Monday 23 April 2018

The Hidden Pin Up - #19 About the fans

Now that choreography has begun on The Hidden Pin Up (see last post) I thought I'd do a little overview on the burlesque fans I created as they are in integral part of the work which explores the black Pin Up, a figure lost in time due to prejudice and the racial fetishes that still surround women of colour to this day.

Based on traditional burlesque fans, I decided to use hessian instead of luxurious feathers to replace the usual glamour with something basic and crude. This was to highlight the 'primitive' and 'savage' stereotypes about women of colour that have surfaced throughout the project and also the hessian harks back to collective ideas of plantations, slavery, poverty and the unrefined. 

An added bonus to using hessian to create individual feathers was that the frayed materiel moves and looks like dried grass, which added another layer of meaning to the fans, evoking tribal garments like headdresses and skirts that typified the stereotypical view of the uncultured 'exotic'. You can see how I made the fans HERE

I knew I wanted to decorate the fans in some way and as the project progressed it became ever more apparent to me that women of colour today face the same prejudices and fetishes as their vintage Pin Up counterparts, in fact, today's women of colour are still dealing with a hangover from colonialism and Western privilege that began centuries ago. 

With this in mind I started to collect real life stories of racial fetishes towards contemporary women of colour. Friends and colleagues and women I had never met shared their tales and an uncomfortable pattern of everyday micro aggressions began to emerge. These became the inspiration for the embroidered words on the feathers. 

I used different shades of brown black and tan and I wasn't too bothered about how much the words stood out because micro aggressions aren't always easy to spot. Some are glaringly obvious and others can sit there unnoticed yet still leave a mark.

With the stories in place the fans became a physical barrier between the viewer and the dancer that spoke only of false fantasies, bias and discrimination, not of the true person behind them. They became a literal way to hide the dancer mimicking the project's title, The Hidden Pin Up and highlighting the fact that real black and non white Pin Up's from the vintage era were largely obscured from the mainstream due to these stereotypes.

There are spaces left on the fans which I hope to fill up as the project continues and I'd like to collect new stories at every performance. Perhaps if I get enough I might even stitch onto the dancer's hessian costume too so that eventually she is covered. 

The fans were made to be danced with but also be seen as a stand alone piece that tell the history and ongoing story of the black Pin Up. I'm excited to see how they progress.

Monday 9 April 2018

The Hidden Pin Up #18 - Choreography part 1

On Friday we finally got to visit a dance studio to begin choreographing the routine for The Hidden Pin Up!

I met with Lenai the dancer from Manchester's House of Ghetto and Darren Pritchard, the house mother and choreographer, and all three of us were raring to go! I was really keen to see how my hessian burlesque fans would perform and also excited to put our ideas together. After researching and working on this concept for a year, it was thrilling to see it come to life and put some meat on the bones!

The performance is based on a traditional fan dance and anyone who has been following this project for a while will know that using fans was inspired by my research into vintage exotic dancer Jean Idelle who was one of the most successful black burlesque performers of the 1950's. You can find out more about Jean HERE

The aim of a fan dance is to tease the audience by only showing hints of bare flesh as the fans move around the dancer's body. It's important to captivate the audience with the fans movements so they highlight poise and footwork and emphasize what the dancer does with her arms and legs. It's usually the last third of the performance where the dancer does a 'reveal' and their full figure can be seen.

Darren was fantastic at giving direction and using traditional fan dance moves mixed with some of the vogue moves he is famous for. We even came up with some new moves I've never seen before. I was especially impressed with Lenai, who has never done any fan work before but picked up the skill almost immediately! 

It was exciting to see the fans in action. I was interested to know how they would perform as they are made from hessian instead of the soft floaty feathers usually used in burlesque. It turned out they had a grass skirt/ dried grass movement that I loved as they reinforced the 'primitive' character the project calls into question. They did shed fibres like crazy but there was something satisfying in watching the hemp fly around Lenai as she shimmied and turned.

It literally gave me shivers to see the dance performed to music. We wanted a song that not only hit the vintage mark but also spoke of women of colour and strength over adversity, for while this work plays on stereotypes and fetishes built around women of colour, it also puts the agency entirely in the dancer's hands and invites the viewer to look past the cliches. The piece we chose was Miss Celie's Blues from the soundtrack of The Colour Purple. Here's a little taster:

The full first half of the routine is now mapped out and we were all really excited by how much we got done. It was a fun morning and I can't wait to work on the second half which will have a a totally different feel and energy.