If you have breast cancer, your recovery options are few & far between. You can go on a retreat, try yoga or Pilates, or go to a support group. But you could also take off all your clothes in public, & do a fantastically raunchy striptease!
I met a lot of amazing people in 2011, & Jo “Boobs” Weldon was certainly one of them. We met through a mutual friend — the incredible Veronica Varlow — & then kept in touch, even running into one another at airports! Jo is the Headmistress & Founder of the New York School of Burlesque, & she spends her days teaching women how to shimmy!
When she emailed to tell me that she was teaching breast cancer survivors burlesque as part of recovery, I was astounded! I immediately wrote back & asked if I could meet some of the women & see their performances. What transpired is documented in the video below… (If you’re viewing this article in your email client, click here to watch the video!)
In a large dance studio near Astor Place, Jo offers free burlesque classes to breast cancer survivors. She teaches them burlesque history, classic dance numbers, & how to work on costumes. Over the course of 7 weeks, the participants — a group of budding burlesque babes — gussy themselves up, spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, & dance. Along the way, they rediscover their bodies & are amazed by what they can do.
How does something like this get started? When I asked Jo about the origins of Pink Light Burlesque, she said,
“I started thinking about this because my mother had leukemia, & she felt so alienated from her body. It took being flirty & playful, having fun, to get back in touch with it. I noticed that when she got back in touch with her body, everything about the way she felt about being sick changed.” (Jo Weldon)
With 7 years experience in teaching burlesque, Jo has seen every possible kind of body image issue. She has helped her students transform the way they see their bodies, & change their perceptions. Women who previously saw their bodies as something to be resented or something they wished they could control are now able to view their bodies as instruments of pleasure & agency.
One thing that has always come through in student feedback is that learning burlesque had increased their quality of life & given them immense body confidence, & it is this knowledge & expertise that Jo brings to breast cancer survivors. When someone performs a move in a burlesque class, the other women will cheer, hoot & holler! Jo says that this kind of reaction will help to develop self-esteem in those missing it, & enhance the self-love quotient in those who already have it!
Of the participants of Pink Light Burlesque, Jo said,
“The people who’ve responded have all been really positive. They’ve all been really eager to do it, they can’t wait to show off, they can’t wait to have fun & they can’t wait to meet other survivors who have a rock & roll or punk rock take on recovery.” (Jo Weldon)
So I think you’ll understand when I say that the best striptease I ever saw was performed by a breast cancer survivor called Brandi Hollywood. She stalked onto the stage dressed in dominatrix garb: a leather bra, a studded mask & high boots. After slowly peeling everything off — & this women had had a double mastectomy — she flogged an audience member wearing stripey socks, before sashaying off-stage to loud whoops & whistles!
Is this what we normally think of when someone talks about breast cancer recovery? No, definitely not, but it’s beautiful, & magnificent. All the women who took part — Brandi Hollywood, Triumph, Lotus Eyes & Luscious Lola — feel emboldened by what they learned, & by what they left behind on stage. Personally, I have never been so proud of women — of our incredible strength & bravery, of our potential, of our beauty — as I did sitting in an auditorium, watching the Pink Light Burlesque.
We all feel like we have body image issues, & we all have things about our appearance that we wish we could change. But watching these women on stage, so gorgeous & so alive, made all of those things seem completely ridiculous. To think that we could hate our bodies, to think that we could EVER be ashamed of how we look…
Maybe taking a burlesque class should be essential homework for all Radical Self Love Warriors!
If you want more information about Pink Light Burlesque, please visit the website & be sure to pass this on to anyone who you think would benefit from learning about it! Additionally, Pink Light Burlesque is always seeking volunteers, supporters & donations, so if this is something you could help with, get in touch!
If you’d like to see more of what went on, good news! TIME was there & they documented everything!
Thanks so much to Jo & all the women who make up Pink Light Burlesque. You are TRULY inspirational.
Much love to Ben Vogel for filming, editing & being awesome!
Pink Light Burlesque is dedicated to the memory of Diane Naegel, who was hoping to perform with the project, but lost her battle with breast cancer on September 25.
Love & pasties,