Sunday, January 2, 2011
Bowler Hat Blues
I had been meaning to buy a new bowler hat for months, now, even before the movie "Burlesque" was released. I-swear-to-Buddha. I didn't need a bowler hat for any specific reason, not even for a show, but I've been wanting one around for personal inspiration.
And also, just in case the right dress-up opportunity comes along.
I love everything that a bowler hat symbolizes: Bob Fosse and his distinctive choreography, intertwined with the roots of twentieth century jazz music and jazz dance, and with his own youth spent dancing in burlesque shows. I love how a bowler hat is a visual reference for performing on stage, for the mere love of performing itself, even if it is in seedy nightclubs for little or no pay.
A bowler hat is a symbol for the underground, the underbelly of society. It represents a place for those who don't fit in with what is normal, particularly during the daytime, a place for rules to be broken, bended, and relaxed.
I've worn a bowler hat as part of my costume on stage more than once, in a couple of revues. Thanks to the seductive Fosse-esque choreography we performed, the music and even the dance steps are among favorite stand-out memories. But I rather regret that I was so young, emotionally, and sexually repressed, at the time. It seems important to be sexually expressive, sexually liberated, or at least sexually experienced in order to truly understand and fully perform any type of burlesque.
I understand that better, now, especially since I'm older (and more experienced).
Lately, the bowler hat has been a marker of motivation: to keep working on having a "burlesque body" - strong, lean, and flexible("sexible"), even at my age. One of my first impressions of the musical "Chicago" was that it seemed to have been created as, or at least serve as, a vehicle for aging dancers. Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera were probably considered past their prime in the 70's and they repeated their career success by making Broadway history again.
I love the strength that the bowler hat inspires, even in just my mind's fantasy. With the classic black chapeau tilted ever so slightly over one eye I can easily access the alter ego of performing on stage. Renee Zellweger's "Roxie" was wistful about being "aloof" as her onstage persona in the film version of "Chicago." As trite and overdone as that showbiz goal may be, it summarizes perfectly the power that burlesque and a bowler hat can provide.
Aloof. Apathetic. Not giving a damn about what others think. Even in a seedy night club, where the stage dancers are viewed as barely a notch or two above street walkers, all that matters is the performance, and synergizing a physically fit and flexible body with the fluid sound of jazz, and rhythm and blues.
That's what I miss, even the old clean-cut, Disney-fied versions that I was part of. That's what I want now, still. That's why I enjoyed the movie "Burlesque," as much as I did, and why I went to a local costume shop the next day to finally purchase the hat I've been pining for.
And that's why, no matter how old and tired I feel (or look!) in my forties, I still exercise and pay money for voice lessons and dance class. Middle-age be damned, I want to be the exception for as long as I can, whether or not it is realistic to be so.
A bowler hat, a body-conscious waistcoat, and some sensual choreography, and I'm ready to go.