts on a more polished and professional show every gala, and I am excited to see what is coming in the rest of 2014 and beyond. In an emotional sense, as well as being my friends, they mean a lot to me as a fat woman. I can’t quite explain how it feels to see fat bodies on stage in all their glory, not airbrushed and squeezed into shapewear and photographed from just the right angle to diminish them and make them as small and manageable as possible, but letting it all hang out. Not to mention covered in glitter and rhinestones. It means the world to see fat femmes just like me (not that all the Boombahs are femmes) who are not being diminished to fit the public idea of how fat women should feel and behave, but are larger than life. And hey, to tie in my blog title in a nauseating but apt sort of way, being radically visible.
Glitterdome, a week after the gala, was an equally empowering experience for me. I used to go clubbing a lot when I was in my early twenties, but I don’t remember it being like this. I remember panicking about what I was going to wear, feeling self-conscious on the dance floor, feeling – whether reasonably or not – as if I was an unfortunate, ungainly lump surrounded by beautiful, glamorous people having an awesome time. With a delightful sprinkling of sleazy dudes either hitting on me or conspicuously not hitting on me while they swarmed around my thin friends. I’m not saying I didn’t have fun clubbing back in the day, but it was emotionally fraught.
Glitterdome was a dark, overheated room full of sweaty, sparkly, gyrating people of all kinds of body types, having the absolute time of their lives, and it was amazing. It was a more varied crowd than any goth or alternative club I ever went to when I was younger, and what’s more it was a really friendly crowd. A lot of people knew each other, but I chatted and danced and exchanged femme compliments (I love your hair! I love your dress!) with people I didn’t know, and everyone was so nice. Some of the change between what clubs were like for me when I used to go to them and what Glitterdome was like for me resides in me personally – I’m more confident, more relaxed, less worried about what strangers think of me, and I’d had more food and less alcohol before Glitterdome than I ever would have when I was last going to clubs. But a lot of it was that Va Va Boombah draws and encourages people who are either fat themselves or fat friendly, as well as frequently queer and feminist. My highlight of the night was a room full of people who fit this description screaming along to “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morisette! The 90s were an excellent decade for very satisfying angry girl music.
The music on the whole was great, too, plenty of long strings of songs I knew and loved that had me dancing well past the point of needing to sit down. I went home sweaty, sore and smudged and completely exhausted, but on such an emotional high I was babbling gleefully all the way home.
The long and short of it is, you should support Va Va Boombah (and follow them on Facebook). They are wonderful people who are doing wonderful things!